On this Good Friday, I would like to share with you the music of Good Friday 286 years ago, the music of Bach’s St. Matthew Passion.
The St. Matthew Passion is a monumental work, calling for double choir and double orchestra. It is imposing in length, around 3 hours. It is dramatic, a moody and emotional depiction of Christ’s suffering on the cross. It has been sung, staged, and choreographed, but the music by itself tells the story powerfully.
If this is a work you don’t know, this is a great day to discover it. But because it is so lengthy, your best introduction to it may be through some of the work’s most beautiful and moving sections. The magnificent opening chorus “Kommt, ihr Töchter,” the famous chorale “O Haupt voll Blut und Wunden“, the sublime “Erbame dich” are all great places to start. Just check them out online.
I have included here one of my favorite movements, the bass aria, “Mache dich mein Herze rein.” This performance is superb, sung by Thomas Quasthoff. The aria is sung at the burial of Jesus. The text and translation follow:
Mache dich, mein Herze, rein,
Ich will Jesum selbst begraben.
Denn er soll nunmehr in mir
Für und für
Seine süße Ruhe haben.
Welt, geh aus, laß Jesum ein!
Make thyself, my heart, pure,
I myself would bury Jesus,
For he shall henceforth in me
More and more
Find his dwelling in sweet repose.
World, depart, let Jesus in!
You can learn more about the St. Matthew Passion with this guide from Minnesota Public Radio.