Warsaw Chamber Opera & Maestro M. Maciasczcyk
Johann Sebastian Bach
St. John Passion, BWV 245
The St. John Passion was written earlier than the famous St. Matthew Passion (1729) and was carefully polished over many years by the Thomaskantor himself. Composed and premiered in Leipzig's Nikolaikirche on Good Friday 1724, the work was later performed in another Leipzig church - Thomaskirche - in a further version with numerous changes. The version most frequently performed today is a mixture of the unfinished new version from the end of 1730 and the fourth version from 1749, without the later text changes in the arias. However, work on the Passion did not end there. The last version performed during Bach's lifetime dates from 1749. It essentially corresponds to the structure of 1724, but is significantly expanded in the instrumental section and contains the longer movement 33. It is assumed that the two passages from the Gospel of Matthew which were inserted into the original version of the St. John Passion (Matthew 26: 75 Then Peter remembered the words of Jesus, when he said to him: "Before the cock crows, you will deny me three times", and went out and wept bitterly.; Matthew 27: 51-52 And behold, the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. And the earth trembled, and the rocks were rent asunder, and the graves were opened, and many bodies of the saints which slept there were raised up.
(the score was to contain only original music composed with the Gospel of John in mind). As a replacement, Bach added two movements that are now lost, presumably a tenor aria and a sinfonia.
It is said that the Passion, which describes Jesus' journey from his arrest to his death on the cross, is a prayer by Bach himself, his deep confession of faith. From the opening movement Lord, our ruler, whose glory is glorious in all lands! to the final expression Ach Herr, lass dein lieb Engelein, Bach builds up tension with every movement and every note - this extraordinary mystery that underlies the dogma, the essence of the Christian faith. In the Gospel of John, the description is basically limited to a "narrative" depiction of the interrogation scenes before the chief priests and Pilate. And it is precisely this pathos, this atmosphere of constant dramatic excitement, that must have troubled Bach, as he interwove the several fragments from the Gospel of Matthew mentioned above in order to achieve balance. Today we can hear how much the description from the Gospel of John restricted the composer and made it impossible to fit the necessary arias and choruses into the oratorio passion. Bach found this formal freedom in the Gospel of Matthew.
This was noted by Father Julian Mieczysław Śmierciak from the Institute of Musicology at the Catholic University of Lublin: "Bach created spontaneously, with the power of his genius, and did not strictly adhere to musical patterns. He did not copy or calculate according to mathematical proportions, but, since he knew the principles of musical rhetoric perfectly, he applied them masterfully in order to express such important events as the Passion of Christ as accurately as possible, with as much power and effect as possible and with the best means.
Johann Sebastian Bach's music seems to confirm with every note the accuracy of the words of Martin Luther, who said: "The Passion of Christ cannot be played out with words and hypocrisy, but with real life itself. The composer's Passion works thus achieve an unprecedented balance between the seriousness and weight of the description of the Lord's Passion and
the perfection of the phrase, even the transience of the aria. Nomen est omen, in creating his Passion, Bach referred precisely to the account of the Gospel of John in the Luther translation.
Scholars say directly that Bach himself prays to God with this work, and the weight of the notes seems to ask for redemption. The redemption of us all.
The Warsaw Chamber Opera has made Bach's oratorio music a kind of trademark, and because it builds interpretations on the foundation of one of the best ensembles of our time specializing in playing historical instruments or copies of them - Musicae Antiquae Collegium Varsoviense - it offers music lovers experiences that flow on the wave of historically informed performance practice.