For this Good Thursday, which launches the traditional time when the darkest moments of the Passion of the Christ take place, I thought I would pass this link to an openly-available vintage performance of Bach’s St-Matthew Passion.
Although Johann Sebastian Bach wrote "five passions, of which one is for double chorus", only two works have survived: the St John Passion (performed 1724, 1725, 1732 & 1749) and the St Matthew Passion (1727, 1729, rev. 1736, 1742), this last using double chorus. Their popularity rests in their immense emotional power, and in the blend of drama and spirituality that Bach's music offers. Neither of his Passions is a work that an audience or a choir embarks on without due thought: The Passion According to St John of 1724 runs to about two hours, the St Matthew of 1727 to three or more.
But the congregations who first experienced them at Bach's church of St Thomas in Leipzig would have devoted even longer to their Good Friday worship, since, in the tradition of the times, the musical part of the Passions was supplemented by prayers, readings, hymns and a sermon.
Wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/St_Matthew_Passion) provides a good overview and analysis of the work, so I have nothing more to add. On to the music!
Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
Matthäuspassion, BWV 244 (1727)
(Text by: Christian Friedrich Henrici , AKA Picander)
Helmut Krebs, Evangelist
Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, Jesus
Elfriede Troetschel, Soprano
Diana Eustrati, Alto
Friedrich Haertel, Bass
Chor der St. Hedwigs-Kathedrale Berlin
Großer Chor des Berliner Rundfunks
Direction: Fritz Lehmann
(Broadcast performance, 1949)
(NOTE: the performance can be found a little more than half-way down the page, preceded by another recording from 1941 featuring the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra under Günther Ramin)
I've recently had an awakening to Bach.
I didn't really "get it" for a while.
Douglass Adams "...Bach shows you what it's like to be the Universe"
Chopin "Bach is an astronomer, finding the most marvelous stars"
and what Tarkovsky says about him...
Just recently am I understanding what these things mean.
Peter Sellars, one of the more notorious stage directors of recent years or decades in my humble opinion, staged Bach's St. Matthew Passion. I dread to think what this "production" might look like even though, in case if you needed some reminding, a Baroque church Passion was intended to be part of the church service performed during Holy Week, and in many cases the church-goers even joining in during the chorales (not the chorus). Concert hall performances are now what we are used to. Staging one; well, let's see. Sellars' thoughts:-