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Voice / Vocal Fach Tenor
key of recordings F# minor (original key)
ComposerJohann Sebastian Bach (31 March 1685 – 28 July 1750)

J.S. Bach’s Johannes-Passion, or St. John Passion, BWV 245—one of just two surviving Bach Passion works out of an original four or five—is, simply put, a headache for editors and performers wishing to recreate the authentic, stamped-and-approved original work. There is no such beast: the work was performed at least four times during Bach’s lifetime, and for each new presentation he overhauled the music, adding numbers, deleting numbers, changing numbers, so that today we really have four different St. John Passions through which to pick and choose our way. Happily enough, however, Bach misses the mark in not a single one of those numbers, and the director can hardly go wrong selecting from such a wealth of fine material.

The St. John Passion was first heard on April 7, 1724 (Good Friday), and then reproduced for Leipzig churchgoers in 1725, sometime in the early 1730s (perhaps 1732), and then again in 1749. Perhaps in part because of its sometimes bewildering compositional history and the fact that its texts were not really conceived as a single entity (Bach seems to have arranged the texts himself from a number of disparate sources, and sometimes his efforts—which seem to have been hasty ones—are not altogether graceful), the St. John Passion has never been a sweepingly popular work like the St. Matthew Passion, BWV 244. But it is a monumental work that must have made quite an impression indeed at its first performance, early on in Bach’s tenure as Cantor of Leipzig.

The St. John Passion calls for four vocal soloists, four-part chorus, and a large orchestra including not only the now-usual string instruments, flutes, oboes, and basso continuo, but also oboes d’amore, oboes da caccia, and violas d’amore; and there is even the possibility of letting a lutenist into the ensemble! Although the work perhaps lacks the scope of its cousin the St. Matthew Passion, it has an immediate, dramatic quality. Bach enacts, as a kind of musical equivalent of the Passion Play, an episode from the story detailing the arrest, trial, and crucifixion, with the words of the historical persons—Christ, Pilate, Peter, and John as Evangelist—set in recitatives, followed by a solo commenting on the emotional and spiritual meaning of the event described. The chorus portrays the crowd—soldiers, priests, and populace—in addition to singing chorales, based on familiar themes. By contrast, the arias are special events (there are just three in the whole of the first part) during which the course of the Passion drama is paused and room is made for profound reflection .

© All Music Guide

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© 2008 All Media Guide, LLC. All Music Guide is a registered trademark of All Media Guide, LLC.



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Johann Sebastian Bach (31 March 1685 – 28 July 1750) was a German composer, organist, harpsichordist, violist, and violinist of the Baroque period.

Johann Sebastian Bach was better known as a virtuoso organist than as a composer in his day. His sacred music, organ and choral works, and other instrumental music had an enthusiasm and seeming freedom that concealed immense rigor. Bach’s use of counterpoint was brilliant and innovative, and the immense complexities of his compositional style—which often included religious and numerological symbols that seem to fit perfectly together in a profound puzzle of special codes—still amaze musicians today. Many consider him the greatest composer of all time.

Handel Bach was born in Eisenach in 1685. He was taught to play the violin and harpsichord by his father, Johann Ambrosius, a court trumpeter in the service of the Duke of Eisenach. Young Johann was not yet ten when his father died, leaving him orphaned. He was taken in by his recently married oldest brother, Johann Christoph, who lived in Ohrdruf. Because of his excellent singing voice, Bach attained a position at the Michaelis monastery at Lüneberg in 1700. His voice changed a short while later, but he stayed on as an instrumentalist. After taking a short-lived post in Weimar in 1703 as a violinist, Bach became organist at the Neue Kirche in Arnstadt (1703-1707). His relationship with the church council was tenuous as the young musician often shirked his responsibilities, preferring to practice the organ. One account describes a four-month leave granted Bach, to travel to Lubeck where he would familiarize himself with the music of Dietrich Buxtehude. He returned to Arnstadt long after was expected and much to the dismay of the council. He then briefly served at St. Blasius in Mühlhausen as organist, beginning in June 1707, and married his cousin, Maria Barbara Bach, that fall.
Bach composed his famous Toccata and Fugue in D minor (BWV 565) and his first cantatas while in Mühlhausen, but quickly outgrew the musical resources of the town. He next took a post for the Duke of Sachsen-Weimar in 1708, serving as court organist and playing in the orchestra, eventually becoming its leader in 1714. He wrote many organ compositions during this period, including his Orgel-Büchlein. Owing to politics between the Duke and his officials, Bach left Weimar and secured a post in December 1717 as Kapellmeister at Cöthen. In 1720, Bach’s wife suddenly died, leaving him with four children (three others had died in infancy). A short while later, he met his second wife, soprano Anna Magdalena Wilcke, whom he married in December 1721. She would bear 13 children, though only five would survive childhood. The six Brandenburg Concertos (BWV 1046-51), among many other secular works, date from his Cöthen years. Bach became Kantor of the Thomas School in Leipzig in May 1723 and held the post until his death. It was in Leipzig that he composed the bulk of his religious and secular cantatas. Bach eventually became dissatisfied with this post, not only because of its meager financial rewards, but also because of onerous duties and inadequate facilities. Thus, he took on other projects, chief among which was the directorship of the city’s Collegium Musicum, an ensemble of professional and amateur musicians who gave weekly concerts, in 1729. He also became music director at the Dresden Court in 1736, in the service of Frederick Augustus II;

though his duties were vague and apparently few, they allowed him freedom to compose what he wanted. Bach began making trips to Berlin in the 1740s, not least because his son Carl Philipp Emanuel served as a court musician there. In May 1747, the composer was warmly received by King Frederick II of Prussia, for whom he wrote the gloriously abstruse Musical Offering (BWV 1079). Among Bach’s last works was his 1749 Mass in B minor. Besieged by diabetes, he died on July 28, 1750.

© Robert Cummings, All Music Guide

Poeticall Musicke

Poeticall Musicke

George Clifford Baroque violin (playing vocal part) Donald Bennet Baroque cello Joseph Chesshyre

Poeticall Musicke is an early music band founded in 2011. Their exhilarating sound, engaging programmes and energetic schedule have attracted a growing audience, and notably the support of Dame Emma Kirkby DBE and Suzi Digby OBE as honorary patrons. They are one of the few ensembles to boast a permanent continuo array of baroque harp, theorbo, harpsichord, viol and lirone which they use in different combinations, usually as accompaniment to soprano Rosemary Galton and violinists George Clifford and Rafael Font.

Poeticall Musicke has residencies at St James’ Church, Islington, London and All Saints Church, York where they frequently perform and record. They have played throughout London in venues including the Southbank Centre, Christchurch Spitalfields and the Foundling Museum.

Unusually for an early music ensemble they have embraced internet music distribution by providing outstanding recordings that are free to download. Through their record label Veterum Musica they have gained an increasingly substantial online following, having attracted over 6,000 plays with five albums.

Ach, mein Sinn – J.S Bach – Johannes-Passion Orchestral accompaniment / Audio text, score / translation /biographies of composer and poet.