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A Passion cantata is a cantata that takes as its theme the Passion of Jesus Christ, i.e. the hours, days, or weeks leading up to and including his crucifixion. Some of the larger cantatas have been referred to as oratorios.
Famous Passion cantatas
In the English repertoire, the two classics are The Crucifixion (1887) by Sir John Stainer and Olivet to Calvary (1904) by John Henry Maunder. Other works include Sir Arthur Somervell's The Passion of Christ (1914), Charles Wood's St. Mark Passion (1921) and Eric Thiman's The Last Supper (1930).
The most famous Passion cantatas are probably the two composed by Johann Sebastian Bach: the St John Passion (1724) and the St Matthew Passion (1727). A St Luke Passion (1730) was also formerly attributed to him, but it is now thought that Bach simply arranged an earlier composition.
The above are actually Passion Oratorios, not Passion Cantatas. The best examples of Passion Cantatas are two: the famous work Der Tod Jesu (1755), with text by Karl Wilhelm Ramler and music by Georg Philipp Telemann, Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach, and by Carl Heinrich Graun, and the Passion Cantata Die letzten Leiden des Erlösers (1770), with text by various people and music by Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach (taken largely from his St Matthew Passion of 1769).
Other examples of Passion Cantatas in the German-speaking world include such works as Gottfried August Homilius's Cantata "Ein Lämmlein geht und trägt die Schuld" HoWV 12 (1775), the Passion Cantata "Vor Harpe er bleven til Sorrig" with text by Johannes Ewald and music by the Bach critic Johann Adolf Scheibe, and the Sørge-Cantata ved Christi Grav "Herrens Salvede, som var vor Næses Aand" by the same librettist and composer.
Stanzas of the Medieval hymn Salve mundi salutare – also known as the Rhythmica oratio –, a poem formerly ascribed to St. Bonaventure or Bernard of Clairvaux, but now thought more likely to have been written by Medieval poet Arnulf of Leuven (died 1250) was arranged as a cycle of seven cantatas in 1680 by Dieterich Buxtehude. The contemporaneous development of additional strophes in excess of the five of popular devotional practice can be attributed to uncertain composition, with creative accretions occurring over time. Membra Jesu Nostri is divided into seven parts, each addressed to a different member of Christ's crucified body: Ad pedes, Ad genua, Ad manus, Ad latus, Ad pectus, Ad cor, Ad faciem (feet, knees, hands, side, breast, heart, and head, that is, Christ's Holy Face) framed by selected Old Testament verses containing prefigurements. The cantata has come down to us more widely known as the hymn O Sacred Head Surrounded named for the closing stanza of poem addressed to Christ's head which begins Salve caput cruentatum. Actually, the hymn has nothing to do with Buxtehude's cantata. It stems from (and is the last one of) Paul Gerhardt's set of hymns based on the poem (which he also attributed to Bernard). Franz Liszt included an arrangement of this hymn at the sixth station, Saint Veronica wipes the Holy Face, in his Via Crucis (the Way of the Cross).
One notable work in Latin is Arvo Pärt's Passio Domini Nostri Jesu Christi secundum Joannem (The Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ according to John) of 1982.
- Text of Salve Mundi Salutare http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/13408a.htm