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Bach’s Passion Pursuit
By William Hoffman (March 2010)


Bach’s “First” Passion (1711-14)
Bach’s Weimar-Gotha Passion (1717)
Theme of Weeping
Preparation for the John Passion
Bach’s Leipzig Probe
Composition, Characteristics of Bach’s SJP
Various Versions
Narrative Unity of Structure, Theme, Text
Internal Parody
St. John Passion Chorales
Chorale Usages in Passions



From the beginning with the St. John Passion, Bach was determined to get it right when composing oratorio Passions: a full, faithful, dramatic narrative account; substantial complimentary lyrical choruses with arias and ariosi, sometimes blending chorales and chorus interjections; and a panoply of instructive and engaging chorales.

Bach’s pursuit of Passion music had its origins in his initial contacts in 1702 and 1705-06 with the music scene in northern Germany. There the modern Passion in oratorio settings was being developed, primarily in conjunction with the Hamburg Opera, beginning in 1704. The opera’s emerging director and key leader, Reinhard Keiser (1674-1739), had fostered religious or sacred drama in the new German style of celebratory music, particularly serenades and oratorios, while fusing Italian vocal style and French instrumental dance.

They key to the poetic Passion setting was the writer of the libretto. Two such figures also were connected to the
Hamburg Opera: Christian Heinrich Postel (1658-1705) and Christian Friedrich Hunold (1681-1721). Postel, a prolific librettist and lawyer, flourished in the Arcadian naturalist movement of Italian neo-classicism. Hunold possessed a learned background in classic literature and Latin. Together, their pursuits converge in the work of Barthold Heinrich Brockes (1680-1747), with its emphasis on nature and the love of God, as well as graphic pietistic imagery in his Brockes Passion libretto (1712).

Forkel’s Bach biography (source probably C.P.E. Bach), says that among the composers Bach esteemed were those with Passion connections -- Handel, Keiser, the two Graun brothers (Carl Heinrich and Johann Gottlieb) and Telemann -- as well as Fux, Caldara, Hasse, Zelenka and Benda


Bach’s “First” Passion (1711-14)

Around 1711-14, Bach presented the “Keiser” or Hamburg St. Mark Passion, composed in 1707. The source of the music could have been the Weißenfels Court, where Keiser had a long-established relationship through Johann Philipp Krieger (1680-1724), capellmeister. The court also had specific Mass music of Peranda which Bach possessed as well, “clearly showing these works were rather widely disseminated among the Wettin Courts,” says Peter Wollny, foreward to 2000 Carus edition of the Bach-Peranda settings.

Further, Daniel Melamed’s examination of Bach’s copy of the “
Keiser” Passion parts set “raises the question of whether Bach performed the piece in connection with his official (Weimar) duties at all” (“A St. Mark Passion Makes the Rounds” in Hearing Bach’s Passions (OUP 2005:85). Perhaps Bach performed the work at the Weißenfels Court, where he established a strong, lasting relationship. He produced there on February 23, 1713, his first modern cantata, BWV 208, the “Hunting Cantata” in his first known collaboration with Salomo Franck. This was a year before Bach began to compose church year cantatas monthly at Weimar. Bach later carried the titular title of Weißenfels Court Kapellmeister until Duke Christian’s death in 1729.

Meanwhile, another Passion influence could have come from cousin
Johann Ludwig Bach, Kapellmeiser at the Meiningen Court. “In the year 1713 a Passion account was published in the form of great oratorios – sung in the Royal Chapel of the Duke of Saxe-Coburg-Meiningen – and it is not unlikely that the Duke himself prepared the text and music, likewise the recitative (narrative), which as ‘Sunday and Festival – Devotions from the Ordinary Bible etc.’ were sung in the court chapel, and in 1719 already published in the third edition in print.” (Bechstein, Duke Ernst-Ludwig monograph [Halle, 1856:39], cited in Spitta JSBI:581, William Scheide [JSB’s JLB Cantata Collection, Bach Jahrbuch 1961: 7], Walter Blankenburg [New Text Source for JSB, JLB Cantatas, Bach Jahrbuch 1977:23], and Conrad Küster [JLB Cantata Texts, Bach Jahrbuch 1987:161f.) BCW cites a J.L. Bach “Passion (oratorio); [as part of a] cantata cycle for 1713: lost,” also cited in S. Kümmerle, Encyklopädie der evangelischen Kirchenmusik, i (Gütersloh, 1888/R1974), 67.

The BCW also notes
J.L. Bach’s “Funeral music, Ich suche nur das Himmelleben (JLB 19), 1724, ed. K. Geiringer,” Music of the Bach Family (Cambridge, Mass., 1955). “His lifelong patron Duke Ernst Ludwig died in 1724 and Johann Ludwig wrote the music for his funeral,” says Geiringer (p.107). It is quite likely that J.L. Bach used previous texts of Duke Ernst-Ludwig which he had set aside for his funeral. Thus, some of the lyric music in the funeral cantata could have come from the JLB-Duke Ernst-Ludwig Passion of 1712.

In 1716, Bach composed a funeral cantata for Weimar Prince Johann Ernst. It could have represented an important ingredient in Passion composition. “Was ist, das wir Leben nennen” (What is this that we call life), BC B-19, was presented on April 2 in Weimar. Only the text, probably by Salomo Franck, survives. The music is lost. The text shows 22 movements comprising three madrigalian (lyrical) choruses, six “recitatives,” seven arias, two ariosi, and four chorales. While many of its chorus and ariosi lyrics refer directly to Bach’s favored Weimar personage, there also are lines in the arias reflecting Arcadian naturalism, also popular with Brockes (weeping fir trees, sorrow-blos, and sad cypresses), as well as poetry of general acceptance and lamentation in the recitatives. Its chorales are: 3. “Ach wie flüchtig” (M. Franck); 6. “Herlich tut, mich verlangen” (Knoll); and 18 & 21. “Christus, der ist mein Leben” (S. 1 & 3, Vulpius). Much of this funeral cantata could have been adapted by Bach for later use, as Bach did for some 20 Weimar sacred cantatas utilized in Leipzig services. None of the funeral music has been found.

It is possible that music from the Weimar Funeral Cantata, BC B-19, was adapted in Bach’s Weimar-Gotha Passion, BC D-1, and thus could have influenced music in Bach’s St. John Passion, BWV 245=BC D-2. Collateral evidence demonstrates that Bach’s other two original, extant oratorio Passions have direct parody relationships with the core madrigalian music in two funeral cantatas produced for favored Bach royalty: the St. Matthew Passion, BWV 244=BC D-3, adaptation in the First Köthen Funeral Music: “Klagt, Kinder, Klagt es aller Welt,” BWV 244a=BC D-21, for Prince Leopold (1729), and the Funeral Ode: Läß, Fürstin, laß noch einen Strahl, BWV 198=BC G-34, for Saxon Queen Christiane Eberhardine (1727), adaptation in the St. Mark Passion, BWV 247=BC D-4.


Bach’s Weimar-Gotha Passion (1717)

Bach’s so-called “Weimar-Gotha Passion,” BC D-1, was presented on Good Friday, March 26, 1717, at the Gotha Court. It appears from all the evidence to be a poetic Passion oratorio (Andreas Glöckner, “Neue Spuren zu Bach’s ‘Weimarer’ Passion,” Leipziger Beiträge 2, Bach Forschung, p. 46). The reasoning is that:

1. Other Passion oratorios were presented at the Gotha court: the Seebach Der leidende und Sterbende Jesus (1714), a repeat of the Keiser-Hunold “Der blutige und sterbene Jesus” (The bleeding and dying Jesus) (1719); and the new Kapellmeiser Stölzel’s Die Leidene und am Creutze sterbene Liebe Jesu (The suffering and dying on the cross of the loving Jesus) in 1720.

2. The three Bach arias presumed to be from his “Gotha Passion,” BC D-1, and used in Bach’s second performance of the SJP in 1725 have titles reflecting the contemplative Passion oratorio genre favored by the court, the poetry showing the influence of both Salomo Franck, Weimar Court poet, and Christian Heinrich Postel, the late Hamburg poet.

3. No liturgical oratorio Passion music has survived, which would have been appropriate for a repeat performance or new version in Leipzig.

The three St John Passion (SJP) 1725 arias from Bach’s 1717 Passion, BC D-1, are:
No. 2 (11+=245a). “Himmel reiße, Welt erbebe” (Heaven, tear apart, worlds, quake) with hybrid chorale canto, “Jesu, deine Passion” (Postel influence), John 18:23, Servant strikes Jesus
No. 3 (13a=245b). “Zerschmettert mich, ihr Felsen” (Crush me, ye rocks and hills) (S. Franck, Spitta), John 18:27, Peter weeps bitterly
No. 4 (19a=245c). “Ach windet euch nicht so” (Ah, writhe [thou] not so) (Postel influence), John 18:40, Jesus is scourged

An examination of the literary sources of the “Gotha Passion” shows that Bach was influenced by Postel and Franck in the three inserted arias in the SJP 1725 second version. While Bach had easy access to Franck, it is unclear how he secured a copy of the Postel St. John Passion score. He may have obtained it during his visit to the Hamburg area in 1705-06. Another possibility is that Bach may have received it from the deceased Postel’s friend, the poet Christian Friedrich Hunold (Menantes) during Bach’s examination in Halle in December 1713 for the Cantor’s post of the late Friedrich Wilhelm Zachow, Handel’s teacher. Other sources in Halle may have shown Bach the score, since it was initially thought that Handel was the composer because he had resided in Hamburg in 1704 when the work was first performed at the Dom Cathedral by Friedrich Nicholas Bruhns, its music director.

The Bach Compendium lists three other chorale movements from the “Gotha Passion,” in addition to the canto “Jesu, deine Passion” in the aria “Himmel reiße, Welt erbebe.” The three other chorales are the opening chorale chorus, “O Mensch, bewein dein Sunde gross”; the losing chorale chorus, “Christe, du Lamm Gottes”; and the four-part chorale, “Christus, der uns selig macht” (Patris sapientia, M. Weisse), BWV 283. (Bach Compendium D-1: 1985 (p. 983); editors Christoph Wolff and Hans-Joachim Schulze.) Bach reused the two chorale choruses, respectively, to close Part 1 of the St. Matthew Passion and to close Cantata BWV 23. The chorale “O Mensch, bewein dein Sunde gross” has a textual pattern that relates to Paul Gerhardt’s Passion song “Ein Lämmlein geht und trägt die Schuld” (A lambkin goes and bears our guilt) and its associated melody, “An Wasserflüssen Babylon.” The three arias from Bach’s Gotha Passion were only used in the SJP 1725 second version.

Bach’s Weimar-Gotha Passion (1717), BC D-1, chorales:
1. “O Mensch, bewein dein Sunde groß” (chorale chorus=BWV 244/29[35]);
2. “Jesu, deine Passion” (soprano, with aria=245a; S.33), Jesu “Leiden, Pein und Tod”;
5. “Christe, du Lamm Gottes” (German Agnus Dei) (chorale chorus=BWV 23/4);
6. “Christus, der uns selig macht” (BWV 283).

In addition, Alfred Dürr is convinced (JSB Cantatas: 616) that the three-movement sequence (aria, arioso, closing chorale) in Cantata BWV 55, “Ich armer Mensch, ich Sündenkneckt,” originated in Weimar. Dürr says, “movements 3-5 were adapted from an older, lost composition – possibly a Passiontide cantata or the lost Weimar Passion of 1717,” in his discussion of the tenor solo Cantata (librettist unknown, possibly Picander) for the 22nd Sunday After Trinity, 17 November 1726. The movements are an aria and arioso, both beginning “Erbarme dich” (Have mercy) and the closing chorale “Bin ich gleich von dir gewichen.” Dürr cites Andreas Glöckner NBA KB I/26, 1995, and “Neue Spuren zu Bach's `Weimarer Passionˊ”, Leipziger Beiträge zur Bach-Forschung I (1995), 33-46.

“Erbarme dich” (Have mercy) is the Litany of the Kyrie and the refrain in the Agnus Dei (Lamb of God,” “Lamm Gottes”) at the opening and endings of the Mass Ordinary. It is found in two Bach vocal works composed in Weimar: the closing chorale chorus setting in Cantata BWV 23/4 of Luther’s German Agnus Dei (Christe, du Lamm Gottes”), and in the chorus Kyrie eleison, BWV 233a, with a soprano cantus firmus of the German Luther chorale, with the refrain, “Erbarm dich unser” (Have mercy upon us).

While Bach was composing the Kyrie eleison in Weimar, he had access to the court library at Weißenfels where he obtained Mass movements in the old style of Baal and Pez, as well as Peranda. Another connection while at Weimar was the Gotha Hymnal that quotes the ending of Luther’s German Litany used in the Kyrie.

Soon after presenting Cantata BWV 55, according to Dürr, Bach composed for the St. Matthew Passion another aria beginning “Erbarme dich,” followed by the same chorale, “Bin ich gleich” (Mvts. 39-40[47-48]), following Peter’s weeping. Both the “Erbarme dich” SMP aria, BWV 244/39, and the BWV 55/3 arioso follow the initial “Have mercy” words with references to tears: “Mein Gott, um meiner Zähren willen!” (my God, for the sake of my tears [weeping]), SMP (Marissen Bach Oratorios:53), and “Laß die Tränen dich erweichen” (Let my tears soften you), BWV 55/3 (Dürr Cantatas:617).

The nine numbers determined to be from Bach’s Gotha Passion constitute a Passiontide cantata or a core of lyric movements appropriate for a poetic oratorio Passion. The chorale choruses, “O Mensch, bewein dein Sünde groß” “Christe, du Lamm Gottes,” would have served as the substantial opening dictum and closing for a harmony Passion oratorio or cantata. It is quite possible that Bach, receiving the Gotha commission on short notice, would have been able to compose only a limited number of movements. Passiontide cantatas were a common practice and an alternative to the lengthy Passiontide oratorios at that time. Salomo Franck in Weimar compiled texts appropriate for Passiontide cantatas. Gottfried Heinrich Stölzel at Gotha produced a collection of Passiontide cantatas, as well as Christoph Graupner at Hessen-Darmstadt and Carl Heinrich Graun at Brunswick. Given Bach’s estrangement from the Weimar Court at the time of his Gotha Passion composition, it may have been inappropriate for court poet Franck to provide Bach with substantial, new texts.

Thus, five of the nine Gotha Passion numbers are vested with chorales: the two choruses, the aria “Ach windet euch” with the canto, and two plain chorales, “Bin ich gleich von dir gewichen,” and “Christus, der uns selig macht.” The latter, based on the Latin St. John Passion hymn, Patris sapientia, (Michael Weisse), is found in the SJP at the beginning of Part 2, No. 15, when Christ is take before Pilate, and No. 37 (stanza 8), when Christ is prepared for burial. The Bach Compendium lists the chorale as No. 6 in the Weimar Passion, D-1, with the free-standing four-part setting, BWV 283. Depending on which of eight Weisse stanzas Bach used, that four-part chorale could have been placed at any dramatic point in his Gotha Passion between Christ’s confrontation with Pilate and the preparation for burial. For complete text and translation, see:

The only previously-documented Gotha Passion performance (1714) allows for as many as 49 chorales throughout, by Johann Georg Seebach (nds), Passion oratorio Der leidende und Sterbende Jesus. The Seebach Passion includes Gospel text paraphrase (beginning at the Last Supper), character arias, and as many as 49 interspersed chorales could be sung. Only the libretto survives (Spitta JSB2:496, 510).


Theme of Weeping

Peter’s weeping has a key place in the poetic Passion oratorios, especially the Brockes Passion (No. 38, Evangelist recitative) and occurs in all three synoptic Gospels. It is also found in Christian Weise’s Passion poem, “Der weinende Petrus” (The weeping Peter, Leipzig 1675). Its first stanza became the text, with minor word changes, for Bach’s aria, “Ach, mein Sinn,” in the SJP, BWV 245/13(19), following Bach insertion of the text of Peter weeping, from Matthew 26:75, after John 18:27 at Peter’s denial and the cock crowing: “Peter, recalling Jesus’ words, went out and wept bitterly.” The aria “Ach, mein Sinn” is followed by the chorale, No. 14(20), “Petrus, der nicht denk zurück (Peter, who does not think back [to Jesus’ Word], Stanza 10 of Paul Stockmann’s epic 33-verse Passion harmony setting, “Jesu Leiden, Pein und Tod”). The chorale, which closes Part 1 of the SJP, says that “Der doch auf ein’ ernsten Blick/Birrelichen weinet” (at a penetrating glance, however, he weeps bitterly).

In 1725, Bach substituted “Ach mein Sinn” with the Gotha Passion aria, “Zerchmettert mich, ihr Felsen und ihr Hügel” (Crush me ye rocks and hills), No. 13a, influenced by a Salomo Franck stanza. It closes with the text: “Ach, fallt vor ihn in bittern Tränen nieder!” (Ah, bow down before him with bitter tears!).

While Peter’s tears and weeping do not occur in John’s Passion account of Peter’s betrayal, it is an important theme in Bach’s three Passions. He puts into his SJP the Matthew verse 26:75 of Peter, after his three denials, recalling Jesus’ prophecy of Peter’s three denials at the Mount of Olives (not in John’s Passion account) and then weeping bitterly. The new “Erbarme dich” aria, which Bach wrote for his SMP, has a text by Picander. The end of his 1725 Passion oratorio libretto, BWV Anh. 169, and the SMP closing chorus declare: “Wir setzen uns, mit Tränen nieder” (We sit down in tears). In the opening chorus and closing chorale of the St. Mark Passion, there is reference to “Ich will so lange dich beweinen” (I will keep bewailing you as long as it takes) and Ich bitte dich mich Tränen . . . Nach dir möge sein” (With tears I ask you . . . [that] I may long for you).

Although the text of the two “Erbarme dich” (Have mercy) solos seem integral to the whole Cantata BWV 55 and show no pervasive Weimar influence, it is still possible that they were adaptations of Gotha Passion texts, especially if Picander wrote the cantata libretto. If indeed the aria-arioso combination originated in the Gotha Passion, it would not have been appropriate for the SJP in 1725, since Bach already substituted “Zerschmettert mich” where Peter weeps bitte.

Another possible placement of the Zerschmettert mich” aria in the Gotha Passion is based on the aria’s first line reference to Luke’s Passion account, 23:28-30, where Jesus, prophesies as he begins the “Way of the Cross.” He admonishes the Women of Jerusalem not to weep for him but for themselves and their children, for a time will come “when people will say to the mountains, ‘Fall on us!’ and to the hills, ‘hide us’.” This incident is found only in Luke’s Gospel and is not referred to in the Brockes Passion text.

As part of a poetic “harmony” Passion oratorio of the four evangelists’ account, Bach’s original Gotha Passion arias probably would have been located at highly dramatic places. Assuming that “Zerschmettert mich” was placed at the beginning of Christ’s crucifixion, the aria-arioso “Erbarme dich” and the succeeding chorale would have been most appropriate at Peter’s weeping.

The aria (SJP No. 11a=245a.) “Himmel reiße, Welt erbebe” (hybrid chorale “Jesu, deine Passion”) could have been at the place where the High Priest Annas’ Servant strikes Jesus (John 18:23). Another location for “Himmel reiße” in the Gotha Passion could have been at the Earthquake where Postel’s St. John Passion contained the original aria, “Bebet ihr Berge, zerberstet ihr Hügel” (Quake, ye mountains, splinter ye crags), that influenced Bach’s setting. The aria (SJP No. 19a=245c.) “Ach windet euch nicht so” (Ah writhe thou not so), the other Postel-influenced aria, originally occurs when Jesus is scourged (John 18:40) just prior to his via crucis and crucifixion.


Preparation for the John Passion

During his previous Köthen tenure (1718-23), Bach had had the opportunity to acquire lyrical Passion resources. He established a working relationship with the poet Menantes, living in Halle, who as Köthen Court poet, provided him with libretti for his annual celebratory serenades for Prince Leopold, from 1718 to Menantes death in 1721.

In mid-November 1719 Bach spent a fortuitous week in Hamburg, performing major organ recitals and auditioning for the post of organist at St. Jacobi Church. Those who heard Bach included the aged organist-composer Johann Adam Reincken, as well as Erdmann Neumeister, who developed the modern church cantata libretto and was senior minister at St. Jacobi, and Johann Mattheson, music director of the Hamburg Dom Cathedral since 1718. Bach presented a half-hour improvisation of the chorale “An Wasserflüssen Babylon,” according to the Bach Obiturary.

Earlier, at Lent 1719 Mattheson had finally been able to present all four Brockes Passion versions of Keiser, Telemann, Handel, and himself, which continued to be performed annually. In 1722 Mattheson put together a Pasticcio Brockes Passion of music from all four composers, at the same time as Telemann introduced his first oratorio Passion of St. Matthew on Palm Sunday in the Hamburg Cathedral. In 1723, Mattheson followed with his version of the Postel St. John Passion at the Cathedral, later critiquing the original 1704 Postel St. John Passion music which Mattheson said was written by a “world-famous composer,” presumably Handel.

Given all this history with Brockes and Postel lyrics, and Bach’s use of the latter in 1717, it’s no wonder that Bach relied heavily on them, especially Brockes, to shape the lyrics to his forthcoming St. John Passion, the first of a quadrennial cycle of the four evangelists, realized in 1728-31 with his own three settings of John (1728), Matthew (1729) and Mark(1731), and the apocryphal St. Luke Passion (1730). These Passions may have been repeated in 1732-36 (1732, John; 1733, no music allowed; 1734, Stölzel’s Ein Lämmlein geht und trägt die Schuld; 1735, St. Mark and St. Luke; and 1736, St. Matthew.


Bach’s Leipzig Probe

Bach’s three competitors for the Leipzig post were favored initially but each turned down the position. All produced extensive cantata cycles as well as passions and opera, and were educated in law at the University of Leipzig. All had strong previous experience in Leipzig. These factors suggest that the dominant, progressive pro-Dresden faction on the Town Council initially sought out well-known and established composers who could write appealing, progressive, dramatic music. The restriction in his contract against Bach composing theatrical music probably was a last-minute compromise to make him acceptable to the old guard.

Johann Friedrich Fasch (1688-1758), who composed 12 cantata cycles beginning at Zerbst in 1722, was the first composer approached by Leipzig authorities after Kuhnau’s death, June 5, 1722. Fasch was a student of Kuhnau in Leipzig, 1700-1712, and founded a rival Collegium musicum to Telemann’s. Having just assumed a prestigious position as Kapellmeister at Zerbst, he declined.

Next, the post was offered on August 11, 1722, to
Georg Philipp Telemann (1681-1676), who also had a law degree from Leipzig University, and had been the music director at the progressive New Church, 1701-1705. Eventually, his Hamburg employers refused to released Telemann, who declined the appointment in November 1722.

Christoph Graupner (1683-1760) became the favorite. He composed 20 cantata cycles, including works for Holy Thursday and Good Friday, at Hessen-Darmstadt, beginning in 1711. A student at the University of Leipzig 1696-1705, Graupner was unable to obtain his release, and informed the Leipzig Council on March 22, 1723, Monday of Holy Week.

Meanwhile, on Sunday February 7, 1723, Bach presented his probe pieces, the Cantatas BWV 22 and BWV 23. “Bach decided to Extend BWV 23 by one movement, the elaborate chorale setting, “Christe, de Lamm Gottes,” BWV 23/4. . . . The movement was not a newly composed piece but was taken from a finished work, most likely the Weimar (or Gotha) Passion of 1717, BC D1, which Bach brought along to Leipzig in his baggage – perhaps to be able to show an example of a large-scale composition, perhaps to offer it for performance in case such a work was needed for the upcoming Good Friday Vespers. The need apparently did not arise. . . .” Christoph Wolff, JSB: The Learned Musician (2000:222).

On April 9 the Town Council met and finally offered the Cantor’s position to Bach. On April 19 he signed a pledge to teach at the Thomas School and on April 22 the Council elected Bach. On May 5 Bach came to
Leipzig and an examination for theological competence, and on May 16 he assumed his initial duties with the University of Leipzig.

Once established in
Leipzig in June 1723, Bach had the opportunity to follow Telemann’s lead and produce quadrennial cycles of Passion music of the four Evangelists. The choice of John’s Gospel was a serendipitous situation. While Telemann begun his annual Palm Sunday hybrid Passion presentations at the main services in 1722 with Matthew, John’s Gospel was required reading on Good Friday in Leipzig.

The Vesper Service allowed Bach to compose a full liturgical oratorical treatment of John, Chapters 18 and 19, where
Postel’s Hamburg oratorio Passion was limited to the second chapter. Therefore Bach had to search in the Brockes Passion text to find passages referring to events in John, Chapter 18, for some of his arias. Since no SJP librettist has been identified, it is quite possible that the original libretto of lyrical choruses, arias, and ariosi was assembled in a collaboration involving Bach and a university-educated writer and perhaps theologian.

Alfred Dürr suggests that an “original libretto” was devised “from under the text of the Passion we know today” (JSB’s St. John Passion: Genesis, Transmission, and Meaning (2000:54). “Thus, the paraphrases based on Brockes, if nothing else, can be assigned to one and the same author, and the large number of movements involved (7, 19, 20, 24, 34, 35, 39) doubtlessly points to the fact that he is the ‘original librettist’ we are looking for.” Dürr attributes the opening chorus to the same author on the basis of its having the “indispensible” Exordium or dictum (basic statement). He is less certain of the same author for the Postel-influenced movements 22 and 30 and “even less who interpolated” the aria “Ach, mein Sinn” (13) based on Michael Weisse’s poem, originally modeled in Brockes (38). These three arias were not part of the original SJP libretto, says Dürr. No source has been found for the generic discipleship aria “Ich folge dir gleichfalls” (9). Dürr suggests three possibilities: Bach or his librettist wrote the text or Bach found a non-Passion text to insert. (IMHO, Bach’s St. Thomas Church pastor Dr. Christian Weiss remains the most likely “enabler” of the SJP libretto.)

Since Bach’s SJP would present the entire reading, no separate non-musical or intoned reading of John’s narrative was needed during Vespers. Further, Bach had access to the score of the
Telemann Brockes Passion Oratorio, with its literary treatment of the Johanine emphasis on Jesus’ dramatic confrontations with authorities as the textual source for commentary choruses and arias. The only other major ingredient needed was the interpolated, reflective chorale, which had a primary place in Leipzig liturgy and Bach organ compositions. The musical Passion was the principal fixture at Good Friday Vespers, divided into two parts with the pastor’s sermon in between the musical sermon.


Composition, Characteristics of Bach’s SJP

The St. John Passion embraces the major elements of musical rhetoric with its symmetry or balance of structure, repetition of thematic and symbolic ingredients, myriad and kaleidoscopic contrasts, and unity of basic purpose and expression.

The genesis of Bach’s St. John Passion took less than a year, with the actual composition of the 40 movements occurring during the six weeks of Lent. As has been shown, the ever-calculating and determined Bach brought a wealth of tradition, materials and skills to the task of a creating a unique Passion form. He was fully aware of both the challenges and the pitfalls, and his achievement is remarkable. As Bach’s first full Passion setting, John’s unique account was fully realized within the prescribed timeframe. In contrast, Bach took five years to fashion his monumental St. Matthew Passion with its 68 movements composed for double ensemble.

Bach developed a basic template or plan of the movements, laying out the narrative with the crowd choruses, finding places for lyrical solo commentary (seven arias and two aria-arioso combinations) and alternating congregational chorales. The two greatest challenges were finding places to interrupt the narrative with chorales and solos, and dividing the entire Passion into two parts for the sermon in the middle. In his two synoptic (or see-together) full Gospel Passions, Matthew and Mark, Bach was able to find a break for the sermon after Jesus’ arrest leading to his confrontations with authority and the Crucifixion. The SJP is divided after 14 movements at the chorale about Peter’s weeping and resumes after the sermon when Jesus is taken from Caiaphas to Pilate.

Various commentators have found weaknesses in the John Passion, detailing Bach’s revisions yielding four (possibly five) versions over the next 25 years. All of this comes in contrast to the Mathew Passion that was virtually unchanged in its succeeding performances after 1729. These observers usually attribute the SJP’s lesser status to the inherent pitfalls of John’s partial-Passion narrative that does not necessarily lend itself to places of repose for effective musical treatment. John’s account omits the crucial actions leading immediately to Jesus’ arrest: the omens, Judas’ betrayal, the Last Supper, and Jesus’ initial, solitary suffering at the Mount of Olives and the Garden of Gethsemane. John’s communal, triumphal Christus Victor drama has a prelude (Jesus’ arrest) and two acts: 1) Jesus’ very public confrontations with authority while juxtaposing Peter’s denials and act of betrayal, and 2) a graphic account of the succeeding very-public scourging and Crucifixion -- Jesus’ punishing torture and execution.

Bach preserves the basic integrity of his SJP in all the extant versions. He balances all of the interpolative ingredients: the nine corporate, didactic, reflective chorales; the opening and closing choruses and 11 personal solos; and the signature 12 dramatic crowd choruses, or turbae The arias occur at key dramatic places in the story, alternating with the chorales, while 10 of the 12 crowd choruses are embedded in the confrontation scene. Bach brought a sense of unity and cohesion to the Passion setting through the use of a structural plan of narrative and commentary in the first act, and an allegorical tonal plan, especially in the second act.

The principal feature of Bach’s structural unity is the long narrative confrontation scwith Pilate, from Recitative, Mvt. 16e, to the division of Jesus’ clothes at the Recitative, Mvt. 27a. This is full symmetry in palindrome structure, also called “mirror” or arch, with the centerpiece, the chorale Mvt., 22(40), “Durch dein Gefängnis” (Through your imprisonment; Postel text; chorale tune “Mach's mit mir Gott”). The whole sequence is called “Herzstücke” (cross-piece or center-piece) with narrative interspersed, proportionally, flanked by chorales, Nos. 17 and 26, and a dramatic aria-arioso and an aria with chorale, Nos. 19 and 24, first suggested by Friedrich Smend in Bach Jahrbuch 1926, points out Alfred Dürr in JSB’s St. John Passion: 96f).

Bach also achieve a sense of unity, Dürr points out (Ibid:65) through the use of a model instrumental passage and “parallels between the vocal parts of pairs” of turbae. Thus, 10 of the 12 turbae or crowd choruses are found in this confrontation scene, with interpolated choral passages and internal parody.


Various Versions

Through a comparison of the initial parts set and succeeding sets and scores, four versions of Bach’s St. John Passion exist: 1724, 1725, 1728 or 1732 (c.1730), and 1749. While scholars initially suggested that these changes involved Bach’s struggles for a unified, homogeneous St. John Passion setting, it now appears that these temporary changes fell within the context of his annual Passion responsibilities and his calling for a “well-ordered church music.” With the exception of some minor changes in orchestration, lyrical text and the Earthquake narrative interpolation from Matthew 27:51-52, almost all the remaining changes involve lyrical substitute movements of choruses and arias from Bach’s Weimar-Gotha Passion involving Peter’s denials and weeping scene. Various internal and external conditions seemed to motivate Bach to make these changes, although not to the degree of the radical alterations Baroque composers such as Handel made to their operas.

In 1725, Bach was planning to present his second original Passion setting, to Matthew. Since it was only in the early stages of composition, Bach had to choose an alternative, an existing full oratorio Passion setting. Three apparently were readily available: his predecessor Kuhnau’s St. Mark Passion, the “KeiserSt. Mark Passion (which he did perform in 1726) and his own St. John Passion. Nearing the end of his chorale cantata annual cycle, he was able to take chorale-related music from his Gotha Passion and used it to replace the opening and closing choruses with comparable music, inserting two arias near the end of Part 1 (11+ & 13a) and one early in Part 2, ‘Ach windet euch” (19a), when Jesus is scourged, replacing an arioso-aria combination.

For the third SJP performance, 1728 or/and 1732, Bach removed all five lyrical insertions and restored the original music, and he removed the two original Matthew insertions at Peter’s weeping and the earthquake. Thus he presented a true St. John Passion, without any other Gospel Passion additions, to conform with the on-going quadrennial cycle of pure oratorio Passion settings to Matthew, Luke, and Mark. For the fourth version in 1749, Bach returned to the original first version of 1724, restoring the two Mathew insertions.

One perplexing question is why the three Weimar-Gotha Passion proclamatory, personal arias were put into the SJP 1725 version, taken out c.1730 and apparently never used again? IMHO, the answer or perspective lies in their qualities and original usage. The Weimar-Gotha Passion oratorio would not have been acceptable in a Leipzig Good Friday Service. It was specifically composed for the Gotha Court, which favored poetic, summa Passion oratorios, with the emphasis on arias. Bach was able to hone his composing skills and produced two full, fine, progressive tenor da-capo arias, “Zerschmettert mich” and “Ach windet euch,” and the “new-type” (bass) aria with interspersed chorale, “Himmel Reiße.” The first and third arias are in agitato style and the second is an appropriately spinning air with canto chorale.

Bach had some fine Passion music and he reused it at the most opportune time and situation, given that the initial SJP version was through-composed as a completely original, integral and model work.

The Weimar-Gotha three-movement sequence of aria-arioso-chorale was a repetition of the Peter’s weeping scene in the 1725 version and therefore concluded church Cantata BWV 55 in November 1726.

Meanwhile, Bach kept the chorale chorus “Christe, du Lamm Gottes” in Cantata BWV 23 for Quinquageisma Sunday and finally placed the chorale chorus, “O Mensch, bewein' dein' Sünde groß,” in the SMP in 1736, closing Part 1.

The question remains, why Bach apparently never reused the three proclamatory Weimar-Gotha Passion arias with their specific references to Passion actions (Jesus struck by the servant of the High Priest, Peter weeping bitterly, and Jesus scourged). These arias were taken out of the SJP for the third version, c.1730. IMHO, it is possible that these three arias were serendipitously inserted into a subsequent version of the concise, chorale St. Mark Passion (SMkP), perhaps in 1735. The SMkP has only five arias in the original 1731 version but probably was repeated at least once on Good Friday, like the other three oratorio Passions (John three times, Matthew twice and Luke twice). The five original SMkP parodied arias (there are no ariosi) were placed at the scene change from the Last Supper to the Mount of Olives, Judas’ betrayal, Jesus’ arrest, when the crowd says “Crucify him”!, and at Jesus’ death.


Narrative Unity of Structure, Theme, Text

One of the most prominent characteristics of Bach’s Leipzig Passions is the unified structure of large-scale forms. By alternating narrative and interpolation in his Passions, Bach created contrast and internal symmetry. Throughout the years of Bach’s Passion composition, this structural symmetry becomes less apparent and calculated: the St. John Passion has a series of very obvious palindrome, chiastic (cross-like) structures; the St. Matthew Passion has a more complicated and complex overall structure, with overlays of various structures; and the St. Mark Passion has a simple symmetry, alternating mostly chorales with narrative.

Schematically, sections of the Passions can be coded with letters designating types of movements. For example, in the St. John Passion, Part 1, the scene of the Trial before the High Priest, Nos 10-15 (NBA), the palindrome structure can be designated ABACABA. The repeated letters represent very similar (A) narratives, (B) arias, and (C) chorales. Similarly, in the St. Matthew Passion, in the scene of the Trial before Pilate, Nos. 49-64 (NBA), the repetition of clusters can be designated ABAC, ACAB, ABACA. In the St. Mark Passion, the choraleand infrequent arias alternating with narrative can be designated simply ACACABACAC, leaving only one scene with interpolative arias and chorales, Judas’ betrayal and Jesus’ arrest at the end of Part 1.

Another trait in Bachs oratorio Passions is the increasing brevity in his treatment of turba choruses in the narration. Those in the 1724 St. John Passion are the most extensive and dramatic. The 14 choruses contain about 118 words, or about eight and one-half words per chorus. By comparison, the 17 choruses in the later St. Matthew Passion contain about 169 words, about ten words per chorus. But the difference in the musical treatment is striking: in the St. John Passion, the 14 choruses total about 280 measures, an average of 20 measures per chorus; in the St. Matthew Passion, the 17 choruses total about 137 measures, an average of eight measures per chorus, or less than half as long. A comparison of the two very similar choruses in the two Passions further illustrates this difference:

St. John, No. 34(21b)
Sei gegrüßet, lieber Judenkönig!
4 words, 12 measures

St. Matthew, No. 62(53b)
Gegrüßet seist du, Judenkönig!
4 words, 5 measures

St. John, No. 36(21d)
Kreuzige, kreuzige!
2 words, 24 measures

St. Matthew, No. 54(45a)
Lass ihn Kreuzigen!
3 words, 9 measures


Internal Parody

Bach's internal parody of turba chorus music within the St. John Passion gives the work greater structural unity. The turbae in the St. John Passion involve chorus music, with new biblical texts, in various degrees of parody from partial to radical changing of text. The musical treatment advances the plot dramatically, to give the work a stronger structure of symmetry and musical similarity.

Most notably, Bach employed parodied thematic and rhythmic repetition in the introductory Jesum vom Nazareth, Nos. 3(2b) and 5(2d), according to Steinitz and Schweitzer. Steinitz observes that "the basic material of these four bars, No. 3 (2b), especially the flute/violin pattern and the basso continuo, is used in four later" turbae with the same basic music set to different texts: No. 5(2d), No. 25(16d), Wir dürfen niemend (It is not lawful); No. 29(18b), Nicht diesen sondern Barrabam (Not this man but Barabbas); and No. 46(23f), Wir haben keinen König denn den Kaiser (We have no King but Caesar). Schweitzer points out that the same music also is found in these same movements as well as No. 23(16d), Wäre dieser nicht ein Übeltäter (If he were not a malefactor).

Steinitz and Schweitzer offer three other examples of parodied turbae, all in John's highly dramatic scene of the trial before Pilate. The turba No. 36(21d), Kreuzige (Crucify"), is parodied in No. 44(23d), Weg, weg mit dem, kreuzige ihn (Away with him, crucify him); No. 38(21f), Wir haben ein Gesetz ("We have a law), is parodied in No. 42(23b), Lässest du diesen los (If thou let this man go); and 34(21b), Sei gegrüßet (We greet thee) is parodied in No. 50(25b), Schreibe nicht (Write not).

Eric Chafe notices a further Passion connection involving these five turba parody usages of Jesum vom Nazareth from the St. John Passion. He says that because their basic melodic material symbolizes Jesuskingship, it is again used as double parody in the kingship turbae in the St. Mark Passion and the Christmas Oratorio, the choruses Pfui dich and Wo ist.”

The turba choruses in Keisers St. Mark Passion probably had some early, initial general influence on Bach. Keisers eight choruses, primarily in the old motet style, are concise, except during the Crucifixion, Nos. 16a and 24. There he mixes homophonic with polyphonic proclamation and uses other contrasting devices such as antiquated Alla Breve and modern Presto markings.

Albert Schweitzer, Albert. J. S. Bach, trans. Ernest Newman (London: Breitkopf & Hartel, 1911): 2:177, 305.
Chafe, Eric Tonal Allegory in the Vocal Music of J. S. Bach (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1991), 97.
Steinitz, Paul. Bach’s Passions. (New York: Scribner’s Books, 1978): 38-40.


St. John Passion Chorales

Bach choice of particular chorales in his Passion settings is based upon tradition as well as practice. As his first Passion oratorio, the SJP has a highly innovative, wide range – and usage – of chorales: 10 four-part chorales, including the closing movement, opening and closing chorale choruses (1725 version only); the hybrid aria-chorales No. 11+, “Himmel reiße, Welt erbebe” (Heaven, tear apart; world, quake] with chorale “Jesu, deine Passion” (1725 version only), and No. 32(60), “Mein teurer Heiland, lass dich fragen” (My precious Savior, let me ask you), with chorale, “Jesu der du warest tot” (Jesus, you who were dead), and a chorale text used as the central “Herzstück” aria, No. 22, “Durch dein Gefängnis” (Through your imprisonment).

Taking pride of place, the four-part chorales overshadow the lyrical arias and ariosi in the setting of the general narrative scheme. The first two occur before any solos, almost immediately at the beginning: No. 3(7), “O große Lieb,” at Jesus’ arrest, and No. 5(9), “Dein will Gesche,” when Jesus tells the arresting soldiers: “Am I not to drink the cup my father has given me?”

Bach thoroughly exploited the so-calledhybrid” chorales mixed with arias in early 1725 in his concurrent chorale cantata cycle. The first use of this blend was introduced in the 1707 memorial Cantata BWV 106, “Gottes Zeit ist die allerbeste Zeit”: No. 3a, the Jesus bass solo, “Thou shalt be with me today in Paradise,” to Luther’s chorale “With Peace and Joy.” One of the “Seven Last Words of Christ From the Cross,” the passage in Luke 23:43 is Bach’s only setting.

Bach’s SJP lays the groundwork for his remaining Passion compositions. The signature chorale, used three times (15a, 14, 32), is Paul Stockmann’s "Jesu Leiden, Pein und Tod" (Vulpius melody “Jesu Kreuz, Leiden und Pein) and also appears in the St. Mark Passion (SMkP). “Herzleibster Jesu” is used twice, (3 and 17) and also appears in the SMP. “O Welt, sieh hier dein Leben (11), is the only chorale appearing in all three Bach Passions. “Mach’s mit mir” (22) is also found in the SMkP. The chorale are:

(1a.) O Mensch, bewein' dein' Sünde groß [chorus]= BWV 244/35
3(7). O große Lieb (S. 7, Herzliebster Jesu)

5(9). Dein will Gesche, (S. 4, Vater unser im Himmelreich)
11(15). Wer hat dich so geschlagen; Ich, ich und meine Sünden (V. 3, 4, O Welt, sieh hier dein Leben)
(15a.) Jesu deine Passion (canto chorale with aria=245a (V. 33, Jesu Leiden, Pein)
14(20). Petrus, der nicht denk zurück (S. 10, Jesu Leiden, Pein)
15(21). Christus, der uns selig macht (Patris sapientia, M. Weisse)
17(27). Ach großer König (S. 8, Herzliebster Jesu) Ich kann's mit meinen Sinnen (S. 9, Herzliebster Jesu)
22(40). Durch dein Gefängnis, Through your imprisonment (Postel text; chorale tune “Mach's mit mir Gott”)
26(52). In meines Herzens grunde (V. 3, Valet will ich dir geben)
28(56). Er nahm alles wohl (V. 20, Jesu Leiden, Pein)
32(60). “Jesu der du warest tot” (interspersed with aria; ibid, final verse 33)
37(65). O hilf, Christe, Gottes Sohn (V. 8, Christus der uns selig macht)
40(68). Ach Herr, laß dein lieb Engelein (V. 3, Herzlich Lieb' hab' ich)
(68a). Christe, du Lamm Gottes (Agnus Dei)= BWV 23/4


Mvt. 3(7). Johann Heermann: verse 7 of "Herzliebster Jesus, was hast du verbrochen," 1630 (Fischer-Tümpel, I, #334);
Mvt. 5(9). Martin Luther: verse 4 of "Vater unser im Himmelreich," 1539 (Wackernagel, I, #215);
Mvt. 11(15). Paul Gerhardt, verse 3 and 4 of "O Welt, sieh hier dein Leben," 1647 (Fischer-Tümpel, III, #387);
Mvt. 14(20). Paul Stockmann: verse 10 of "Jesu Leiden, Pein und Tod," 1633 (Fischer-Tümpel, II, #37);
Mvt. 15(21). Michael Weisse, verse 1 of the hymn, 1531 (Wackernagel, I, #342);
Mvt. 17(27). Johann Heermann: verse 8 and 9 of "Herzliebster Jesu, was hast du verbrochen," 1630 (Fischer-Tümpel, I, #334);
Mvt. 22(40). Text of an aria from Christian Heinrich Postel: Johannes-Passion, c1700, to the chorale melody of Johann Hermann Schein: "Machs mit mir, Gott, nach deiner Güt";
Mvt. 26(52). Valerius Herberger: verse 3 of "Valet will ich dir geben," 1613 (Fischer-Tümpel, I, #125);
Mvt. 28(56). Paul Stockmann: verse 20 of "Jesu Leiden, Pein und Tod," 1633 (Fischer-Tümpel, II, #37);
Mvt. 32(60). ibid, final verse 33;
Mvt. 37(65). Michael Weisse: verse 8 of "Christus, der uns selig macht," 1531 (Wackernagel, I, #342);
Mvt. 40(68). Martin Schalling: verse 3 of "Herzlich lieb hab' ich dich, o Herr," 1571 (Wackernagel, IV, #1174);

Appendix: (1a.) Sebald Heyden, verse 1 of the hymn, 1525 (Wackernagel, III, #603);
Mvt. 11(15). Paul Stockmann: verse 33 of "Jesu Leiden, Pein und Tod," 1633 (Fischer-Tümpel, II, #37);
(68a.) German "Agnus Dei," Braunschweig, 1528.


Chorale Usages in Passions

The earliest Passion settings from Hamburg were deficient in chorales. There are none in the Postel St. John Passion while Mattheson in 1723 inserts three well-known chorales (see below, E). The “Keiser” St. Mark Passion has four (A below) to which Bach adds three. The original Brockes Passion text (B below) has five chorales set by Keiser, Telemann, Handel and Mattheson. Fasch (C below) added six chorales, and Stölzel (F below) three. Telemann’s Seliges Erwägen, his own “Brockes” Passion (D below) has eight chorales, all well-known. Carl Heinrich Graun has eight chorales in Kommt, her and schaut (G below) and six in Ein lämmlein geht und trägt die Schuld (H below).

Keiser St. Mark Passion (1707), chorales:
5. “Was Mein Gott will, das g’scheh allzeit”
17. “Wein, ach wein itzt um die Wette”
42. “Herzlich tut mich verlangen” (S.9, 10)
49. “O Traurigkeit, O Herzeleid” (S.1, 3)

B. Brockes Passion Text (1712): 5 Chorales of the Christian Church (
Telemann’s treatment):
9. “Ach wie hungert meine gemute” (S. 3, “Schm
ücke dich, o liebe Seele”)
43. “Ach Gott und Herr, wie gro
ß und schwer”
92. “O Menschenkind, nur deine Sünd’”
115. “Mein’ Sünd’ mich werden kränken sehr” (s. 2, “Wenn mein Stündlein vorhanden ist”)
117. Ich bin ein Gleid an deinem Leib (1 Cor. 12:27) 3 stanzas

(“Wenn mein Sünd’ mich kränken” Justus Gesenius 1601-1673 6vv, music Michael Praetorius); l.3 “ihr’ sind viel wie Sand am Meer”; ref. S.4, “Ich, ich und meine Sunde” (“O Welt, sieh hier dein Leben,” Paul Gerhardt), l.3 “wie. . .des Sands an dem Meer” (“O Welt” only chorale common to all three Bach original Passions

C. Fasch, Brockes Passion, 1717-19, six inserted chorales:
1. “Mich von Stricke” (Brockes chorus text);
13. “Herr, laß dein bitter Leiden”;
(Part 2) 14. "Ein Lämmlein geht und trägt die Schuld";
18. “Falsche Zeugnis, Hohn und Spott”;
22. “Jesu gab mein bitter Gall”;
30. “Ich danke dir von Herzen” (Psalm 138). Melodie: Genfer Psalter (1543).

D. Telemann, Seliges Erwägen (1719) eight chorales:
No. 2, “Schmücke dich, o liebe Seele”;
No. 7, “Wo sol lich fliehen hin” (mel. “Auf meinen lieben Gott”);
No. 16, “Freu dich sehr, o meine Seele”;
No. 20, “O Welt, sieh hier dein Leben” (mel. Nun ruhen alle Wälder”);
No. 27, “O Haupt voll Blut und Wunden” (mel.”Herzlich tut mich verlanghen”);
No. 32, :Straf much nicht in deinen Zorn”; No. 42, lieder “Jesu Leiden, Pein und Tod”;
No. 44, “O Traurigkeit”;
No. 47, lieder “Nun gib mein jesus gute Nacht” (mel. “Nun laßt und den Leib begraben.”

E. Mattheson-Postel St. John Passion (1723), three inserted chorales
a. Part 1, No. 2 (after opening sonatina): Christus, der uns selig Mach, S. 2,
Michael Weisse’s “Jesu, der du meine Selle” (from “Patris Sapienter, veritas divina”) (Weisse mel. 1553), verse 1 of the hymn, 1531 (Wackernagel, I, #342);
b. No. 33 (Part 2 opening chorus), Paul Gerhardt’s “O Haupt voll Blut und Wunden,” Stanza 7 (Hassler mel., “Herzlich tut mich verlangen”);
c. No. 45, Paul Gerhardt’s “Als Gottes Lamm und Leve,” Stanza 10 (anon. mel. 1542, “O Lamm Gottes Unschuldig (S. 1 Seele St. John Passion 1643).

F. Stölzel Brockes Passion (1725), three inserted chorales:
“Ich will hier bei dir stehen” as Jesus is taken to the authorities (No. 33),
“Herzliebster Jesu, was hast du verbrochen?” as Caiaphas sends Jesus to Pilate (No. 46), and
“Laßet mich mit Jesu ziehen” as Jesus goes to his Crucifixion (No. 84).

G. C.H. Graun, Oratorio Passion Kommt, her and schaut, 1725-35, 8 chorales:
‘Kommt her und schaut”
“Die Lust des Fleisches”
“O Wunder ohne Maßen”
“Laß deiner Seelen Höllen Qual”
“Ich dancke dir”
“Ich will hier bei dir stehen” (S.6, P. Gerhardt, “O Haupt voll Blut und Wunden”)
“Nun ich kann nicht viel geben”
“Ich danke dor von Herzen”

H. C.H. Graun, Oratorio Passion Ein lämmlein geht und trägt die Schuld c. 1730, 6 chorales:
Ein lämmlein geht und trägt die Schuld”
“Herzleibester Jesu”
“Du trägst die Straffen meiner Schuld”
O Haupt voll Blut und Wunden
“Weg, weg, mit dir, du schnöde Welt”
“O Traugrigkeit”

One of the most influential Passion texts was the Passion song “Ein Lämmlein geht und trägt die Schuld” (A lambkin goes and bears our guilt), Paul Gerhardt 1648 text (6 stanzas) to the chorale tune “Am Wasserflüssen Babylon”; Wolfgang Dachstein, Kirchenamt, (Strassburg: 1525). Here are some of the contemporary uses:

1. 1711.
Keiser oratorio Passion Tränen unter dem Kreuze Jesus: “Ein Lämlein geht und trägt die Schuld”; Hamburg.

2. Telemann’s first surviving Hamburg quadrennial Passion oratorio is Mark, 1723; “Ein Lämmlein geht und trägt die Schuld,” TWV 5:8 (SATB, Flute, 2 Oboes, 2 Oboe d'amore, Strings, and Continuo), opening with Telemann setting of Gerhardt’s text. The “(C.P.E. Bach) St John Passions are based on Telemann’s printed (St. John) Passion music for 1745” (Ein Lämmlein geht und trägt die Schuld, TVW 5:30). BCW Article: Early Performances of Bach's SMP [T. Braatz].

3. C.1730. C.H. Graun, Passionskantate : Ein Lämmlein geht und trägt die Schuld, HoWV 1.2 : für Soli (SATB), Chor (SATB), 2 Querflöten, 2 Oboen, 2 Fagotte, 2 Violinen, Viola und Basso continuo / Gottfried August Homilius; herausgegeben von Uwe Wolf ; [libretto, Ernst August Buschmann]. Carus 2007. [In the 1740s, Bach engaged the pasticcio Passion tradition with contributions to a performance of C.H. Graun’s Passion Cantata, Ein lämmlein geht und trägt die Schuld (Brunswick, c.1730) with additional music from Telemann, Kuhnau and Altnikol.
BCW: BCW discussion: March 21, 2013.]

4. April 23, 1734 (Leipzig Thomas Church): Passionsoratorium "Ein Lämmlein geht und trägt die Schuld" von. G.H. Stölzel [Quelle: Bach-Jahrbuch 2008 S. 77 ff, Tatjana Schabalina, Textheft aufgefunden in der Nationalbibliothek St. Petersburg, Signatur Ob Eingriffe und Änderungen durch Bach erfolgten ist derzeit nicht zu ermitteln.] This is a version of Stölzel first Passion, presented soon after he assumed the Gotha Kapellmeister post in early 1720toThis poetic Passion oratorio setting has 22 clusters or sections usually involving an evangelist recitative, a Faithful Soul aria, another aria, and a chorale of the Christian Church. Like the Apochryphal St. Luke Passion, BWV 246 (Leipzig 1730, 1735, 1745), this work contains numerous less-familiar, general thematic chorale settings. The only well-known ones, in addition to the opening incipit, are: “Ich will hier bei dir stehen” (4th cluster), “O Lamm Gottes unschuldig” (15th), and “O, Jesu du, mein Hilf und Ruh” (22nd).

Next: Framework, Levels, Themes


Contributed by William Hoffman (March 30, 2010)

Johannes-Passion BWV 245: Details
Until 1950 | 1951-1960 | 1961-1970 | 1971-1980 | 1981-1990 | 1991-2000 | From 2001 | Sung in English | Individual Movements
General Discussions:
Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5
Systematic Discussions:
Part 1: Mvts. 1-7 | Part 2: Mvts. 6-14 | Part 3: Mvts. 15-20 | Part 4: Mvts. 21-26 | Part 5: Mvts. 27-32 | Part 6: Mvts. 36-40 | Part 7: Summary
Individual Recordings:
BWV 245 - F. Brüggen | BWV 245 - S. Cleobury | BWV 245 - P. Dombrecht | BWV 245 - D, Fasolis | BWV 245 - J.E. Gardiner | BWV 245 - E.z. Guttenberg | BWV 245 - N. Harnoncourt-H. Gillesberger | BWV 245 - P. Herreweghe | BWV 245 - E. Higginbottom | BWV 245 - E. Jochum | BWV 245 - E. Kleiber | BWV 245 - P.J. Leusink | BWV 245 - H. Max | BWV 245 - P. McCreesh | BWV 245 - H. Münch | BWV 245 - P. Neumann | BWV 245 - A. Parrott | BWV 245 - P. Pickett | BWV 245 - K. Richter | BWV 245 - H. Rilling | BWV 245 - P. Schreier | BWV 245 - R. Shaw | BWV 245 - K. Slowik | BWV 245 - M. Suzuki | BWV 245 - J.v. Veldhoven
Saint John Passion, BWV 245 [T.N. Towe] | The Passion of Saint John, BWV 245 [M. Steinberg] | St. John Passion [A. Wong & N. Proctor] | The St. John Passion on stage [U. Golomb] | Literary Origins of Bach’s St. John Passion: 1704-1717 [W. Hoffman] | Bach’s Passion Pursuit [W. Hoffman]


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