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.