Singing the Passion

This Holy Week we will have the opportunity to hear two musical settings of the Passion: Matthew on Palm-Passion Sunday and John on Good Friday. The tradition of singing the Passion dates from at least the 4th century perhaps culminating in the great works of J.S. Bach. For a complete musical history go here. Sunday’s version is quite straightforward: the text is divided among the different characters and sung to a simple psalm tone. Good Friday we will hear the more complex setting of the John Passion by the German Baroque composer, Heinrich Schütz. While Schütz keeps the chantlike nature of the music for the individual characters, their parts are not confined to the Psalm tone and are more dramatic. Words that belong to the crowd (the “turba”) are set for four-voice choir and are deeply illustrative of the text, thus heightening the drama. Additionally, the work opens with a choral setting of the typical Lutheran introduction, “The Passion of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ by Saint John.” The piece ends with a meditative chorus based upon a Lutheran Passion Chorale. 

Personally, I find that hearing the words of this lengthy text sung gives them more impact. In my experience the spoken words that follow also gain impact because of the change in sound. See what you think! I hope our musical offerings this Holy Week will be a blessing to you.