The Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ, According to John (and Bach)

Each year, as part of my Good Friday devotions, I try to listen (as distraction-free as possible) to a musical work suited — both emotionally and liturgically — to the commemoration of Christ’s passion and death. Past listening sessions have ranged from Alfeyev’s Passion of St. Matthew and Richard Einhorn’s Voices of Light to Schutz’s Passions (Matthew, Luke, and John); from both Haydn settings of The Seven Last Words to Gorecki’s Miserere and Symphony of Sorrowful Songs. Unsurprisingly, the piece making the most most frequently Good Friday appearances J.S. Bach’s towering masterpiece: his Matthäus Passion, which I consider to be the greatest work ever composed.

In recent years, however, I have found myself increasingly drawn to Bach’s setting of another passion: that of John. Joannes Passion is shorter and more direct than its Matthäusian counterpart, and it feels more dramatic to me, as well. An added point in its favor? John’s recounting of Christ’s Passion is the one we will hear in a few hours during the Good Friday Liturgy.

So they took Jesus, and he went out, bearing his own cross, to the place called the place of a skull, which is called in Hebrew Gol′gotha. There they crucified him, and with him two others, one on either side, and Jesus between them.
YouTube Preview Image

Attribution(s): “”Christ Carrying the Cross” by Giovanni Battista Tiepolo. Provided by Web Gallery of Art( Image, Info) and licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.

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About Joseph Susanka

Joseph has been doing development work for institutions of Catholic higher education since graduating from Thomas Aquinas College in 1999. A grateful resident of Wyoming, he spends his free time exploring the beautiful Wind River Mountains, keeping track of his (currently) seven sons, being amazed by his (currently) lone daughter, and thanking his lucky stars for Netflix.

  • Mark.

    I’ve long preferred the St. John to the St. Matthew and I can’t really say why. Somehow it strikes me as more Catholic in tone. The final chorus generally leaves me in tears, even though it’s merely a (very well harmonized) verse of a hymn familiar to Bach. Of late I’ve grown fond of the Bach Collegium Japan recordings of the cantatas and Passions, under Suzuki.

    For the Easter season there’s Handel’s La Resurrezione and Schuetz’s Auferstehungshistorie.

    • Joseph Susanka

      I was thrilled to find that particular YouTube clip, Mark. I, too, love Suzuki and Bach Collegium Japan’s work. (I’m familiar with Schutz’s Weihnachtshistorie, but not with the Auferstehungshistorie. I’ll give it a listen.)