St Matthew Passion
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The St Matthew Passion (also frequently St Matthew's Passion; German: Matthäus-Passion), BWV 244, is a sacred oratorio from the Passions written by Johann Sebastian Bach in 1727 for solo voices, double choir and double orchestra, with libretto by Picander (Christian Friedrich Henrici). It sets chapters 26 and 27 of the Gospel of Matthew (in the German translation of Martin Luther) to music, with interspersed chorales and arias. It is widely regarded as one of the masterpieces of classical sacred music. The original Latin title Passio Domini Nostri J.C. Secundum Evangelistam Matthaeum translates to "The Passion of our Lord J[esus] C[hrist] according to the Evangelist Matthew."
Although Bach wrote four (or five) settings of the Passions only two have survived; the other is the St John Passion. The St Matthew Passion was probably first performed on Good Friday (11 April) 1727 in the Thomaskirche in Leipzig, where Bach was the Kantor of the School and Directoris Chori musici of Leipzig. He revised it by 1736, performing it again on 30 March 1736, this time including two organs in the instrumentation. He further revised and performed it again on 24 March 1742. Possibly due to the second organ being under repair, he switched the continuo instrument to harpsichord in Coro II, reinforced the continuo group in Coro II with a viola da gamba, and inserted a ripieno soprano in both movements 1 and 29. There is evidence of a further revision in 1743–1746, when the score as it is known originated, but no performance.
Many composers wrote musical settings of the Passion in the late 17th century. Like other Baroque oratorio passions, Bach's setting presents the Biblical text of Matthew 26–27 in a relatively simple way, primarily using recitative, while aria and arioso movements set newly written poetic texts which comment on the various events in the Biblical narrative and present the characters' states of mind in a lyrical, monologue-like manner.
Two distinctive aspects of Bach's setting spring from his other church endeavors. One is the double-choir format, which stems from his own double-choir motets and those of many other composers with which he routinely started Sunday services. The other is the extensive use of chorales, which appear in standard four-part settings, as interpolations in arias, and as a cantus firmus in large polyphonic movements. This is notable in "O Mensch, bewein dein' Sünde groß", the conclusion of the first half – a movement which Bach also used as an opening chorus for the second version (1725) of his St John Passion (later – ca. 1730 – he reverted to the originally composed "Herr, unser Herrscher" there). The opening chorus, "Kommt, ihr Töchter, helft mir klagen" is also notable for the use of chorale cantus firmus, in which the soprano in ripieno crowns a colossal buildup of polyphonic and harmonic tension, singing a verse of "O Lamm Gottes, unschuldig." This was sung in only in 1742 and 1743–1746 and had been played on the organ before.
The surviving manuscripts consist of twelve concertato scores, used for eight soloists who also served in the two choirs, additional parts for one soprano and two basses who perform "bit parts" such as the Wife of Pilate, Peter, Judas, High Priests, etc., and a part for the soprano in ripieno (stemming from 1742 and 1743–1746). It is believed that Bach wrote and performed the St Matthew Passion using one voice per part, rather than the two conventional choirs (plus ripienists and soloists) which is common for performances and recordings today. This concept is still being hotly debated. In 1730 (in response to his perceived harassment by the officials and out of concern for the deteriorating condition in religious music), Bach wrote a treatise he entitled "Kurtzer, iedoch höchstnöthiger Entwurff einer wohlbestallten Kirchen Music; nebst einigem unvorgreiflichen Bedenkken von dem Verfall derselben." ("Short, but most Necessary Draft on a well-regulated Church Music, with some modest Thoughts on the Decline of the same"). In it, he outlines both what he thinks would be a well-regulated Church music and also the current circumstances he faced in Leipzig. For the vocal ensembles he states that in the main churches (Hauptkirchen) of St. Thomas, St. Nicholas, and the New Church (Neukirche), each would use three voices per part, meaning three sopranos, three altos, three tenors, and three basses, with the residual (2 per part) for the Petruskirche (University Church). This residual would also act as the concertists (soloists) in the cantatas and other vocal works.[clarification needed What residual? What's with the Petruskirche?] So in this work, therefore, it would require two 12- to 16-voice choirs with a 3-voice ripieno soprano choir (for movements 1 and 29 in versions 1742 and 1743–1746).
The narration of the Gospel texts are sung by the tenor Evangelist in secco recitative accompanied only by continuo. Soloists sing the words of various characters, also in recitative; in addition to Jesus, there are named parts for Judas, Peter, two high priests, Pontius Pilate, Pilate's wife, two witnesses and two ancillae (maids). These are not always sung by all different soloists. The "character" soloists are also often assigned arias and sing with the choirs, a practice not always followed by modern performances. Two duets are sung by a pair of soloists' representing two simultaneous speakers. A number of passages for several speakers, called turba (crowd) parts, are sung by one of the two choirs or both.
The words of Jesus, also termed Vox Christi (voice of Christ), usually receive special treatment. Bach created particularly distinctive accompagnato recitatives in this work: they are accompanied not only by continuo but by the entire string section of the first orchestra using long, sustained notes and "highlighting" certain words, thus creating an effect often referred to as Jesus's "halo". Only his final words, written in Aramaic, Eli, eli, lama sabachthani (My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?), are sung without this "halo". In the revision of 1743–1746, it is also these words (the Vox Christi) that receive a sustained continuo part. In all prior versions (1727/1729, 1736, and 1742), the continuo part was sustained in all recitatives.
Some arias and choruses of the St Matthew Passion have a parody connection to the lost funeral cantata Klagt, Kinder, klagt es aller Welt, BWV 244a, composed for the memorial service for Leopold, Prince of Anhalt-Köthen (1729).
The St Matthew Passion is set for two choirs and two orchestras. Both include two recorders, two transverse flutes, two oboes, in certain movements instead oboe d'amore or oboe da caccia, two violins, viola, viola da gamba, and basso continuo. For practical reasons the continuo organ is often shared and played with both orchestras. In many arias a solo instrument or more create a specific mood, such as the central soprano aria No. 49, "Aus Liebe will mein Heiland sterben", where the absence of strings and basso continuo mark a desperate loss of security.
Bach's recitatives often set the mood for the particular passages by highlighting emotionally charged words such as "crucify", "kill", or "mourn" with chromatic melodies. Diminished seventh chords and sudden modulations accompany Jesus's apocalyptic prophecies.
In the turba parts, the two choruses sometimes alternate in cori spezzati style (e.g. "Weissage uns, Christe") and sometimes sing together ("Herr, wir haben gedacht"). Other times only one chorus sings (chorus I always takes the parts of the disciples) or they alternate, for example when "some bystanders" say "He's calling for Elijah", and "others" say "Wait to see if Elijah comes to help him."
In the arias, obbligato instruments are equal partners with the voices, as was customary in late Baroque arias. Bach often uses madrigalisms, as in "Buß und Reu", where the flutes start playing a raindrop-like staccato as the alto sings of drops of his tears falling. In "Blute nur", the line about the serpent is set with a twisting melody.
The arias, set to texts by Picander, are interspersed between sections of the Gospel text. They are sung by soloists with a variety of instrumental accompaniments, typical of the oratorio style. The interpolated texts theologically and personally interpret the Gospel texts. Many of them include the listener into the action, such as the chorale No. 10, "Ich bin's, ich sollte büßen" ("It is I who should suffer"), after eleven disciples asked "Herr, bin ich's?" (Lord, is it I?) – meaning: Am I the one going to betray? The alto aria No. 6, "Buß und Reu", portrays a desire to anoint Jesus with her tears out of remorse. The bass aria No. 65, "Mache dich, mein Herze, rein", offers to bury Jesus himself. Jesus is often referred to as "my Jesus". The chorus alternates between participating in the narrative and commenting on it.
As is typical of settings of the Passion (and originating in its liturgical use on Palm Sunday), there is no mention of the Resurrection in any of these texts. Following the concept of Anselm of Canterbury, the crucifixion is the endpoint and the source of redemption; the emphasis is on the suffering of Jesus. The chorus sings, in the final chorale No. 62, "tear me from my fears / through your own fear and pain." The bass, referring to the "sweet cross" expresses in No. 56, "Yes, of course this flesh and blood in us / want to be forced to the cross; / the better it is for our soul, / the more bitter it feels."
The No. 1, "O Lamm Gottes" chorale compares Jesus' crucifixion to the ritual sacrifice of an Old Testament lamb, as an offering for sin. This theme is reinforced by the concluding chorale of the first part, O Mensch, bewein dein' Sünde groß (O man, bewail your great sin).
The work is divided in two parts to be performed before and after the sermon of the Good Friday service.
Part One is opened by the chorus Kommt, ihr Töchter, helft mir klagen. Choir I and II act separately, at times in question and answer, choir I Seht ihn (Behold Him), choir II interrupting Wie? (How?), choir I als wie ein Lamm. (as a Lamb). The image of the lamb slaughtered on the cross is prominent also in the cantus firmus of the third choir, like a heading of the whole work.
The first scenes are in Jerusalem: Jesus announces his death (No. 2), on the other hand the intention to get rid of him is expressed (No. 4). A scene in Bethany (No. 4c) shows a woman anointing his head with valuable oils. The next scene (No. 7) has Judas Iscariot negotiating the price for handing Jesus over. In a great contrast of mood the preparation for the "Easter meal" (Osterlamm) is described (No. 9) and the Passover meal itself, the Last Supper, foreshadowed by the announcement of betrayal. After the meal they go together to the Mount of Olives (No. 14) where Jesus predicts that Peter will deny him three times before the cock crows. At the garden of Gethsemane (No. 18) Jesus asks his followers several times to support him but they fall asleep while he is praying in agony. It is there (No. 26) that he is betrayed by Judas' kiss and arrested. While soprano and alto mourn (in duet, No. 27a) Jesus's arrest, the chorus make angry interjections (Laßt ihn, haltet, bindet nicht!). In a dramatic highpoint of the Passion, the chorus (No. 27b) furiously demands against the Jews who arrested Jesus "Zertrümmre, verderbe, verschlinge, zerschelle/ Mit plötzlicher Wut/Den falschen Verräter, das mördrische Blut!" (Wreck, ruin, engulf, shatter with sudden force the false betrayer, the murderous blood!).
Part I is closed by a four-part Chorale Fantasia (both choirs) on the chorale O Mensch, bewein dein Sünde groß (O mankind, mourn your great sins), recapitulating that Jesus was born of the Virgin to "become the intercessor". The sopranos sing the cantus firmus, the other voices interpret aspects of the narration. In the 1727/1729 version, this part is concluded by a four-part setting of verse 6 of the Chorale "Meinen Jesum laß ich nicht" (Jesum laß ich nicht von mir").
Part Two is opened by a dialog between the alto soloist deploring her lost Jesus and choir II offering help in searching for him, quoting Song of Songs 6:1. In the 1727/1729 version, the soloist is a bass.
The first scene of Part Two is an interrogation at the High Priest Caiaphas (No. 37) where two witnesses report Jesus having spoken about destroying the Temple and building it again in three days. Jesus is silent to this, but his answer to the question if he is the Son of God is considered a sacrilege calling for his death. Outside in the courtyard (No. 38) Peter is told three times that he belongs to Jesus and denies it three times – then the cock crows. In the morning (No. 41) Jesus is sent to Pontius Pilate while Judas is overcome by remorse and kills himself. Pilate interrogates Jesus (No. 43), is impressed and is inclined to release him, as it was customary to release one prisoner for the holiday, supported in this by his wife. But the crowd, given the choice to have Jesus released or Barabbas, a thief, insurrectionist and murderer, asks with one voice "Barrabam!". They vote to crucify Jesus, Pilate gives in, washing his hands claiming his innocence, and delivers Jesus to torture and crucifixion. On the way to the crucifixion site (No. 55) Simon of Cyrene is forced to carry the cross. At Golgatha (No. 58) Jesus and two others are crucified and mocked by the crowd. Even his last words are misunderstood. Where he cites Psalm 22, "Eli, Eli" (My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?), he is supposed to have called Elijah. He dies. St. Matthew describes the tearing of the Temple curtain and an earthquake – set to music by Bach. In the evening (No. 63c) Joseph of Arimathea asks Pilate for the corpse for burial. The following day (No. 66) officials remind Pilate of the talk of resurrection and ask for guards and a seal for the grave to prevent fraud.
The work is closed by a grand scale chorus in da capo form, choir I and II mostly in unison for the first part Wir setzen uns mit Tränen nieder (We sit down in tears), but in dialog in the middle section, choir II repeating "Ruhe sanfte, sanfte ruh!" ("Rest gently, gently rest!"), choir I reflecting: "Your grave and headstone shall, for the anxious conscience, be a comfortable pillow and the resting place for the soul. Highly contented, there the eyes fall asleep." These are the last words (before the recapitulation), marked by Bach himself: p pp ppp (soft, very soft, extremely soft).
Note: The numbering system, 1 through 68, used here is from the Neue Bach-Ausgabe (New Bach Edition). The traditional BWV numbering uses a different scheme of 78 numbers. Obviously, neither sets of numbers are explicit in the autograph. See the comparison table.
1. Coro I & II & Chorale: Kommt, ihr Töchter, helft mir klagen – O Lamm Gottes unschuldig (Chorale sung only in 1742 and 1743–1746 versions)
- 2. Evangelist, Jesus: Da Jesus diese Rede vollendet hatte
3. Chorale: Herzliebster Jesu, was hast du verbrochen
- 4a. Evangelist: Da versammleten sich die Hohenpriester und Schriftgelehrten
- 4b. Coro I & II: Ja nicht auf das Fest
- 4c. Evangelist: Da nun Jesus war zu Bethanien
- 4d. Coro I: Wozu dienet dieser Unrat?
- 4e. Evangelist, Jesus: Da das Jesus merkete, sprach er zu ihnen
- 5. Recitativo (alto, flutes): Du lieber Heiland du
- 6. Aria (alto, flutes): Buß und Reu
- 7. Evangelist, Judas: Da ging hin der Zwölfen einer mit Namen Judas Ischarioth
- 8. Aria (soprano, flutes): Blute nur, du liebes Herz!
- 9a. Evangelist: Aber am ersten Tage der süßen Brot
- 9b. Coro I: Wo willst du, daß wir dir bereiten das Osterlamm zu essen?
- 9c. Evangelist, Jesus: Er sprach: Gehet hin in die Stadt
- 9d. Evangelist: Und sie wurden sehr betrübt
- 9e. Coro I: Herr, bin ich's?
10. Chorale: Ich bin's, ich sollte büßen
- 11. Evangelist, Jesus, Judas: Er antwortete und sprach
- 12. Recitativo (soprano, oboe d'amore): Wiewohl mein Herz in Tränen schwimmt
- 13. Aria (soprano, oboe d'amore): Ich will dir mein Herze schenken
- 14. Evangelist, Jesus: Und da sie den Lobgesang gesprochen hatten
15. Chorale: Erkenne mich, mein Hüter
- 16. Evangelist, Peter, Jesus: Petrus aber antwortete und sprach zu ihm
17. Chorale: Ich will hier bei dir stehen (1727/1729 version without music and text "Es dient zu meinem Freude")
- 18. Evangelist, Jesus: Da kam Jesus mit ihnen zu einem Hofe, der hieß Gethsemane
- 19. Recitativo (tenor, flauti dolci, oboe da caccia, [1727/1729 version: flutes instead of flauti dolci]) and Coro II: O Schmerz! Hier zittert das gequälte Herz – Was ist die Ursach aller solcher Plagen?
- 20. Aria (tenor, solo oboe, flutes) and Coro II: Ich will bei meinem Jesu wachen – So schlafen unsre Sünden ein
- 21. Evangelist: Und ging hin ein wenig, fiel nieder auf sein Angesicht und betete
- 22. Recitativo (basso): Der Heiland fällt vor seinem Vater nieder
- 23. Aria (basso): Gerne will ich mich bequemen, Kreuz und Becher anzunehmen
- 24. Evangelist, Jesus: Und er kam zu seinen Jüngern und fand sie schlafend
25. Chorale: Was mein Gott will, das gscheh allzeit
- 26. Evangelist, Jesus, Judas: Und er kam und fand sie aber schlafend
- 27a. Aria (soprano, alto, flutes, oboes) and Coro II: So ist mein Jesus nun gefangen – Laßt ihn, haltet, bindet nicht!
- 27b. Coro I & II: Sind Blitze, sind Donner in Wolken verschwunden?
- 28. Evangelist, Jesus: Und siehe, einer aus denen, die mit Jesu waren, reckete die Hand aus
29. Chorale: O Mensch, bewein dein Sünde groß (1727/1729 version: "Jesum lass ich nicht von mir"; 1742 and 1743–1746 versions: Ripieno Soprano choir added to Soprano line)
- 30. Aria (alto (1727/1729: bass), flute) and Coro II: Ach, nun ist mein Jesus hin! – Wo ist denn dein Freund hingegangen
- 31. Evangelist: Die aber Jesum gegriffen hatten, führeten ihn zu dem Hohenpriester Kaiphas
32. Chorale: Mir hat die Welt trüglich gericht't
- 33. Evangelist, Witnesses, High Priest: Und wiewohl viel falsche Zeugen herzutraten, funden sie doch keins.
- 34. Recitativo (tenor, oboes, viola da gamba): Mein Jesus schweigt zu falschen Lügen stille (Viola da gamba only in 1742 version [due to repair of 2nd organ, Harpsichord substituted as Keyboard Continuo instrument in Coro II, hence the Viola da gamba as further reinforcement)
- 35. Aria (tenor, viola da gamba): Geduld, Geduld! Wenn mich falsche Zungen stechen (see No. 34)
- 36a. Evangelist, High Priest, Jesus: Und der Hohenpriester antwortete
- 36b. Coro I & II: Er ist des Todes schuldig!
- 36c. Evangelist: Da speieten sie in sein Angesicht und schlugen ihn mit Fäusten
- 36d. Coro I & II: Weissage uns, Christe, wer ists, der dich schlug?
37. Chorale: Wer hat dich so geschlagen
- 38a. Evangelist, Maid, Peter, Maid II: Petrus aber saß draußen im Palast; und es trat zu ihm eine Magd
- 38b. Coro II: Wahrlich, du bist auch einer von denen; denn deine Sprache verrät dich.
- 38c. Evangelist, Peter: Da hub er an sich zu verfluchen und zu schwören
- 39. Aria (alto, violin solo I): Erbarme dich, mein Gott, um meiner Zähren Willen!
40. Chorale: Bin ich gleich von dir gewichen
- 41a. Evangelist, Judas: Des Morgens aber hielten alle Hohepriester und die Ältesten des Volks einen Rat
- 41b. Coro I & II: Was gehet uns das an? Da siehe du zu!
- 41c. Evangelist, High Priests: Und er warf die Silberlinge in den Tempel
- 42. Aria (basso, violin solo II): Gebt mir meinen Jesum wieder!
- 43. Evangelist, Pilate, Jesus: Sie hielten aber einen Rat und kauften einen Töpfersacker
44. Chorale: Befiehl du deine Wege
- 45a. Evangelist, Pilate, Pilate's wife: Auf das Fest aber hatte der Landpfleger Gewohnheit, dem Volk einen Gefangenen loszugeben
- Coro I & II: Barrabam!
- 45b. Coro I & II: Laß ihn kreuzigen!
46. Chorale: Wie wunderbarlich ist doch diese Strafe!
- 47. Evangelist, Pilate: Der Landpfleger sagte
- 48. Recitativo (soprano, oboe da caccia): Er hat uns allen wohlgetan
- 49. Aria (soprano, flute, oboe da caccia, no strings, no basso continuo): Aus Liebe will mein Heiland sterben
- 50a. Evangelist: Sie schrieen aber noch mehr und sprachen
- 50b. Coro I & II: Laß ihn kreuzigen!
- 50c. Evangelist, Pilate: Da aber Pilatus sahe, daß er nichts schaffete
- 50d. Coro I & II: Sein Blut komme über uns und unsre Kinder.
- 50e. Evangelist: Da gab er ihnen Barrabam los
- 51. Recitativo (alto): Erbarm es, Gott! Hier steht der Heiland angebunden.
- 52. Aria (alto): Können Tränen meiner Wangen
- 53a. Evangelist: Da nahmen die Kriegsknechte des Landpflegers Jesum zu sich
- 53b. Coro I & II: Gegrüßet seist du, Jüdenkönig!
- 53c. Evangelist: Und speieten ihn an und nahmen das Rohr und schlugen damit sein Haupt.
54. Chorale: O Haupt, voll Blut und Wunden
- 55. Evangelist: Und da sie ihn verspottet hatten, zogen sie ihm den Mantel aus
- 56. Recitativo (basso, flutes, viola da gamba): Ja, freilich will in uns das Fleisch und Blut zum Kreuz gezwungen sein (1727/1729 version: Lute instead of Viola da gamba)
- 57. Aria (basso, viola da gamba): Komm, süßes Kreuz, so will ich sagen (see No. 56)
- 58a. Evangelist: Und da sie an die Stätte kamen mit Namen Golgatha
- 58b. Coro I & II: Der du den Tempel Gottes zerbrichst
- 58c. Evangelist: Desgleichen auch die Hohenpriester spotteten sein
- 58d. Coro I & II: Andern hat er geholfen und kann ihm selber nicht helfen.
- 58e. Evangelist: Desgleichen schmäheten ihn auch die Mörder, die mit ihm gekreuziget waren.
- 59. Recitativo (alto, oboe da caccia): Ach Golgatha, unselges Golgatha!
- 60. Aria (alto, oboe da caccia) and Coro II: Sehet, Jesus hat die Hand uns zu fassen ausgespannt, kommt! – Wohin?
- 61a. Evangelist, Jesus: Und von der sechsten Stunde an war eine Finsternis über das ganze Land
- 61b. Coro I: Der rufet dem Elias!
- 61c. Evangelist: Und bald lief einer unter ihnen, nahm einen Schwamm
- 61d. Coro II: Halt! Laß sehen, ob Elias komme und ihm helfe.
- 61e. Evangelist: Aber Jesus schriee abermal laut und verschied.
62. Chorale: Wenn ich einmal soll scheiden
- 63a. Evangelist: Und siehe da, der Vorhang im Tempel zerriß in zwei Stück
- 63b. Coro I & II: Wahrlich, dieser ist Gottes Sohn gewesen.
- 63c. Evangelist: Und es waren viel Weiber da, die von ferne zusahen
(first 29 seconds)
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- 64. Recitativo (basso): Am Abend, da es kühle war
- 65. Aria (basso, oboe da caccia): Mache dich, mein Herze, rein
- 66a. Evangelist: Und Joseph nahm den Leib und wickelte ihn in ein rein Leinwand
- 66b. Coro I & II: Herr, wir haben gedacht, daß dieser Verführer sprach
- 66c. Evangelist, Pilate: Pilatus sprach zu ihnen
- 67. Recitativo (basso, tenor, alto, soprano) and Coro II: Nun ist der Herr zur Ruh gebracht. – Mein Jesu, gute Nacht!
68. Coro I & II: Wir setzen uns mit Tränen nieder
Sources for the text
- Matthew 26 (Part One) and 27 (Part Two)
- Texts for recitatives and arias by Christian Friedrich Henrici (Picander)
- Song of Songs 6:1 No. 30
- O Lamm Gottes unschuldig, Nikolaus Decius (1541), verse 1 for No. 1 cantus firmus
- Herzliebster Jesu, Johann Heermann (1630), verse 1 for No. 3, 3 for No. 19 coro II in tenor rec., 4 for No. 46
- O Welt, sieh hier dein Leben, Paul Gerhardt (1647), verse 5 for No. 10, 3 for No. 37
- O Haupt voll Blut und Wunden, Paul Gerhardt (1656), verse 5 for No. 15, 6 for No. 17, 1 & 2 for No. 54, 9 for No. 62
- Was mein Gott will, das g'scheh allzeit, Markgraf Albrecht von Brandenburg (1547), verse 1 for No. 25
- O Mensch, bewein dein Sünde groß, Sebald Heyden (1525), verse 1 for No. 29 cantus firmus
- In dich hab ich gehoffet, Herr, Adam Reusner (1533), verse 5 for No. 32
- Werde munter, mein Gemüte, Johann von Rist (1642), verse 6 for No. 40
- Befiehl du deine Wege, Paul Gerhardt 1656, verse 1 for No. 44
The St Matthew Passion was probably first performed on 11 April 1727 in the St. Thomas Church, and again on 15 April 1729, 30 March 1736, and 23 March 1742. Bach then revised it again between 1743 and 1746 (the version most commonly performed is this version). The work was not heard in more or less its entirety outside of Leipzig until 1829, when Felix Mendelssohn performed an abbreviated and modified version in Berlin to great acclaim. Mendelssohn's revival brought the music of Bach, particularly the large-scale works, to public and scholarly attention (although the St John Passion had been performed in 1822). Appreciation, performance and study of Bach's composition have persisted into the present era.
Meanwhile William Sterndale Bennett formed the Bach Society in 1849 with the intention of introducing the work to the English public. Helen Johnston (a student at Queen's College London) translated the libretto, and Bennett conducted the first performance at the Hanover Square Rooms London on 6 April 1854 (the same year that it appeared in print by the Old Bach Society (Alte Bach-Gesellschaft). The soloists included Charlotte Helen Sainton-Dolby. The Sterndale Bennett edition was to be the first of many, the latest being by Neil Jenkins (1997) and Nicholas Fisher and John Russell (2008). The Bach Society was reformed in 1876 as The Bach Choir in London.
Excerpts of the work were performed on the American television program Omnibus on 31 March 1957 in the episode "The Music of J.S. Bach." The presenter and explicator was Leonard Bernstein, who introduced the St Matthew Passion as "that glorious work that started me off on my own private passion for Bach."
The St Matthew Passion has been presented in staged performances. Typically, these are done with all performers in street clothes or neutral costumes, the orchestras on stage, at least the soloists singing without scores from memory, and the words acted out in a solemn, melodramatic fashion with only a minimal stage set. On the other hand, George Balanchine staged it in 1943 with Stokowski conducting, and the Hamburg Ballet presented a Saint Matthew Passion under John Neumeier with Peter Schreier in 1981. Notable staged performances include Jonathan Miller's 1997 production in English; Lindy Hume's 2005 production for the Perth International Arts Festival, restaged in 2013 for Opera Queensland with Leif Aruhn-Solén (sv), Sara Macliver, Tobias Cole; and Peter Sellars' 2010 production with the Berlin Philharmonic under Simon Rattle with Mark Padmore, Camilla Tilling, Magdalena Kožená, Topi Lehtipuu, Christian Gerhaher and Thomas Quasthoff.
- Robin A. Leaver, "St Matthew Passion" Oxford Composer Companions: J. S. Bach, ed. Malcolm Boyd. Oxford: Oxford University Press (1999): 430. "Until 1975 it was thought that the St Matthew Passion was originally composed for Good Friday 1729, but modern research strongly suggests that it was performed two years earlier."
- Wolff, Christoph. Johann Sebastian Bach: The Learned Musician, 294. New York: WW Norton & Company. 2000
- Rifkin, Joshua (1982). "Bach's Chorus: A Preliminary Report." The Musical Times 123(377), 747–754.
- David, Hans T. and Arthur Mendel. The Bach Reader. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 1966. p. 124.
- Sposato, Jeffrey S. The Price of Assimilation : Felix Mendelssohn and the Nineteenth-Century Anti-Semitic Tradition Oxford University Press, 2005:p. 51
- Rudolf, Max. A Musical Life: Writings and Letters Pendragon Press, 2001: p. 460
- Bernstein, Leonard. Omnibus: The Historic TV Broadcasts on 4 DVDs. E1 Entertainment, 2010. ISBN 1-4172-3265-X. Bernstein's lecture on Bach was also published in 1959. Bernstein, Leonard. The Joy of Music. Pompton Plains, NJ: Amadeus Press, Hal Leonard Corp., 2004 (reprint). ISBN 1-57467-104-9. The "glorious work" quotation is on page 254.
- Applegate, Celia: Bach in Berlin: Nation and Culture in Mendelssohn's Revival of the St. Matthew Passion. Cornell University Press, 2005.
- Casino (1995 Film) "Matthaus Passion" chapters 26 and 27.
- Platen, Emil. Die Matthäus-Passion von Johann Sebastian Bach. Kassel: Bärenreiter, 1991.
- Rifkin, Joshua. "The Chronology of Bach's Saint Matthew Passion". In The Musical Quarterly, lxi (1975). 360–87
- Werker, W. Die Matthäus-Passion. Leipzig, 1923.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to St. Matthew Passion.|
- The Passion according to Saint Matthew BWV 244 by Joshua Rifkin, on the bach-cantatas website
- Translation to many languages, commentary, musical examples, list of recordings on the bach-cantatas website
- "Liturgical drama in Bach's St. Matthew Passion" by Uri Golomb. Goldberg Early Music Magazine 39 (April 2006), pp. 48–59. On the Bach-Cantatas website and on Academia.Edu
- Text and translation to English, Emmanuel music
- The St. Matthew Passion, Minnesota Public Radio, text and translation, commentary, 2001
- Matthäuspassion: Free scores at the International Music Score Library Project
- St. Matthew Passion (1949) at the Internet Movie Database
- Bach: St. Matthew Passion (1964) at the Internet Movie Database, in NBC Television Opera Theatre
- Bach: Matthäus-Passion (1971) at the Internet Movie Database
- St. Matthew Passion (Flash) Helmuth Rilling