Bach’s “Passion” as online meditation

Bach is among the very greatest of Christian artists, and his “St. Matthew Passion” is considered one of his greatest works.  It is an oratorio, something like an opera, that sets to music Matthew’s account of the crucifixion of Christ (Chapters 26-27), with soloists singing the lines of the various characters and magnificent choral music, all punctuated with Bach’s rendition of Lenten hymns (many of which we still sing today) and remarkable verse by Bach himself responding to Christ’s sacrifice.

My colleague Steve McCollum alerted me to an online resource that makes this masterpiece of musical devotion accessible online:  Oregon Bach Festival » Digital Bach Project » St. Matthew Passion.  It gives the English translation, as well as the Biblical sources and the dramatic script, for each line as the oratorio unfolds.  Click the link, then when you see the painting of St. Matthew, hit the play button.  It’s divided into five 30-minute segments, which makes it an excellent Holy Week devotion.  Here is Dr. McCollum’s description:

Dear Friends,

The Oregon Bach Festival is one of the most highly regarded music festivals in the world. Helmut Rilling (artistic director) is a revered Bach scholar and master teacher. In 2002 I was able to participate in the festival as a conducting fellow and the experience changed my life. As such, as we approach Holy Week, I’m very excited to recommend a newly developed web resource featuring Bach’s St. Matthew Passion. This resource makes the entire passion service accessible by providing a thorough devotional and liturgical context along with the entire OBF performance. It is divided into 5 sections (each approx. 30 minutes long) which lead the listener through the passion by providing translations and historical/musical contexts for each movement. The experience is amazing.

Dr. Tim Smith (creative director of the Oregon Bach Festival’s Digital Bach Project) described his intentions for the project this way:

“I want to reintroduce the St. Matthew Passion to people of faith who may not know of it, or have forgotten. And I want to shake up people who know it well by forcing them to see it within the liturgical life that created it.”

I hope that you find this uplifting.

Here is the link:


Steven McCollum, D.M.A.
Director of Music

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  • RBJames


  • LAJ

    Thank you so much for the link and information!

  • Rick Krueger

    The non-Scriptural texts of the Passion are actually by Picander, a Leipzig poet who did many of Bach’s cantata texts. But that’s a picky point.

    What a great website. Our local symphony (Grand Rapids, Michigan) will be performing the Saint Matthew Passion in March 2014. This will be a great tool to help people get into it.

  • Steve Bauer

    Aaahhh, Bach!

  • Jennifer

    We just sang the St. Matthew Passion on March 10.
    A very stirring Lenten experience indeed.

  • Excellent piece. I was introduced to it while in college, and I believe it was the part in which Jesus was talking about one of the twelve about to betray Him.

  • helen

    I am enjoying the music but I have not figured out where to find a pause, let alone “five segments”.
    Trying has brought me back to the beginning.
    Can anyone advise me?

  • helen

    Aha! I seem to have pushed the right button!
    Thanks for posting this; I have shared it with other Bach enthusiasts.

  • helen

    OOPS! “Bach lovers.”

    “Enthusiasts” is not the right word for a Lutheran!

  • Julia Allen

    Click the candle, then the crucifix. That will bring you to the five-day study.