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8.557635-36 - LOEWE, C: Suhnopfer des neuen Bundes (Das), 'Passion Oratorio'
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Carl Loewe (1796-1869)
Passion Oratorio: The Expiatory Sacrifice of the New Covenant

 

Carl Loewe is now chiefly remembered for his songs which retain at least some place in recital repertoire, ballads such as 'Tom der Reimer' (Thomas the Rhymer), settings of Goethe and many other poets in a body of work that includes some four hundred songs.

The son of a teacher, twelfth in the family, Loewe studied first with his father and was strongly influenced by the pedagogical keyboard pieces of Daniel Gottlob Türk and by early acquaintance with the ballads of Gottfried August Bürger. He served as a chorister in Cöthen, where he had further schooling, continued at the Lutheran School in Halle where he studied with Türk, and was awarded a generous scholarship by King Jérôme Buonaparte of Westphalia which came to an end with the fall of the Napoleonic régime in 1813. After Türk's death in the same year Loewe succeeded him as organist at the Marktkirche in Halle and from 1817 to 1820 studied theology there. The period brought performances of his first songs and piano pieces, and in 1820 a meeting with Goethe, whom he continued to hold in the highest respect. At the same time he met both Weber and Hummel. In November 1820 Loewe was appointed organist at the Jacobikirche in Stettin, with teaching responsibilities at the gymnasium that involved, in addition to music, a range of subjects, including natural science, Greek, and world history. The following year he became musical director and contracted his first marriage, marrying again in 1825, two years after the death of his first wife.

Loewe spent the rest of his career in Stettin, with a routine broken by concert tours that took him to Vienna, London, Scandinavia and, in 1857, to France, occasions when he was able to appear as a singer in his own works. As a composer he wrote not only songs. The long list of his works includes operas, oratorios, other choral works, chamber and piano music and two symphonies. In his lifetime it was, nevertheless, the ballads that won particular fame, starting with a setting of Herder's version of the Scottish ballad 'Edward', also set by Schubert and by Brahms, and of Goethe's 'Erlkönig', making the comparison with Schubert, his contemporary, inevitable, and earning him the title in Vienna of 'the North German Schubert'.

Loewe's ballads reveal his strong feeling for drama, and with his pietistic leanings this found expression also in oratorios, of which he wrote a number. Das Sühnopfer des neuen Bundes (The Expiatory Sacrifice of the New Covenant) was very probably written in 1847 and was certainly performed in Stettin in 1855, perhaps not for the first time. It was there that Loewe had in 1831 conducted Bach's St Matthew Passion and in 1841 the same composer's St John Passion. The author of Loewe's text, Wilhelm Telschow, provided the text for the 1848 oratorio Hiob (Job), support of the 1847 dating of the present work.

Set firmly in the Protestant religious traditions of its place and period, Das Sühnopfer des neuen Bundes, with its biblical recitatives, elements of drama and chorales, clearly owes much to Bach and to the revival of the St Matthew Passion in Berlin in 1829 under the young Felix Mendelssohn. Musically it combines something of this earlier tradition with a relatively conventional contemporary musical language, well suited to his primary audience, the inhabitants of Biedermeier Stettin. Handel could never be far away from the oratorio, and Loewe seems to have been well aware of earlier contributors to choral compositions of this kind. Unlike in the Passions of Bach or, indeed, the traditional Latin singing of the biblical texts, the words of Christ and others are not separated from those of the evangelists, so that the same singer often is given the introductory text and the words spoken, with no Evangelist to provide the narrative framework. The oratorio is scored for strings, soloists and chorus, although later versions enlarged the orchestration, or even limited it simply to the organ.

Telschow's text draws on the four gospels to provide an outline narrative. The first part covers the period from Christ at the house of Simon in Bethany to the Last Supper. The second part opens in Gethsemane, dealing with Christ's betrayal, trial and condemnation. The third and final section follows the Way of the Cross, the Crucifixion and the Entombment.

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Synopsis

Part I

[CD 1 / Track 1] No. 1 Introduction and Quartet. In Bethany Christ is at the house of Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. After a short instrumental introduction the alto soloist enters, seeking the one who gave her back her sight. She is followed by the soprano, seeking the one who opened the grave of Lazarus, the tenor the one who healed his withered hand on the Sabbath and the bass the one who set him free from evil spirits. They join together as the friends of Lazarus, declaring that the one they seek is the one who raised the dead from the grave.

[1/2] No. 2 Chorale. The chorus celebrates victory over death in the chorale 'Gegrüsst sei Fürst des Lebens' (Hail, Prince of life). The chorale melody by Melchior Teschner was originally a 1615 setting of a hymn of thanksgiving for survival from the plague, 'Valet will ich dir geben.' It is used by Bach with the later verse 'In meines Herzens Grunde' in his St John Passion.

[1/3] No. 3 Recitative and Arioso. In recitativo secco the soprano tells of Christ at Bethany in the house of Simon and the anointing of his head by Mary, the sister of Lazarus. A more lyrical continuing recitative makes her offering to Christ. In the arioso she asks to be allowed to anoint his feet with spikenard and dry them on her hair.

[1/4] No. 4 Recitative and Terzetto. Graphically pointed by the orchestra, the bass gives the words of complaint attributed to Judas, suggesting that the precious ointment should have been sold and the money given to the poor. Two other disciples, a tenor and another bass, continue their questioning.

[1/5] No. 5 Recitative. The words of Christ's rebuke are introduced by and given to a solo bass, as he tells them that the poor are always with them, but he is with them only for a short time.

[1/6] No. 6 Chorale. The voices accompanied by instruments sing the chorale 'O du Zuflucht der Elenden' (O thou refuge of the needy), with a melody by Johannes Crüger, used by Bach in Cantata 180 and known by its first line as 'Schmücke dich, o liebe Seele' (Deck thyself, my beloved soul).

[1/7] No. 7 Larghetto con moto. Muted strings return to the music of the opening, now suggesting the evening of the Last Supper in Jerusalem.

[1/8] No. 8 Duet. Peter, a bass, accompanied by still muted strings, declares the Paschal lamb now prepared. John, an alto, recalls the killing of the first-born of Egypt and the sign of blood on the door to save the children of Israel.

[1/9] No. 9 Chorus of the Apostles. Tenors and basses sing the first three verses of Psalm CXIII, 'Praise the Lord, ye servants', to a moving quaver bass-line in which the violas later join.

[1/10] No. 10 Recitative and Chorus. The muted strings recall the music of the Larghetto and the bass recitative offers the words of Christ expressing his desire to celebrate Passover with his disciples before he must suffer, and his prediction that one of his disciples will betray him. The chorus of apostles seek to know which of them is to betray him, and Christ tells them that it is the one to whom he will dip the sop; better that the man had never been born. To the question of Judas, he tells him to do quickly what he has to do. The apostles, tenors and basses, in agitation, continue with the third and fourth verses of Psalm CXVI, "The snares of death compassed me round about."

[1/11] No. 11 Recitative and Chorale. The bass sings the biblical account, telling how Christ took the bread, broke it and gave to his disciples, saying 'This is my body that is given up for you; do this in memory of me'. A chorale verse follows, before the narrative continues, as Christ takes the cup and gives it to his disciples, saying 'Drink all of this, for this is my blood of the new testament, which is shed for you and for many for the remission of sins'. The chorale is completed, ending the section.

[1/12] No. 12 Final Chorus of the First Part. The first part ends as the male voices of the apostles take up the words of Psalm CXIII, with a verse from Psalm CXVI, with sopranos and altos entering later with Psalm CXVII, 'O praise the Lord, all ye heathen'. The psalm continues with a Handelian fugue, a monumental conclusion.

Part II

[1/13] No. 13 Chorus and Recitative. The second part opens with the scene in the garden of Gethsemane, where Christ is betrayed and taken prisoner by his enemies, heard at first in their stealthy approach through the night. It opens with a chorus of the High Priest's servants, as they set out with swords and spears, and Judas follows. The opening phrase is given to the basses, followed by the tenors. The biblical account of Judas's approach to Christ is a bass recitative, interrupted briefly by the chorus, before the words of Christ, asking whom they seek. The men answer 'Jesus of Nazareth', before the narrative continues, telling how Peter struck the High Priest's servant, to be rebuked by Christ, who could call legions of angels to his aid, except that the scripture must be fulfilled. The soldiers who have come to take him are afraid, but are told by the servants of the High Priest to take no heed. They lead him away.

[1/14] No. 14 Chorale. The chorale 'Wenn alle untreu werden' (When all are untrue), with a melody by the composer, promises steadfast loyalty to Christ. The words are by Novalis.

[1/15] No. 15 Alto Aria. Christ is brought before Caiaphas in the High Priest's palace. Accompanied by muted strings the alto soloist meditates on the events.

[1/16] No. 16 Duet. The strings now unmuted, soprano and tenor testify falsely to Christ's alleged claim that he could destroy the Temple and build up another in three days.

[1/17] No. 17 Unaccompanied Recitative. A bass recitative tells of Christ's silence before the High Priest.

[1/18] No. 18 Recitative and Chorus of High Priests. Questioned by Caiaphas, Christ tells him that he will see the Son of Man at the right hand of God. At this the High Priest rends his garments, and the male chorus declares Christ worthy of death for blasphemy, condemnation stressed in the orchestra. Judas repents his action.

[1/19] No. 19 Aria. A more agitated bass aria expresses the feelings of Judas, distraught at his betrayal of innocent blood.

[1/20] No. 20 Chorale. The first verse of the chorale 'Ach bleib mit deiner Gnade' (Ah abide among us with thy grace) by Josua Stegmann has the traditional melody by Melchior Vulpius. Bach's harmonization of the same familiar melody is seemingly derived from his Cantata No. 95, 'Christus, der ist mein Leben'.

[1/21] No. 21 Recitative a 2. Christ is brought before Pilate. The narrative and words of Pilate are given to a tenor, with the answer of Christ sung by a bass. The scene ends with Pilate's question 'What is truth?'.

[1/22] No. 22 Soprano Recitative. A soprano recitative tells of Pilate's wife's dream, and her urging of her husband to have nothing to do with this just man. Aria. The soprano aria allows the fears of Pilate's wife fuller expression, her agitation reflected in the tremolo violin and viola figuration.

[1/23] No. 23. Recitative and Chorus. Pilate, in a tenor recitative, finds no guilt in Christ and offers to release him. The chorus, following the traditional singing of the Passion, prefer Barabbas to be released.

[1/24] No. 24 Chorus and Recitative. The cry of 'Crucify him' allows a brief contrapuntal outburst, before Pilate's disclaiming of responsibility.

[1/25] No. 25 Chorus. In brief and dramatic counterpoint the people accept that Christ's blood will be upon them and their children.

[1/26] No. 26 Alto Aria. Muted strings accompany the alto aria meditating on the mockery of Christ, the crown of thorns, despised and rejected.

[1/27] No. 27 Tenor Recitative. Pilate brings Christ out before the people, finding no guilt in him, ending with the words 'Behold the man!'.

Chorus. A dramatic chorus will have Christ crucified, while Pilate again disclaims responsibility.

Chorale. 'Ein Lämmlein geht und trägt die Schuld' (A lamb goes forth and bears the guilt) has an early Lutheran melody by Wolfgang Dachstein, a contemporary of Luther at Erfurt University, with later words by Paul Gerhardt. It ends the second part of the oratorio.

Part III

[2/1] No. 28 Tenor Solo. The third part opens following the Way of the Cross. The cello and double bass suggest the stumbling steps of Christ on the Way of the Cross. The tenor takes the rôle of Simon of Cyrene, a dramatic movement in a style familiar from Loewe's ballads, but nevertheless suggesting at first a reminiscence of Beethoven.

[2/2] No. 29 Chorus and Tenor Solo. The High Priest's servants describe Simon of Cyrene's taking up of the cross, joined by the people. This leads to a tenor meditation, an expression of willingness to bear the cross.

[2/3] No. 30 Chorus of the Daughters of Sion. The daughters of Sion weep over the scene, their lament pointed by the dramatic figuration of the cello part.

[2/4] No. 31 Recitative. In words taken from the gospel of St Luke, a bass recitative has Christ rebuke the daughters of Jerusalem, telling them to weep over themselves and their children.

[2/5] No. 32 Terzetto. With the alto representing John, three voices compare the scene of the Transfiguration and the triumphant entry into Jerusalem to the scene at Golgotha and the Crucifixion.

[2/6] No. 33 Quartet. Recitative a 4. The Jews complain at the inscription ordered by Pilate, Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews.

[2/7] No. 34 Pilate. To this Pilate replies "Was ich geschrieben habe, habe ich geschrieben" (What I have written, I have written).

[2/8] No. 35 Chorus of the People. Christ is mocked by the people, who challenge him with his supposed claim to be able to destroy the Temple and build it again in three days. These reproaches are treated dramatically, with one voice entering after another, before joining together to tell him to come down from the cross, if he is the King of Israel; let God save him, if he is the son of God.

[2/9] No. 36 Recitative and Duet. The opening recitative gives Christ's words of forgiveness from the cross, "Forgive them, for they know not what they do." The words of the two thieves crucified with him are given to a tenor, before the bass, in a duet with the tenor, promises that the penitent thief will that day be with Christ in heaven.

[2/10] No. 37 Chorale. The chorale 'Seht die Mutter bang und klagend' (See the mother, mournful and weeping), a version of the opening of the Stabat Mater, describes the Mother of Christ at the foot of the cross.

[2/11] No. 38 Tempo del Chorale. The words of Christ committing his mother to the care of his apostle John are interspersed with fragments of the chorale, played by the instruments.

[2/12] No. 39 Chorus. The strings are muted in the dramatic depiction of the scene, as the altos tell how darkness covered the land, truly the hand of God. The solo bass reports the final words of Christ: "Mein Gott! Mein Gott, warum hast du mich verlassen?" (My God! My God, why hast thou forsaken me?).

[2/13] No. 40 Aria and Chorus of the Daughters of Sion. A soprano, representing Mary Magdalene, offers her lament, joined by the other female voices in brief conclusion.

[2/14] No. 41 Recitative and Chorale. The bass introduces Christ's words 'Mich dürstet!' (I thirst). The chorale 'Großer Friedefürst' (Great Prince of peace) follows.

[2/15] No. 42 Recitative. The alto tells how a sponge of vinegar is given to their victim. The bass gives Christ's final words, "Es ist vollbracht. Vater, in deine Hände befehl ich meinen Geist" (It is accomplished. Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit).

[2/16] No. 43 Chorus. Tremolo strings mark the rending of the veil of the Temple, the quaking of the earth, the rending of the rocks, the opening of graves and the waking of the dead. A bass adds the words of the centurion "Wahrlich dieser ist Gottes Sohn gewesen" (Truly, this was the Son of God).

Chorus of Risen Saints. Voice after voice, in ascending order, join the chorus of risen saints, with shifting harmonies moving to final triumph.

[2/17] No. 44 Duet. In the garden of Joseph of Arimathaea Christ is laid in the sepulchre. The tenor gives the imagined words of Joseph, answered by the bass as Nicodemus bringing spices. They reflect gently on the body of Christ, lying in the sepulchre.

[2/18] No. 45 Chorus of the Daughters of Sion. The women recall Christ as a baby, wrapped in white linen in a crib, with the gifts of gold and myrrh. Now he lies in a shroud of white linen, his body anointed with spices.

[2/19] No. 46 Final Chorus. The chorus starts in a meditative mood, moving forward to an energetic fugal movement in which final triumph is proclaimed, as death is swallowed up in victory.

Keith Anderson

Sung texts and English translations are available as PDF file online at http://www.naxos.com/libretti/loewe.htm


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