BWV 245: St. John Passion

Date: May 18, 2024  |  Time: 7:30 pm


Basilica of Saints Peter & Paul
214 E. 8th Street
Chattanooga, TN

Basilica of Saints Peter & Paul

214 E. 8th Street
Chattanooga, TN

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Erik Gustafson – tenor


Matthew Hoch – bass

Bach’s St. John Passion: A Musical Odyssey

Historical Backdrop

Johann Sebastian Bach’s “St. John Passion,” originally performed in 1724 at Nikolaikirche, Leipzig, represents a milestone in Baroque music. Bach reworked it several times, finalizing it in 1749, although he never heard this version in his lifetime​​.

Narrative and Structure

This composition interprets the Passion narrative from the Gospel of John, a tale distinct from the synoptic gospels, rich with dramatic and emotional depth​. Bach’s work is divided into five sections: the arrest, Peter’s denial, the trial before Pilate, the crucifixion and death, and the burial, each part unfolding with gripping intensity​.

The piece is divided into two parts, each comprising a series of movements that blend together to form a cohesive narrative.

Part One

  • Chorus: “Herr, unser Herrscher” (Lord, our ruler)
  • Recitatives and Choruses: Following the story of Jesus and his disciples, leading to Jesus’ capture.
  • Chorale: “O große Lieb” (O great love)
  • Recitative: “Auf daß das Wort erfüllet würde” (That the word might be fulfilled)
  • Chorale: “Dein Will gescheh, Herr Gott, zugleich” (Your will be done, Lord God, likewise)
  • 6-14. Recitatives, Aria, Chorales: Depicting the arrest of Jesus and Peter’s denial.

Part Two

  • Chorale: “Christus, der uns selig macht” (Christ who makes us blessed)
  • 16-22. Recitatives, Chorales, Arioso, Aria: Focus on the trial before Pilate and Jesus’ condemnation.
  • 23-30. Recitatives, Chorales, Aria: Covering the crucifixion and Jesus’ last moments.
  • 31-40. Recitatives, Arioso, Aria, Chorales: Jesus’ death, the tearing of the temple veil, and his burial.

Musical Evolution

The Passion genre, a blend of chorales, devotional texts, and Gospel passages, sung in German, evolved post-Reformation​. Bach, during his tenure as Cantor at Thomasschule, Leipzig, contributed significantly to this genre. His “St. John Passion” stands out for its complex compositional history and its vivid textural contrasts, drawing from a variety of sources and incorporating chorale verses and Passion poetry​.

Thematic Essence

Central to this masterpiece is the portrayal of Christ not just as a figure of suffering but as an eternal, omnipresent ruler. This theme resonates throughout the work, particularly in the pivotal chorale “Durch Dein Gefängnis” and the climactic aria “Es ist Vollbracht”​.

In summary, Bach’s “St. John Passion” is not just a musical rendition of a biblical story; it’s an intricate tapestry of theology, history, and profound musicality, presenting a multifaceted portrait of one of the pivotal events in Christian lore.

This concert has two tiers of tickets available: Reserved seating is at the front of the church.