OBF’s Digital Bach Project launches new St. Matthew exploration

Chorale music and text
Chorale music and text

Bach’s St. Matthew Passion takes concert listeners through a story of betrayal, cruelty, faith, hope and redemption – the last hours of Jesus’ life.

In the Digital Bach Project’s new St. Matthew initiative, listeners can actively plumb the depths of the great musical drama in a nearly limitless multimedia experience.

Officially launching at www.digitalbach.com on Bach’s birthday – March 21 – the new site incorporates high definition video of conductor Helmuth Rilling’s complete St. Matthew lecture-concerts; poetry, artwork, photography and scholarship; and a line-by-line animation of the libretto available in 15 languages, set to Rilling’s 1999 recording.

The St. Matthew Passion joins the project’s similar explorations of Bach’s B Minor Mass and Goldberg Variations. The University of Oregon's John Evans, the site’s executive producer, sees the new component as a fitting prelude to the 2013 Oregon Bach Festival, Rilling’s last as its artistic director.

“Education has always been paramount to our festival and to Helmuth Rilling,” Evans said. “This combination of his insights, the scholarship and the beauty of the interactive elements opens new possibilities in understanding one of the great achievements of Western art.”

Within the St. Matthew’s “Cuepoints” section, the focal point is a visual representation of a 1681 bible edited and annotated by Abraham Calov, a leading theologian of the time (the Cuepoints interactive feature requires Flash). Page by page, viewers can study Bach’s libretto matched against the German “Calov” bible while hearing the corresponding passage of the music.

Music theorist Tim Smith, the site’s chief programmer and editor, aims for audiences to revisit Bach’s Passion in its original context. “All the elements relate to Passion music’s place in the Lutheran liturgy and how Bach’s congregation might have heard the work,” said Smith, who also authored the project’s B Minor and Goldberg interactive elements.

“I hope to nudge those who perform and love the St. Matthew to more awareness of its existence, and genesis, as an artifact of faith.”

In addition to the animated text study, the St. Matthew component includes:

  • Rilling’s full three hours of lecture-demonstrations recorded at the 2012 Oregon Bach Festival in high definition video, divided into four parts and 26 chapters.
  • Translations of the libretto in 15 languages, including Indonesian, Hebrew, Russian, Hungarian, Swedish and Swahili. A 16th – Welsh – is to come.
  • Nearly 100 pages of scholarly essays and texts, including a sermon by Martin Luther and reflections by poet John Reeves.
  • Virtual tours of both the St. Nicholas and St. Thomas churches in Leipzig, where Bach was responsible for the music.
  • Interactive music notation and text of the eight different Lutheran chorales Bach incorporated into the score.
  • “Stations of the Cross,” a five-day listening guide containing artwork by sculptor Alan Baughman.
  • Rilling’s complete Hänssler CD recording featuring the Gächinger Kantorei, Bach-Collegium Stuttgart and soloists Michael Schade (Evangelist), Christiane Oelze, Ingeborg Danz, Matthias Goerne and Thomas Quasthoff.

Partners in the Digital Bach Project include the University of Oregon, Oregon Bach Festival, Hänssler Classic and Northern Arizona University, where Smith is on faculty. The project is underwritten by the Hinkle Charitable Foundation.

- by George Evano, Oregon Bach Festival