CPE Bach’s St Matthew Passion to be performed in Axminster 231 years after it was written

PUBLISHED: 12:00 22 March 2020

Peter Parshall.

Peter Parshall.


History is in the making in Axminster.

Not since 1789 has a choir been practising this particular St Matthew Passion. CPE Bach wrote the work and it was performed in Hamburg in lent of that year.

Peter Lea-Cox obtained the proof of the rediscovered score and the Axminster and District Choral Society will perform the UK première 231 years later on the Saturday before Palm Sunday - April 4, at 7.30pm in the Minster.

Johann Sebastian Bach's second son, Carl Philipp Emanuel became director of music to all the five of the Hamburg churches when his godfather Telemann died in 1767.

Part of the job description was to compose a setting of the Passion every year. At the time it was perfectly in order for composers to borrow and re-arrange the music of others and CPE Bach only had a group of eight singers at his disposal.

For his 1789 Passion setting, and not for the first time, he happily drew on his father's music for many of the 'crowd' choruses arranging them for four-part choir.

In addition several of his father's wonderful chorale harmonisations are included.

In fact there is more of J S Bach in this work than there is of his son!

Peter Lea-Cox, a leading expert on Bach, said: 'We are very lucky in having been given access to the performing parts based on the critical edition CPE Bach: the Complete Works made available by the publisher, the Packard Humanities Institute.

CPE Bach never performed this work, as he died in December 1788, three months before the established pattern of five successive Sunday performances, which were given in different churches from the second to the sixth Sunday in Lent. This was the last of such Passions ever written so this work is a milestone representing the end of a long tradition stretching back for centuries.'

So it is fitting that the choir is determined to provide a quality performance with professional soloists and orchestra.

Peter Parshall the director of music said: 'It is impossible for a choir of our size to perform the popular JS Bach's St Matthew Passion because the work is very long and demands a double choir and orchestra. This puts it outside our scope musically but also in terms of the performing space we have in the Minster. How fortunate we are then to have the opportunity of offering some of the best bits specially modified by his son for those in the South West who do not usually have the opportunity of hearing a live performance of this work'.

The concert will take place on Saturday, April 4 at the Minster, Axminster at 7.30pm. Tickets cost £12 and £15 from Archway Books, Church Street, Axminster (under 18s - half price) Tel. 01297 33595, members of the choir or on-line at www.axminsterchoral.co.uk.

For further information phone 01404 881 838 or see website.

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