J. S. Bach—St. Matthew Passion

St. Matthew Passion 2

J.S. Bach. St. Matthew Passion. Berlin: Schlesinger, 1830. pp. 277-278.

St. Matthew Passion 3

Lilly Library M2000.B118 G8

            Bach’s St. Matthew Passion is similar to an oratorio, containing choral movements, sections of recitative, and solo arias on a religious subject matter with little staging. It is unlike a typical oratorio in that it was not created as  concert music. Bach wrote this work to accompany the 1727 Good Friday observance at St. Thomas Church in Leipzig. The narrative covers a large portion of the book of Matthew, from before the Last Supper to the death and burial of Jesus. The text is in German.

            The music to the right features a portion of the recitative “Und von der sechsten Stunde,” where Jesus, hanging on the cross, asks, “My God, my God, why have You forsaken me?” At this point, after being ridiculed by the assembled crowd, Jesus dies. Bach uses an interesting method of representing the crowd here. In the midst of the lengthy recitative, he briefly uses the full choir, accompanied by metered music, to convey the mocking of the masses. This change in texture is effective in shifting listeners’ focus away from the cross for a moment. Then, the recitative continues as before, followed by a somber chorale. The score is the Lilly Library’s 1830 first issue of the first edition.