Sunday, April 5, 2009

Unhappy German Words, Beautiful Music, Friends and Coworkers

On this beautiful spring day I went to hear my friend play in a presentation of Telemann's St. John Passion. The concert was in a Lutheran church. A coworker of mine found me in the audience and sat next to me. We sat comfortably (or as comfortably as possible on the hard pews) next to each other for 90 minutes while following the Oratorio (I think that's what you call it) in the German and English texts provided in the program. (Neither of us speaks German.) I mention this to contrast it with another, less comfortable, occasion where I sat amongst coworkers in a church.

A year or so ago the father in law of one of the owners of the company where I work died. The funeral was on a Friday morning and the other owner (while pretending that attendance was not required) put the screws to us and made us all attend. He seemed to enjoy it as a comfortable company field trip. I was painfully uncomfortable the entire time. To have to attend Mass with my coworkers was so very wrong. Most of them didn't seem to mind though. Maybe it's just that they were more comfortable in their relations with God than I am. Probably, they were also more comfortable with a company-social than I am.

Anyway, I sat with a friendly coworker and listened to the story of Jesus's death as recounted by St. John in German, with English translation in the program. It didn't matter that we were in a church and it didn't matter that he had to remind me that it was Holy Week. The music was beautiful. The story is--awful. I really can't help feeling sorry for the Jews; they were so afraid of being crushed by the Romans that they demanded that one of their own who had the makings of a leader be killed.

Because this is what I do, I listened to the music and compared the German and Engish texts until I could match them up and quasi-read the German. A piece like this one was great for that because they repeat the verses, so you can listen while reading through the English and then listen while reading through the German. The unhappy result of this is that I've added more unpleasant German words to my vocabulary. My German vocabulary already consisted mostly of unhappy words since most of the words I know come from Brahms Requiem. (The ones that don't all have to do with unpleasant things that can happen to your car-gleaned from a breif career in F1).

Alnd then there was the text... There were a few notes of predestination in it, which I found odd (Assuming the librettist was either a Catholic or a Lutheran) and it seemed like it (the text) glossed over some of the points in the story. This may be due to my Catholic religious education (with emphasis on the stations of the cross) or it may be that the librettist (or St. John for that matter) didn't find these points (Jesus healing the man that Peter hurt, Simon carrying the cross for Jesus, Jesus forgiving (absolving?) the two theives with which he was crucified, etc) of value.