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This thesis explores the two American premieres of Johann Sebastian Bach's Passions: the Handel and Haydn Society of Boston's performance of the St. Matthew Passion in the Boston Music Hall on 11 April, 1879, and the Bethlehem Choral Union's performance of the St. John Passion in the Bethlehem Parochial School on 5 June, 1888. Even in Europe, these works had lain dormant in the years following J. S. Bach's death. The St. Matthew Passion was first revived by Felix Mendelssohn in a concert setting in 1829 in Berlin, but neither the St. Matthew nor the St. John Passion had been performed in their entirety in America until these two ensembles in Boston and Bethlehem took on the task. The size of the performing ensembles required for each work and the difficulty of the music made this task particularly challenging. In addition, both of these works were intended by Bach to be performed for the Good Friday services during Passion Week, yet neither of the American premieres occurred in churches or worship services, but in a concert hall and a parochial school. Viewing the Boston and Bethlehem premieres in comparison to Mendelssohn's performance of the St. Matthew Passion sheds light on how both European and American ensembles viewed the Passions as adaptable to specific contexts: the instrumentation, the amount of the work performed, and the performance language, were all varied amongst the premieres. Further, the two American premieres were strongly influenced by their respective place environments and reflected the particular ideologies of the premiering ensembles. By studying historical documents such as newspaper ads, concert reviews, programs, and financial records, as well as the conductors' personal papers and music collections, this document compares and contrasts the histories of the two communities, ensembles, conductors, approaches to performance practice, and performances themselves in order to understand how elements of the sacred are still inherent in these works even when performed in secular environments for diverse audiences. Ultimately, this thesis will argue for the importance of these American premieres in setting the stage for a broad reception of Bach's sacred music in America.
Bethlehem Choral Union, Handel and Haydn Society, J. S. Bach, Nineteenth-Century America, St. John Passion, St. Matthew Passion
Date of Defense
March 29, 2017.
A Thesis submitted to the College of Music in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Music.
Includes bibliographical references.
Sarah Eyerly, Professor Directing Thesis; Charles E. Brewer, Committee Member; Michael Broyles, Committee Member.
Florida State University
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