Academy of Ancient Music

The subject of Bach’s inclusion of certain unpopular and nearly obsolete string instruments (lute, viola d’amore, bass viol) in the St John Passion has long been a subject of scholarly interest. By 1724 all three instruments were considered old fashioned by his contemporaries, and in later versions of the St John Passion Bach replaced the viola d’amore with muted violins. However Bach’s original choice of instrumental accompaniment was not without consideration of the instrument’s own rich imagery and associative function. It is believed Bach featured the bass viol in the alto aria ‘Est ist vollbracht’ (‘It is fulfilled’) because the instrument was thought to be identified with Lutheran sentiments attributed to the ‘sweetness of death’. For similar illustrative purposes, it is believed Bach originally chose the lute and the ethereal sound of the viola d’amore to express the meditative aria ‘Betrachte, meine Seel’ (‘Reflect, my Soul’) and ‘Erwäge, wie sein…

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