Two excerpts from J.S. Bach’s St John Passion
1. Chorale: ‘O große Lieb’ (‘O mighty love’)
For Bach it was very important that the music expressed accurately the sentiment of the words that were set. In this short excerpt from the St John Passion (first performed 1724) we hear one of many chorales placed throughout the work that the congregation was possibly expected to join in singing. Bach's sensitivity to the words is very apparent; interestingly the music increases in pathos and anguish with the dissonance Bach uses to express the 'sins' of pleasure and joy but returns to a calmness (albeit of a resigned kind) in reference to the need to suffer for those sins - quite the opposite to how those words would likely be interpreted in music today!
The chorale ‘O große Lieb’ (‘O mighty love’) from Johann Sebastian Bach’s St John Passion, performed by the Munich Bach Choir and Orchestra conducted by Karl Richter (recorded 1964). Background images are of the Thomaskirche amd Nikolaikirche in Leipzig, where Bach’s Passions were first performed.
2. Peter's Denial
Recitative: 'Und Hannas..'
Chorus: 'Bist du nicht...'
Recitative: 'Er leugnete aber...'
Aria: '‘Ach, mein Sinn’
In this second excerpt from the St John Passion we hear Bach's extraordinary sensitivity to the text, from the spitefulness of the rabble chorus ('Bist du nicht seiner Jünger einer?' - 'Aren't you one of his disciples?') to the torment of Peter's mind after his realization of what has just happened ('und weinete bitterlich' - 'and he wept bitterly'). The tremendous emotion of this last recitative passage acts as a spring board into the anguished aria ‘Ach, mein Sinn’ ('Ah, my soul'), one of Bach's noblest creations. The amazing expressiveness and sensitivity of the music in this aria clearly shows how Bach identified with Peter's condition.
Bach later cut the aria ‘Ach, mein Sinn’ from the St John Passion, presumably because Christian Weise’s words related to text taken from the St Matthew Gospel - in strict Lutheran Leipzig it's inclusion was no doubt seen as a terrible faux pas. However he reinstated it in the work's third and final revision of 1749, the year before his death.
From J.S.Bach's St John Passion: the recitative and chorus leading up to Peter's Denial, followed by the aria "Ah, mein Sinn", performed by Ernst Haefliger and the Munich Bach Choir and Orchestra conducted by Karl Richter (recorded 1964). Background images are of the Thomaskirche amd Nikolaikirche in Leipzig (where Bach’s Passions were first performed) as well as a variety of famous paintings depicting Peter's Denial