It is hard to imagine the possibility, but the music of J.S. Bach was nearly lost in the hurried progressiveness of the nineteenth century. Were it not for the interest and diligence of a young composer, Felix Mendelssohn, it is all too possible that Bach's rich and voluminous canon would have been buried in forgetful oblivion.
It was on this day in 1829, that Mendelssohn provoked a revival of interest in Bach when he conducted the masterful ST. MATTHEW PASSION. It was only then that classical music connoisseurs began to analyze and appreciate the artistic majesty of Bach--who was by then relatively unknown outside academic or ecclesiastical circles. Unbelievably, for more than fifty years no Bach piece had been published separately on its own merits.
Mendelssohn had long been in awe of Bach, however. His performance of the PASSION came almost exactly a century from the date of its first, long-forgotten performance. "Never," wrote one concert-goer, "have I known any performance so consecrated by one united sympathy." More than 1,000 people were unable to get tickets. Two further concerts had to be scheduled at once. And the sensation did not diminish with the passing of time. Thousands of Bach pieces were subsequently recovered and hundreds of them became mainstays in the musical repertoires of artists, venues, and institutions everywhere.
Today many musicologists and casual listeners alike consider Bach the greatest composer who ever lived. I am among them. So, tonight, my plan is to listen again, in awe and wonder, to the ST. MATTHEW PASSION, with thanksgiving to God--and to Mendelssohn.