It is the time of year for St. John Passion and last night I heard a splendid rendering of Bach’s Johannes Passion in the Freiburg Münster. Bach in his great talent managed to vividly bring home the story told in the Gospel of St. John. Almost like an impressionist painter, with his choir, Bach brings out the atmosphere, the [Jewish] crowds and hysteria. The result is anti-Jewish agitation to the most beautiful music.
Sitting in the sombre gothic cathedral, I remembered my mother – who sang in the choir that performed the Passion in Israel in the late 60s and early 70s of last century – telling me that the words of the Johannes Passion made her feel more uncomfortable than any text she had previously sung. At the time, I did not really take much heed. I loved the music and that was enough. Having grown up in Israel, anti-Judaism was something I had never experienced. My other, who was born in Germany and had to flee with her family had first hand experience.
45 Year later, leaving the Freiburg Münster, I found myself thinking of the many generations of Christians leaving their solemn churches after hearing Bach’s Johannes Passion depicting the Jews driving the death of their Lord. How many of them, upon subsequently meeting a Jew in the streets of their town, then reacted with hatred, aggression and even violence, as a result of the animosity towards Jews that was planted in their hearts with the aid of the beautiful, so very beautiful music of Johan Sebastian Bach?