In 1724, Bach unleashed his St. John Passion on Good Friday. Solemn music for the most solemn day in the Christian calendar. While Lutheran congregations would have expected an austere service, with a handful of Lutheran hymns, Bach had something new up his sleeve. As John Eliot Gardiner observes: “What greeted worshippers that day, however, was music of overwhelming descriptive and emotional power that would surely have shattered their perception of music itself.” More raw and unpolished than the St. Matthew Passion, which featured in this blog earlier in the week, this is for me the ultimate music for Easter. Goosebumps, right from the opening, Bach doesn’t relent during this two hour tour de force, an emotional rollercoaster for the ages. Fear, empathy, sorrow, despair, and, finally, transcendence.
Melt, my heart, in floods of tears.
J.S. Bach, St. John Passion:
John Eliot Gardiner and his frequent collaborators, the English Baroque Soloists and the Monteverdi Choir, recently released a new and remarkable recording of the St. John Passion. Recorded live at Oxford’s Sheldonian Theatre, during the height of the pandemic and with a socially distanced choir and soloists, the sound engineering of the recording replicates what must have been a truly enveloping sound on the day.
From Gardiner’s liner notes: “The incredible force and beauty of Bach’s music creates an extraordinary effect, a huge impact, and it offered us a chance to aspire to something much bigger than us and beyond us–the divine.”