Musical Mediation for Holy Week

It’s time once again to embark on one of my longest-standing personal spiritual traditions: Finding some time during Holy Week to listen to J.S. Bach’s towering masterpiece, the Matthäus Passion.

It grows progressively more difficult each year, because “some time” actually means 3+ hours. And Lent seems to fly by more rapidly each year. And there are shocking number of kids around my house. But it’s worth it, especially if you have a chance to sit down with the libretto and read along while you’re listening. Below, Karl Richter’s interpretation, which I picked because it has the libretto built in. And because it features Peter Schreier as The Evangelist, whose performance in my favorite-and-not-readily-available version of the Passion — Herbert von Karajan’s recording from the 1970’s — is second only to Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau’s performance as Christ.

http://youtu.be/cVo6YUlwfeA

YouTube has an astonishing number of available versions in addition to the Richter one above (which I chose because it has the words). From Claudio Abbado’s faster-paced interpretation to one of Nicholas Harnoncourt’s earliest recordings of the work; from Philippe Herreweghe to Eugen Jochum to Peter Dikjstra, from Iván Fischer to the Mauersbergers, from Gustav Leonhardt to John Eliot Gardiner to Karl Münchinger. I don’t find them all equally meditative — the pacing varies wildly — but all are gorgeous. (Bach’s Joannes Passion is certainly Holy Week-worthy, as well.)

The length can be a bit daunting. Heck, I find it daunting, and I’ve been doing this for years. But the length actually adds to the overall meditative effectiveness of the work, I think. In years past, when I hit my single most-beloved moment in musical history some hours in– “Wahrlich, dieser ist Gottes Sohn gewesen!” — there have been tears. And by the time the Passion finally draws to its exhausting close — “Rest softly, softly rest! Rest, ye exhausted limbs!” — I’m spent.

Which is exactly where I want to be.

Attribution(s): The Taking of Christ” by Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio. Via Web Gallery of Art ( Image, Info) and licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.

 

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