Saturday, 19 April 2014


“It is wonderful how much time good people spend fighting the devil. If they would only expend the same amount of energy loving their fellow men, the devil would die in his own tracks of ennui.” - Helen Keller

The St John Passion (German: Johannes-Passion), BWV 245, is a sacred oratorio by Johann Sebastian Bach. The original Latin title Passio secundum Johannem translates to “The Suffering According to John”. During the first winter that Bach was responsible for church music at the St. Thomas Church and the St. Nicholas Church in Leipzig, he composed the St John Passion for the Good Friday Vespers service of 1724.

The St John Passion is a dramatic representation of the Passion as told in the Gospel of John, constructed of dramatically presented recitatives and choruses, with commentary in reflective chorales, ariosos, and arias, framed by opening and final choruses, leading to a final chorale. Compared with the St Matthew Passion, the St John Passion has been described as more extravagant, with an expressive immediacy, at times more unbridled and less “finished”. The work is the oldest extant Passion by Bach, followed by the St Matthew Passion. A St Mark Passion has been reconstructed from parts recovered, but older Passions composed by Bach may have been lost.

Bach followed chapters 18 and 19 of the Gospel of John in the Luther Bible, and the tenor Evangelist follows exactly the words of that bible. The compiler of the additional poetry is unknown. Models are the Brockes Passion and a Johannes-Passion by Christian Heinrich Postel. The first scene is in the Kedron Valley, and the second in the palace of the high priest Caiaphas. Part Two shows three scenes, one with Pontius Pilate, one at Golgotha, and the third finally at the burial site. The dramatic argument between Pilate, Jesus, and the crowd is not interrupted by reflective elements but is a single central chorale.

The St John Passion is one of the crowning achievements of Western music and in terms of Bach’s oeuvre represents an intensely personal experience, bringing to life the humanity of the passion story. Combining raw viscerality with moments of exquisite intimacy, the music and text outline a deeply religious feeling without religiosity.

Here is the Johannes-Passion performed by Werner Güra, tenor; Layla Claire: soprano; Damien Guillon: countertenor; Emiliano Gonzalez-Toro: tenor; Konstantin Wolff: bass; Benoît Arnould: bass with the Ensemble et choeur Pygmalion, by Conducted by Raphaël Pichon.


  1. Great choice, the El Greco. But I would love the name of the painting, its date and its present location. J.S Bach would have appreciated the painting's emotions.

    1. Hello, Hels. The painting by El Greco above is "The Agony in the Garden" ca 1590 (Oil on canvas, 104 x 117 cmToledo Museum of Art, Toledo, Ohio). There are many versions of "The Agony in the Garden" painted by El Greco and his workshop, it was one of his most successful inventions. He painted the subject both as a horizontal and as a vertical composition. The version in the Ohio museum is probably the prototype, or at least the best autograph version of the horizontal type.The Agony in the Garden testifies to an astonishing development of the artist. The Italian influences recede to the same degree as El Greco frees himself from his obligation to nature. The figures lose their sense of substance, while their expressiveness is amplified by the unreal shapes assumed by the landscape. Thus Christ is literally heightened by the rock behind him, while the disciples are seen in a sheltering cave as a symbol of sleep. The figures are absolved from logical relationships of scale. The falling diagonal which leads from an angel, through Christ, to the soldiers on the right-hand edge of the painting is a visual statement of the inevitability of Christ's fate. Such departures from the natural model, also evident in the visionary apparition of the moon, were one of the major reasons for the revival of interest in El Greco's work around 1900.