The dissertation provides a critical study of the five surviving Passion-works associated with the Kapellmeisters of the court of Zerbst within the context of the unique tradition of Passiontide oratorio performances in this centre between 1720-1767. To provide a necessary context to the principal topic, the dissertation commences with a survey of the 18th century oratorio Passion giving a discussion of the centres that supported performances of liturgical Passions, their repertoire and how the works concerned reflected local liturgical requirements. Addressing in turn texts, singing characters, allocation of vocal soloists, instrumentation, musical structures and style, the first chapter examines the development of the form and the conventions of the period, highlighting departures from accepted norms. The chapter ends with two case studies (Telemann's 1744 St Luke Passion and Homilius's St Mark Passion), to provide contrasting examples of mid-century works.
Chapter 2 surveys the development of the Zerbst Hofkapelle in the 18th century: the players and repertoire. Chapter 3 provides biographies of the three full-time Kapellmeisters: Johann Baptiste Kuch, Johann Friedrich Fasch and Johann Georg Röllig, together with a greatly extended work-list for Röllig.
Chapter 4 discusses the evidence provided by the scores and surviving records of services in the Zerbst Schloßkirche from which it is possible to build up a picture of the context of the Passion performances in the Zerbst liturgy and the contents of the Passiontide services. It has also been possible to make an assessment of the number of woks that were composed for this centre in the 18th century.
Chapter 5 provides a survey of the principal sources of hymns in the Court (the various Zerbstisches Gesangbücher and Cantional) and discusses the relationships of the surviving works with these two sources. The remaining chapters each deal with one of the surviving works: Fasch's Mich vom Stricke meiner Sünden , Röllig's St Matthew Passion, the anonymous four-part St Luke Passion Ja deine Sünd and seven-Part St John Passions Ach! Wir armen Sünder and Röllig's St Mark Passion, Die betrübte und getröstete Geistliche Sulamith . In the light of the evidence presented, the concluding chapter provides tentative suggestions regarding the authorship of the anonymous works.