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Donner and Blitzen - an alternative view ...

The words ‘Donner’ and ‘Blitzen’ may conjure up images of Santa’s reindeer, especially at this time of year, but for the Lea Singers they mean something very different.  That’s because we are rehearsing hard for our St Matthew Passion performance in February, and one of the first choruses we are learning starts ‘Sind Blitze, sind Donner…’  But this is no cosy evocation of Christmas – exactly the opposite.  At this point in the Passion narrative Jesus has just been betrayed by Judas and led away and we, the chorus, have just wailed ‘Loose him, do not bind him!’  But our petition goes unheeded and so now we unleash our fury:

‘Has lightning, has thunder vanished in the clouds?
Open your fiery pit O hell;
Wreck, ruin, engulf, shatter with sudden force
The false betrayer, the murderous blood!’

Strong words at any time , let alone the run up to Christmas.  But that is the nature of this extraordinary and powerful drama, in which the most sublimely tender music jostles with harsh, jagged choruses (such as this one) and dissonant chords in the cosmic battle of good against evil, played out in the story of the death of an innocent man who is also God.

Charles Burch (Bass – Choir II)

Charles’s description is very apt. What I find compelling is the tension between the abject sorrow of the soprano and alto duet and the fury of the choral interjections. Like he so often does, Bach in a very short section of music is able to illuminate a facet of human nature: so often we feel these emotions together, or confuse them, or one becomes another over time. In this case, fury wins out and leads to ‘Sind Blitze, sind Donner’, a ferocious whirlwind of anger at Jesus’ betrayal and capture.

Benjamin Goodson  (Music Director)

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Forthcoming events


Wednesday 23 December 7.30pm
Harpenden Public Halls

Dramatised St Matthew Passion

Saturday 13 February 7pm
St Albans Abbey

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