Long-lost Passion composition to premiere Monday in Youngstown

Long-lost composition to premiere Monday in Youngstown




Randall Goldberg likened editing Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach’s “Passion According to St. Luke” to a detective story.

He followed the clues aided by his expertise in music, knowledge of history and the German language and understanding of text from the Bible. To arrive at the point of performance took years of attention to detail and careful interpretation of information.

The result is the modern premiere of the “Passion According to St. Luke” to be presented Monday at Trinity United Methodist Church. The event coincides with the 300th birthday of C.P.E. Bach and the 145th anniversary of Dana School of Music at Youngstown State University.

Beginning in 2004, when Goldberg was a student at Indiana University, he worked on the project with Daniel Melamed, professor of music there. Goldberg came to YSU in 2009. The edited “Passion According to St. Luke” was published in 2011.

The assistant professor of music at Dana said the “score was reconstructed.” That is, he and Melamed unraveled the “scribbles and instructions all over the score” to come up with the edited version.

“All of Bach’s ‘Passions’ went missing during the final years of World War II and were not fully recovered until 2001. This particular composition has not been heard since Easter 1775 and offers us a unique, sonic window into the historical past,” Goldberg said. In addition to Bach’s “Passions,” thousands of other pieces of music also were lost at that time.

The professor said the Nazis moved the music to Berlin then Krakow, Poland, to protect it. In Krakow, the Soviet Army got control of the music and took it to Kiev, Russia, where it ended up in the Tchaikovsky library.

Goldberg said something from an obscure 18th-century concerto was played on the radio and “someone figured out” what it was. “Musicologists had a field day,” he said about the recovery. “This is about as interesting a musical project as you’ll ever find.”

The reason the recovery is so important is that Bach’s Passions weren’t copied or published. The main musical evidence of Bach’s 1775 “Passion” is the manuscript score of a St. Luke Passion by his colleague, Gottfried August Homilius, and that is the score on which Bach wrote alterations and instructions.

Goldberg said a tool to unlocking the score was “knowing the 18th-century German handwriting.”

“It’s an expressive style of writing,” he added. Music students learn the language because it was the language of many classical composers and key to understanding the music.

He explained that Bach (1714-1788), the second-oldest son of Johann Sebastian Bach, was music director for the city of Hamburg, Germany. As such, he was expected to produce music for major occasions at five main churches. “He didn’t write a new ‘Passion’ every year,” Goldberg said, adding that Bach “borrowed” from his father’s music and others.

Goldberg said the presentation of this “Passion” will feature soloists and chorus. There are no costumes or sets. The focus is on the music. The chorus will sing text from the Bible in German. “It’s singing speech ... the Biblical narrative,” he said. He added that cast members sing the part, they don’t portray the character, such as Jesus.

Goldberg described himself as “an advocate of older music.” Expression conveyed is edifying, celebratory and cathartic, he said.

As for the conductor, Hae-Jong Lee, associate professor of music and director of choral activities at Dana, said the school of music’s modern premiere of the Bach Passion “is perfect timing” with Bach’s and Dana’s anniversaries.

Lee said the “Passion” reflects late Baroque and early classical style. “The performance will be multilayered,” he said. This work is “important because of C.P.E. Bach’s status as a significant composer.”

“I immerse myself in a piece as a conductor,” Lee said. “It’s a personal thing.”

The conductor said the Bach work presents a “challenge because there is a no reference point” on presentation. It was up to him to research historical performances and “find the right style.”

“Teaching German diction is challenging,” Lee said. But, he noted, the advantage is that performers “learn a new language and stretch their expressive linguistic muscles.”

The “turba” chorus, as it is known, “is very expressive,” Lee said. The chorus is the congregational response to arias by soloists.

Lee said the performers will be attired in formal style – black dresses for the women and tuxedos for the men.

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