Saturday, April 7, 2012

James MacMillan on the Passion

The ritualistic recitation of Christ’s crucifixion probably began in the 4th century, and the singing of the Passion narrative has been going on from the 8th century. Singing has always been central to the Church. St Augustine said that those who sing pray twice. The “song” of the Church, Gregorian chant, can be traced back to the songs of the Temple and synagogue. It is an amazing feeling, knowing that people have been singing the Passion for at least 1,200 years.

It wasn’t until the 15th century that more complex versions of a sung Passion began to emerge, the earliest example of a so-called motet Passion being attributed to Obrecht. Later there were famous examples by Byrd, Lassus and Victoria. After the Reformation, Luther’s friend and collaborator Johann Walther wrote responsorial Passions which became models for the Lutheran church. Within this environment the development of the “oratorio” Passions of the 16th and 17th centuries paved the way for J S Bach.

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