Passions (Bach)

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Not to be confused with Passions (C.P.E. Bach).

According to his obituary, Johann Sebastian Bach wrote "five passions, of which one is for double chorus". 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. It is known that Bach wrote a St Mark Passion for 1731, but it is uncertain what the remaining missing works may have been.[1]

Bach's copy of an anonymous St Luke Passion, BWV 246, was published in the Bach Gesellschaft Complete Works (vol. xlv/2) but is regarded as spurious, with the possible exception of the introduction to the second half. Bach contributed some music to Reinhard Keiser's St Mark Passion when he performed it in Weimar in 1713, and added chorales for Leipzig performances in 1725. Picander's libretto for Bach's St. Mark Passion BWV 247 was once thought to have been destroyed in the bombing of Dresden in World War II, but the recovered copy seems to show that the work was a parody of music from the socalled Trauer-Ode, Laß, Fürstin, laß noch einen Strahl, BWV 198, and that some choruses were used also in the Christmas Oratorio; the numerous reconstructions are discussed in the main article.

Bach's Leipzig Passions were performed at Vespers on Good Friday, alternating between the principal churches of St. Thomas and St. Nicholas. The order of service was:[1]

  1. Hymn: Da Jesus an den Kreuze stund
  2. Passion, part 1
  3. Sermon
  4. Passion, part 2
  5. Motet: Ecce quomodo moritur in Jacob Handl's setting
  6. Collect & Benediction
  7. Hymn: Nun danket alle Gott

The St John Passion was described as more realistic, faster paced and more anguished than the reflective and resigned St. Matthew Passion. The St John Passion is also shorter and has simpler orchestration than the St Matthew Passion. In the 1960s it became gradually more common to perform Bach's Passions with relatively small ensembles.[2]


  1. ^ a b Boyd, Malcolm (ed.) (1999). Oxford Composer Companions J. S. Bach. OUP. ISBN 0-19-860620-6. 
  2. ^ Fabian, Dorottya (2003). Bach performance practice, 1945-1975: a comprehensive review of sound recordings and literature. Ashgate Publishing, Ltd. p. 88. ISBN 0-7546-0549-3. 

Further reading[edit]

  • Melamed, Daniel R. Hearing Bach's Passions, 2005