Messiahs and Pariahs: Suffering and Social Conscience in the Passion Genre from J.S. Bach's St. Matthew Passion (1727) to David Lang's the little match girl passion (2007)
Van Niekerk, Johann Jacob
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The themes of suffering and social conscience permeate the history of the sung passion genre: composers have strived for centuries to depict Christ's suffering and the injustice of his final days. During the past eighty years, the definition of the genre has expanded to include secular protagonists, veiled and not-so-veiled socio-political commentary and increased discussion of suffering and social conscience as socially relevant themes. This dissertation primarily investigates David Lang's Pulitzer award winning the little match girl passion, premiered in 2007. David Lang's setting of Danish author and poet Hans Christian Andersen's "The Little Match Girl" interspersed with text from the chorales of Johann Sebastian Bach's St. Matthew Passion (1727) has since been performed by several ensembles in the United States and abroad, where it has evoked emotionally visceral reactions from audiences and critics alike. It also investigates the ways in which composers of the past and present (including Lang) have chosen to address the themes of suffering and social conscience through their settings of the passion, and the potential and effectiveness of the genre in this regard.
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