Comments: "Erbarme Dich"

Whose voice?

Lutherans took the "priesthood of believers" notion quite seriously. The whole idea of something like St. Matthew Passion (or any other Good Friday service, for that matter) was to induce the audience to think about how many times they had acted very much like Peter. Peter may have been a "saint" (the Lutherans were quite conflicted about the whole idea of saints) but he was a man like any of them.

So whose voice? From a theological perspective, the primary voice of necessity is that of the singer / storyteller, the secondary voice is that of Bach himself, and finally it is the voice of the person in the pew--who is supposed to recognize himself in the narrative. Theologically, Peter is just a random example of a greater story.

Bach is just relentless with the message "This is about YOU!" By the time we get to "Aus Liebe will mein Heiland sterben" two arias later, the parishioner had better feel guilty or he wasn't paying attention. By "Können Tränen meiner Wangen" we even discover HOW guilty we should feel?

Posted by techno at March 26, 2009 06:58 AM


I always enjoy your posts on music....I really like the way you always bring in modern examples of some musical concept like your SRV's "Texas Flood." I assume, since you always mention guitar players, that you are one yourself? I've played for 25 plus years myself.....Do you know of Yngwie Malmsteen? He kind of invented the whole neo-classical metal movement in the 1980's..There wer others you dabbled in this before him-like Ritchie Blackmore-but no one did it to the extent that Malmsteen did. I didnt even know what a sweep arpeggio was until i got into Malmsteen in the 80's...He is huge Bach fan...often calling himself a Bach and Roller! See the clip below and others which you can easily find on Youtube. Tony

Posted by tony at March 26, 2009 08:53 AM

One of the first CDs I bought, some twenty years ago, was Bach's Mass in Bm, largely because a maestro friend hailed it as the greatest piece of music ever. I find myself listening over and over to Bruckner's Masses in Em and Dm, seldom to Bach's. I bought Matthew's Passion at the behest of a professional musician who wouldn't/couldn't stop raving about it. I much prefer - in fact my favorite CD ever - Vivaldi's Dixit Dominus/Stabat Mater (only the rendition by, oddly enough, the English Bach Festival Orchestra; others seem to confuse mood with tempo, e.g., doloroso with adagissimo). And with string concerti, it's Telemann over Bach. I've often wondered whether it's just my peculiarity or it's that Bach is better appreciated intellectually, i.e. by those well-schooled in music theory and composition.

Posted by cavjam at March 26, 2009 09:25 AM

Don't have anything to add, except thank you for this glorious music and wonderful post.

Posted by Svensker at March 26, 2009 09:27 AM

I've often wondered whether it's just my peculiarity or it's that Bach is better appreciated intellectually, i.e. by those well-schooled in music theory and composition.

I think it's just individual taste. Bruckner makes me feel like I'm chewing oatmeal covered nails, while Bach pierces to the heart (altho agree the Vivaldi Dixit is lovely and so much fun). My only musical education (sadly) was growing up with a music-loving father and taking piano lessons as a kid.

Posted by Svensekr at March 26, 2009 10:01 AM

oatmeal covered nails are delicious

Posted by NYMNYMNYM at March 26, 2009 02:04 PM

My music is better because I work harder. Anyone who works as hard as me will write music that is just as good.

Any master of anything will tell you the same. And they would be just as right. The only difference between mediocrity and greatness is a curing process. Quality not quantity so they say. Believe it, the first draft of this song sounded something like John Cage.

Have mercy, my God,
for the sake of my tears!
See here, before you
heart and eyes weep bitterly.
Have mercy, my God.

A pattern I've noticed in life, is people create much great art as a reaction to deep pain. It's where the 'soul' in music comes from. You can't write and sing 'Stormy Monday' and sound like you mean it without living through a few. So it's the voice of the creator. Whether you're talking about a piece of music or the universe. How's that for a pathetic cry, God calling to himself for mercy.

Posted by tim at March 26, 2009 02:40 PM

Malmsteen? I remember this funny anecdote from Guitar Player years ago. Yngwie J. Malmsteen was touring the US, and he got quite upset at the MC after the guy introduced him as simply Yngwie Malmsteen and not Yngwie J. Malmsteen.

Asked about it afterwards, the MC said he was not surprised by the angry reaction: "Quite understandably, the great guitarist didn't want to be confused with all the other Yngwie Malmsteens out there."

Posted by Bernard Chazelle at March 26, 2009 07:50 PM

A pattern I've noticed in life, is people create much great art as a reaction to deep pain.

One day many years ago I woke up with the phrase "Art is life's consolation prize" in my mind. Since then I've been trying to find out who said that. But while some have obviously expressed that general sentiment, I haven't found anyone who's said it that pithily. Hence I'm now claiming it as my own.

I think it makes sense in several ways: both that it's something you receive when you really, really wanted something else, and that it consoles you.

Posted by Jonathan Schwarz at March 26, 2009 08:20 PM

I always thought holy communion should go "This is the body of our lord Jesus H. Christ." Appeals to the OCD in me.

Art is simple, you can make art of anything you do.
1.)Imagine your goal, the end result, your art.
2)"Frame" it in the most general way
3) Fill in the details.
4) BAM fuckin art.

the important part is choosing your art well, it must mesh well with your soul because you will be pouring it in during step 3. Don't settle because their are fuck-tons of different arts out there.
(shout out to MUsashi -- Book of 5 rings)
Actually RZA revealed that book in an interview or something. He's verse 3 in that song, and you might get discouraged if you were thinking about making MC rhyme your art.

Posted by tim at March 26, 2009 10:45 PM

Funny one Bernard....I never heard that one about Yngwie before...He is a bit of a blow hard...taking himself a bit to seriously...There are some funny parodies of Malmsteen on YouTube....still a great player who stands alone IMHO regardless of his BS.-Tony

Posted by tony at March 27, 2009 08:33 AM

Good heavens but I love your music posts (and so does my 8 year old son)! Please keep up this fine work (and if it's not too much trouble, point to where we might find more of it if you've written on music outside of this site).

Posted by KevinLMack at March 30, 2009 11:20 AM