Last Christmas, I published a playlist that looked at Christmas music over nearly 1,000 years. At Easter, it is all about Bach.
As mentioned earlier, Bach’s faith ran deep; while his great and frequent personal tragedies were never worn on his sleeve or visage, they poured out of him and into his music. The St. Matthew Passion is the second of his two Passion settings (his first, the St John Passion will feature later this week).
Here, Bach lets fly his full genius and grief: The flutes used to express the anguish of the apostles at Jesus’ revelation of his impending death (Buss un Reu), the relentless repeating savage diminished chords to symbolize the strokes of the lash during the Scourging (Erbarm es, Gott), and the anguished salvation of its finale (Wur setzen uns mit Tränen nieder).
It’s a brilliant work, which began developing the advanced harmonics of the Romantic Period. No wonder Mendelssohn and Schumann tirelessly promoted Bach’s music. And if the man’s opinion matters, Bach considered this to be his best.
In the comments to the video, you can find links to jump to the sections referenced, but the entire oratorio is worth a few hours of your time. Here is Bach approaching his zenith as a composer, melding religious and personal sorrow and loss into music like no one before or since.
J.S. Bach, St Matthew Passion: