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Wolfgang Rihm links suffering Christ to Holocaust in 'Deus Passus' - podcast

In this period before Easter, Johann Sebastian Bach's Passions seem almost inescapable. But the alternatives are on the rise. Last week, the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra and the Groot Omroepkoor presented two highly successful new Passions.

Alternative passion

Tomorrow bring the AVROTROS Friday Concert Deus Passus by German composer Wolfgang Rihm. It will be performed by the Groot Omroepkoor and the Radio Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by chief conductor Markus Stenz. Rihm composed this hour-and-a-half-long piece in 2000, on the occasion of the 250e anniversary of Bach's death.

Gospel Luke alongside poem Holocaust survivor

Rihm based himself largely on Luke's gospel in Deus Passus: Passions-Stücke nach Lukas. He also used texts from Isaiah, the liturgy of Holy Week, the Stabat Mater and a poem by Paul Celan. The latter in particular is remarkable. By choosing a text by this Holocaust survivor, Rihm links the Passion of Christ to the suffering of the Jews.

Crimes in the name of 'suffering God'

He said: 'Deus Passus - the 'suffering God' - is central to Christian thought. But we must also account for the suffering inflicted on the world in the name of this Christian God.' - Not surprisingly, Rihm largely chose texts from Luke, whose gospel is the least anti-Semitic.

Indeed, in the common view, the Jews are accused of forcing the crucifixion of Christ. Rihm follows in Deus Passus the controversial view that they were actually asking for his release. In doing so, he echoes some scholars who argue that the evangelists deliberately distorted the story to make the Jews look bad.

Dark but understated

At Deus Passus Rihm remains close to Bach's language and atmosphere. Yet his music is unmistakably rooted in modernism. The atmosphere is dark but subdued, with some fierce outbursts at crucial moments. A true masterpiece, it made audiences breathless right from its premiere in 2000.

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I made a podcast about this intensely moving piece for the live broadcast on Radio 4. You can listen to it here.

Info and tickets via this link.

Thea Derks

Thea Derks studied English and Musicology. In 1996, she completed her studies in musicology cum laude at the University of Amsterdam. She specialises in contemporary music and in 2014 published the critically acclaimed biography 'Reinbert de Leeuw: man or melody'. Four years on, she completed 'An ox on the roof: modern music in vogevlucht', aimed especially at the interested layperson. You buy it here: In 2020, the 3rd edition of the Reinbertbio appeared,with 2 additional chapters describing the period 2014-2020. These also appeared separately as Final Chord.View Author posts

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