Despite both Bach’s settings of the Passion lasting more than two hours, they were written to be used as part of a Lutheran church service – he wrote the St John Passion, for the Good Friday Vespers service of 1724, and the St Matthew Passion three years later. Rather than expecting the audience – or, rather, congregation – to sit back and take in the music, Bach included a number of hymn-like chorales within the solo sections, so everyone could participate in the worship. Listen to the simple ‘Erkenne mich, mein hüter’ from the St Matthew Passion: this tune is repeated throughout the oratorio, sometimes in a lower key to reflect a sadder mood.
While the words speak for themselves, telling the all-important Easter story, Bach’s multiple layers of musical meaning in both the St John and St Matthew Passions mean it’s possible to enjoy the music on a number of levels. The text tells the story on its own, but it’s Bach’s (often hidden) techniques that bring the music to life.
Further details including how to book tickets will be available soon.