Bilingual Music: Bach’s St John Passion (II) 雙語音樂:巴赫的《聖約翰受難曲》(二)

Sat, Apr 20, 2019 - Page 14

Johann Sebastian Bach finished the first draft of the St John Passion in 1724 and premiered the piece at St. Nicholas Church in Leipzig on Good Friday, which fell on April 7 that year. While the St Matthew Passion completed three years later presents the warm radiance of the human spirit, with high drama set in a solemn atmosphere, and was subsequently referred to as “the great Passion” by Bach’s family, the St John Passion is somewhat less accessible and held in less high regard. The melody as a whole flows less brightly, and indeed can be rather jarring on the ear, with its frequent mood changes and complexity, its dissonance and tension. The disparity between the two works derives not from the level of maturity in compositional skills, nor from the evolution of his musical style: it is directly related to the fundamental differences in the nature of the gospels inspiring them, and of Bach’s fidelity to the scripture.

The gospels attributed to the two disciples show different sides of Christ. The Gospel According to St Matthew focuses on the ecce homo (behold the man) aspect, emphasizing the fortitude and patience Christ demonstrated in the events immediately preceding his crucifixion, facing his suffering armed with omniscience, before bringing redemption to humanity through his sacrifice. In the Gospel According to St John, Christ appears as a militant Savior, an omnipotent ruler and the belligerent Son of God, facing down Death and emerging victorious.

The opening choral part of the St John Passion is arguably the most extreme example in the history of classical music of a work focusing on the intense emotions of Christ’s suffering. When the choral part concludes, the music is immediately followed by the biblical narrative from the Gospel According to St John. The following excerpt, sung by the evangelist, illustrates Bach’s intricate compositional method:

Jesus ging mit seinen Jungern uber den Bach Kidron, da war ein Garten, darein ging Jesus und seine Junger” (Jesus proceeded with his disciples over the brook Cedron, where was a garden, into which he and his disciples entered).

Judas aber, der ihn verriet, wusste den Ort auch, denn Jesus versammlete sich oft daselbst mit seinen Jungern” (And Judas also, who betrayed him, knew the place; for Jesus often went there with his disciples).

John 8:1 and 8:2 are faithfully set to music and sung by the evangelist, with the keywords Jesus, Junger/disciples, Kidron/Cedron, Garten/garden, Judas, verriet/betrayed and wusste/knew set by Bach in the downbeat, to highlight their significance, and to represent the hierarchy with gradually descending tones for the words Jesus (G), the disciples (E flat) and Judas (D flat). These two Bible excerpts are played with descending thirds, the first, starting with Jesus, being a major third (G to E flat) — in c minor — and the second, starting with Judas, being a minor third (D flat to B flat), with a harmonic center of f minor. Within the musical rhetorics of this parallelism, “Jesus” and “Judas” are set in the frame of a tritone, an interval known since the Middle Ages as the diabolus in musica (“the Devil in music”), or “the Devil’s Interval.” This use of intervals and tonal changes to represent and highlight the meaning of the scripture would appear on a frequent basis in this piece.

(Translated by Paul Cooper, Taipei Times)

巴赫於一七二四年完成《聖約翰受難曲》初稿,並在當年四月七日「受難星期五」於萊比錫的聖尼古拉斯教堂進行首演。相較於三年後完成的《聖馬太受難曲》充滿溫暖的人性光輝、在富含戲劇感的同時又維持穩重莊嚴的氣氛,還被巴赫的後人譽為「那部偉大的受難曲」,《聖約翰受難曲》顯得稍微不那麼突出,而且相對難以親近,整體旋律也不算明亮流暢,反而聽起來相當尖銳,情緒多變而複雜,充滿許多不和諧與衝突。然而,兩部作品間的差異並非來自作曲家的創作技巧上的成熟程度、風格演變,而是直接來自兩部福音書根本上的差異以及巴赫對文本的忠實反映。

兩位使徒撰寫的福音書呈現出耶穌的不同面向:《馬太福音》聚焦於「試觀此人」,強調耶穌受難時展現出的堅忍與耐心,以全知視角沉穩地面對苦難,最後藉由死亡為世界帶來救贖;在《約翰福音》中,耶穌則以一名好戰、全能的統治者姿態出現,像是好鬥的神之子,正面迎擊死亡,最後勝出。

《聖約翰受難曲》開頭的合唱可說是古典音樂史上特別聚焦於因耶穌受難所觸發的激烈情緒和苦痛。合唱結束後,巴赫直接從《約翰福音書》中段開始描述聖經敘事,縝密的創作手法從福音史家開頭的宣敘調中就一覽無遺:

「耶穌說了這話,就同門徒出去,過了汲淪溪。在那裡有一個園子,他和門徒進去了。」

「出賣耶穌的猶大也知道那地方,因為耶穌和門徒屢次上那裡去聚集。」

福音史家如實演唱出《約翰福音》的第十八章第一節與第二節,其中的關鍵字──「耶穌」、「門徒」、「汲淪溪」、「園子」、「出賣」、「猶大」、「知道」──特別被巴赫設計在反拍downbeat演唱,強調其重要性,並以逐步下降的音高表現出耶穌(G)、門徒(降E)、猶大(降D)三個不同位階。在音樂中,這兩段聖經文字都是起始於一個下行三度音程,第一段開頭「耶穌」是一個大三度(G-降E),為c小調,第二段開頭「猶大」則是小三度(降D到降B),和聲中心轉為f小調。在這段排比的音樂修辭中,「耶穌」和「猶大」之間距離三個全音,即為從中世紀開始就被認為不祥的不和諧魔鬼音程。這類運用音程或調性變換來表現文字意義的手法,持續在這部作品中頻繁出現。

(台北時報章厚明撰)