Arts > How Bach created a sacred masterpiece

13 April 2017 | by D.J. Taylor

How Bach created a sacred masterpiece


The number of major theatrical roles Simon Russell Beale has squeezed himself into over the past two decades would fill an exercise book. Hamlet, Napoleon and Anthony Powell’s Widmerpool have been and gone and now, in Bach: The Great Passion (BBC Radio 4, 15 April, 2.30 p.m.) comes his take on – I was about to write “the unlikely figure of”, but in fact Russell Beale plays all his parts with an abiding grace – Johann Sebastian Bach.

The focus of James Runcie’s drama is the run-up to the St Matthew Passion’s debut performance in Leipzig on Good Friday 1727. Bach, by this stage, is fighting on all fronts – still putting the finishing touches to the composition, rehearsing his musicians and singers, cajoling his sponsors and reaching the end of his tether both personally and professionally. It is left to his wife, Anna Magdalena (played by Melody Grove) to keep marriage and project intact.


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