The St Matthew Passion (German: Matthäus-Passion), BWV 244, is a Passion, a sacred oratorio written by Johann Sebastian Bach in 1727 for solo voices, double choir and double orchestra, with libretto by Picander. It sets chapters 26 and 27 of the Gospel of Matthew (in the Luther Bible) to music, with interspersed chorales and arias. It is widely regarded as one of the greatest masterpieces of classical sacred music. The original Latin title Passio Domini nostri J.C. secundum Evangelistam Matthæum translates to "The Passion of our Lord J[esus] C[hrist] according to the Evangelist Matthew".
Little is known with certainty about the creation process of the St Matthew Passion. The available information derives from extant early manuscripts, contemporary publications of the libretto, and circumstantial data, for instance in documents archived by the Town Council of Leipzig.
The St Matthew Passion was probably first performed on 11 April (Good Friday) 1727 in the St. Thomas Church, and again on 15 April 1729, 30 March 1736, and 23 March 1742. Bach then revised it again between 1743 and 1746.
In Leipzig it was not allowed to paraphrase the words of the Gospel in a Passion presentation on Good Friday. A setting of the then-popular Brockes Passion libretto, largely consisting of such paraphrasing, could not be done without replacing the paraphrases by actual Gospel text. That was the option chosen by Bach for his 1724 St John Passion. In 1725 Christian Friedrich Henrici, a Leipzig poet who used Picander as his pen name, had published Erbauliche Gedanken auf den Grünen Donnerstag und Charfreytag ("Edifying Thoughts on Maundy Thursday and Good Friday"), containing free verse suitable for a Passion presentation in addition to the Gospel text. Bach seems to have stimulated the poet to write more of such verse in order to come to a full-fledged libretto for a Passion presentation combined with the Passion text chapters 26 and 27 in the Gospel of St Matthew.
Since 1975, it is usually assumed that Bach's St Matthew Passion was first performed on Good Friday 11 April 1727, although its first performance may have been as late as Good Friday 1729, as older sources assert. The performance took place in the St. Thomas Church (Thomaskirche) in Leipzig. Bach was Thomaskantor (i.e., Cantor, and responsible for the music in the church) since 1723. In this version the Passion was written for two choruses and orchestras. Choir I consists of a soprano in ripieno voice, a soprano solo, an alto solo, a tenor solo, SATB chorus, two traversos, two oboes, two oboes d'amore, two oboes da caccia, lute, strings (two violin sections, violas and cellos), and continuo (at least organ). Choir II consists of SATB voices, violin I, violin II, viola, viola da gamba, cello, two traversos, two oboes (d'amore) and possibly continuo.
Klagt, Kinder, klagt es aller Welt, BWV 244a, a cantata of which only the text is extant, was performed 24 March 1729 in Köthen at a memorial service held some months after the death of Leopold, Prince of Anhalt-Köthen. The music of the cantata consisted largely of music adapted from the St Matthew Passion.
At the time only men sang in church: high pitch vocal parts were usually performed by treble choristers. In 1730, Bach informed the Leipzig Town Council as to what he saw as the number of singers that should be available for the churches under his responsibility, including those for the St. Thomas Church: a choir of twelve singers, plus eight singers that would serve both St. Thomas and the Peterskirche. The request was only partially granted by the Town Council, so possibly at least some of the Passion presentations in St. Thomas were with fewer than twenty singers, even for the large scale works, like the St Matthew Passion, that were written for double choir.
In Bach's time, St. Thomas Church had two organ lofts: the large organ loft that was used throughout the year for musicians performing in Sunday services, vespers, etc., and the small organ loft, situated at the opposite side of the former, that was used additionally in the grand services for Christmas and Easter. The St Matthew Passion was composed as to perform a single work from both organ lofts at the same time: Chorus and orchestra I would occupy the large organ loft, and Chorus and orchestra II performed from the small organ loft. The size of the organ lofts limited the number of performers for each Choir. Large choruses, in addition to the instrumentists indicated for Choir I and II, would have been impossible, so also here there is an indication that each part (including those of strings and singers) would have a limited number of performers, where, for the choruses, the numbers indicated by Bach in his 1730 request would appear to be (more than?) a maximum of what could be fitted in the organ lofts.
Bach revised the Passion by 1736, for a performance on Good Friday 30 March 1736. This is the version (with some possible later adjustments) that is generally known as the St Matthew Passion, BWV 244. In this version both choirs have SATB soloists and chorus, and a string section and continuo consisting of at least violins I and II, viola, gamba and organ. The woodwinds are two traversos, oboes and oboes d'amore for each choir, and in addition for choir I two oboes da caccia.
Some parts were adjusted for a new performance on Good Friday 23 March 1742. Bach finalized his autograph score in 1743-1746; however, this undertaking was not tied to any new performance.
Bach did not number the sections of the St Matthew Passion, all of them vocal movements, but twentieth-century scholars have done so. The two main schemes in use today are the scheme from the Neue Bach-Ausgabe (NBA, New Bach Edition) which uses a 1 through 68 numbering system, and the older Bach-Werke-Verzeichnis (BWV, Bach Works Catalog) scheme which divides the work into 78 numbers. Both use lettered subsections in some cases. This article is written using the NBA numbering system.
Picander wrote text for recitatives and arias, and for the large scale choral movements that open and close the Passion. Other libretto sections came from publications by Salomo Franck and Barthold Heinrich Brockes.
The chorale melodies and their texts would have been known to those attending the services in the St Thomas church. The oldest chorale Bach used in the St Matthew Passion dates from 1525. Three chorales are written by Paul Gerhardt and Bach included five stanzas from his O Haupt voll Blut und Wunden. Bach used the hymns in different ways, most are four-part setting, two as the cantus firmus of the two chorale fantasias framing Part I, one as a commenting element in a tenor recitative.
|Author||Date||Hymn; Stanza||Stanza incipit||No.||Set as...|
|Nikolaus Decius||1541||O Lamm Gottes, unschuldig||1||O Lamm Gottes, unschuldig||1||cantus firmus[a] in choral movement|
|Johann Heermann||1630||Herzliebster Jesu||1||Herzliebster Jesu, was hast du verbrochen||3||four-part chorale|
|Paul Gerhardt||1647||O Welt, sieh hier dein Leben||5||Ich bin's, ich sollte büßen||10||four-part chorale|
|Paul Gerhardt||1656||O Haupt voll Blut und Wunden||5||Erkenne mich, mein Hüter||15||four-part chorale|
|Paul Gerhardt||1656||O Haupt voll Blut und Wunden||7||Es dient zu meinen Freuden||17[b]||four-part chorale|
|Paul Gerhardt||1656||O Haupt voll Blut und Wunden||6||Ich will hier bei dir stehen||17[c]||four-part chorale|
|1630||Herzliebster Jesu||3||Was ist doch wohl die Ursach||19||coro II in tenor recitative|
|Albert, Duke of Prussia||1547||Was mein Gott will, das g'scheh allzeit||1||Was mein Gott will, das g'scheh allzeit||25||four-part chorale|
|Christian Keymann||1658||Meinen Jesum laß ich nicht||6||Jesum laß' ich nicht von mir||29[b]||four-part chorale|
|Sebald Heyden||1525||O Mensch, bewein dein Sünde groß||1||O Mensch, bewein dein Sünde groß||29[c]||cantus firmus in choral movement|
|Adam Reusner||1533||In dich hab ich gehoffet, Herr||5||Mir hat die Welt trüglich gericht'||32||four-part chorale|
|Paul Gerhardt||1647||O Welt, sieh hier dein Leben||3||Wer hat dich so geschlagen||37||four-part chorale|
|Johann von Rist||1642||Werde munter, mein Gemüte||6||Bin ich gleich von dir gewichen||40||four-part chorale|
|Paul Gerhardt||1656||Befiehl du deine Wege||1||Befiehl du deine Wege||44||four-part chorale|
|Johann Heermann||1630||Herzliebster Jesu||4||Wie wunderbarlich ist doch diese Strafe!||46||four-part chorale|
|Paul Gerhardt||1656||O Haupt voll Blut und Wunden||1||54||four-part chorale|
|Paul Gerhardt||1656||O Haupt voll Blut und Wunden||2||Du edles Angesichte||54, cont.[c]||four-part chorale|
|Paul Gerhardt||1656||O Haupt voll Blut und Wunden||9||Wenn ich einmal soll scheiden||62||four-part chorale|
In the early version BWV 244b the chorale No. 17 appears to be missing, and movement No. 29, concluding Part One, is a four-part setting of the chorale "Jesum lass ich nicht von mir" instead of the chorale fantasia on "O Mensch, bewein dein Sünde groß".
Many composers wrote musical settings of the Passion in the late 17th century. Like other Baroque oratorio passions, Bach's setting presents the Biblical text of Matthew 26-27 in a relatively simple way, primarily using recitative, while aria and arioso movements set newly written poetic texts which comment on the various events in the Biblical narrative and present the characters' states of mind in a lyrical, monologue-like manner.
The St Matthew Passion is set for two choirs and two orchestras. Both include two transverse flutes (Choir 1 also includes 2 recorders for No. 19), two oboes, in certain movements instead oboe d'amore or oboe da caccia, two violins, viola, viola da gamba, and basso continuo. For practical reasons the continuo organ is often shared and played with both orchestras. In many arias a solo instrument or more create a specific mood, such as the central soprano aria No. 49, "Aus Liebe will mein Heiland sterben", where the absence of strings and basso continuo mark a desperate loss of security.
Two distinctive aspects of Bach's setting spring from his other church endeavors. One is the double-choir format, which stems from his own double-choir motets and those of many other composers with which he routinely started Sunday services. The other is the extensive use of chorales, which appear in standard four-part settings, as interpolations in arias, and as a cantus firmus in large polyphonic movements. This is notable in "O Mensch, bewein dein Sünde groß", the conclusion of the first half - a movement which Bach also used as an opening chorus for the second version (1725) of his St John Passion (later - ca. 1730 - he reverted to the originally composed "Herr, unser Herrscher" there). The opening chorus, "Kommt, ihr Töchter, helft mir klagen" is also notable for the use of chorale cantus firmus, in which the soprano in ripieno crowns a colossal buildup of polyphonic and harmonic tension, singing a verse of "O Lamm Gottes, unschuldig". This was sung only in 1742 and 1743-1746 and had been played on the organ before.
The narration of the Gospel texts is sung by the tenor Evangelist in secco recitative accompanied only by continuo. Soloists sing the words of various characters, also in recitative; in addition to Jesus, there are named parts for Judas, Peter, two high priests (Pontifex I & II), Pontius Pilate, Pilate's wife (Uxor Pilati), two witnesses (Testis I & II) and two ancillae (maids). These are not always sung by all different soloists. The "character" soloists are also often assigned arias and sing with the choirs, a practice not always followed by modern performances. Two duets are sung by a pair of soloists representing two simultaneous speakers. A number of passages for several speakers, called turba (crowd) parts, are sung by one of the two choirs or both.
The words of Jesus, also termed Vox Christi (voice of Christ), usually receive special treatment. Bach created particularly distinctive accompagnato recitatives in this work: they are accompanied not by continuo alone, but also by the entire string section of the first orchestra using long, sustained notes and "highlighting" certain words, thus creating an effect often referred to as Jesus's "halo". Only his final words, in Aramaic, Eli, Eli lama asabthani? (My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?), are sung without this "halo".
In the revision of 1743-1746, it is also these words (the Vox Christi) that receive a sustained continuo part. In all prior versions (1727/1729, 1736, and 1742), the continuo part was sustained in all recitatives.
The arias, set to texts by Picander, are interspersed between sections of the Gospel text. They are sung by soloists with a variety of instrumental accompaniments, typical of the oratorio style. The interpolated texts theologically and personally interpret the Gospel texts. Many of them include the listener into the action, such as the chorale No. 10, "Ich bin's, ich sollte büßen" ("It is I who should suffer"), after eleven disciples asked "Herr, bin ich's?" (Lord, is it I?) - meaning: Am I the one going to betray? The alto aria No. 6, "Buß und Reu", portrays a desire to anoint Jesus with her tears out of remorse. The bass aria No. 65, "Mache dich, mein Herze, rein", offers to bury Jesus himself. Jesus is often referred to as "my Jesus". The chorus alternates between participating in the narrative and commenting on it.
As is typical of settings of the Passion (and originating in its liturgical use on Palm Sunday), there is no mention of the Resurrection in any of these texts (apart from indirect allusions at Matthew 26:32 and 27:53 and 63). Following the concept of Anselm of Canterbury, the crucifixion is the endpoint and the source of redemption; the emphasis is on the suffering of Jesus. The chorus sings, in the final chorale No. 62, "tear me from my fears / through your own fear and pain." The bass, referring to the "sweet cross" expresses in No. 56, "Yes, of course this flesh and blood in us / want to be forced to the cross; / the better it is for our soul, / the more bitter it feels."
The first "O Lamm Gottes" chorale compares Jesus' crucifixion to the ritual sacrifice of an Old Testament lamb, as an offering for sin. This theme is reinforced by the concluding chorale of the first part, O Mensch, bewein dein' Sünde groß (O man, bewail your great sin).
Bach's recitatives often set the mood for the particular passages by highlighting emotionally charged words such as "crucify", "kill", or "mourn" with chromatic melodies. Diminished seventh chords and sudden modulations accompany Jesus's apocalyptic prophecies.
In the turba parts, the two choruses sometimes alternate in cori spezzati style (e.g. "Weissage uns, Christe") and sometimes sing together ("Herr, wir haben gedacht"). Other times only one chorus sings (chorus I always takes the parts of the disciples) or they alternate, for example when "some bystanders" say "He's calling for Elijah", and "others" say "Wait to see if Elijah comes to help him."
In the arias, obbligato instruments are equal partners with the voices, as was customary in late Baroque arias. Bach often uses madrigalisms, as in "Buß und Reu", where the flutes start playing a raindrop-like staccato as the alto sings of drops of his tears falling. In "Blute nur", the line about the serpent is set with a twisting melody. In "Erbarm es, Gott", the relentless dotted rhythm of the diminished chords evoke the emotional shock of the scourging.
The Evangelist, a tenor voice, sings the Gospel text in a declamatory style called secco recitative, that is, with only a continuo accompaniment. Direct speech sections of the Gospel text are brought by other singers in the same "secco" format (e.g. a soprano voice sings the words spoken by Pontius Pilate's wife), except for:
Apart from the Evangelist and the Vox Christi the dramatis personae of these Gospel sections of the St Matthew Passion consists of:
In between the sections or scenes of the Gospel text, other texts are sung as a meditation or underlining the action, in a variety of formats:
In the scheme below indentation indicates the type of movement:
|-> Cornerstone choral movements
1. Kommt, ihr Töchter, helft mir klagen - O Lamm Gottes unschuldig (Chorus I & II - Cantus firmus by ripieno soprano choir)
29. O Mensch, bewein dein Sünde groß (Chorale fatasie, text by Sebald Heyden) [1727/1729 version: "Jesum lass ich nicht von mir"; 1742 and 1743-1746 versions: ripieno soprano choir added to soprano line]
68. Wir setzen uns mit Tränen nieder (Chorus I & II)
The work is divided into two parts to be performed before and after the sermon of the Good Friday service.
The first scenes are in Jerusalem: Jesus announces his death (No. 2), on the other hand the intention to get rid of him is expressed (No. 4). A scene in Bethany (No. 4c) shows a woman anointing his head with valuable oils. The next scene (No. 7) has Judas Iscariot negotiating the price for handing Jesus over. In a great contrast of mood the preparation for the "Easter meal" (Osterlamm) is described (No. 9) and the Passover meal itself, the Last Supper, foreshadowed by the announcement of betrayal. After the meal they go together to the Mount of Olives (No. 14) where Jesus predicts that Peter will deny him three times before the cock crows. At the garden of Gethsemane (No. 18) Jesus asks his followers several times to support him but they fall asleep while he is praying in agony. It is there (No. 26) that he is betrayed by Judas' kiss and arrested. While soprano and alto mourn (in duet, No. 27a) Jesus's arrest, the chorus make angry interjections (Laßt ihn, haltet, bindet nicht!). In a dramatic highpoint of the Passion, the chorus (No. 27b) furiously demands against the Jews who arrested Jesus "Zertrümmre, verderbe, verschlinge, zerschelle/ Mit plötzlicher Wut/Den falschen Verräter, das mördrische Blut!" (Wreck, ruin, engulf, shatter with sudden force the false betrayer, the murderous blood!).
Part One is opened by the chorus "Kommt, ihr Töchter, helft mir klagen" (Come ye daughters, join my lament), on a text by Picander. After 16 measures of instrumental introduction in 12
8 time, driven by an ostinato rhythm in the basses, Chorus I intones Kommt, ihr Töchter, helft mir klagen, until in measure 26 they sing Sehet (Hark!) and Chorus II promptly asks Wen? (Whom?), Chorus I replying with den Bräutigam (the bridegroom - implying Christ). The next call by Chorus I is Seht ihn (See him!), followed by the question Wie? (How?) by Chorus II, to which Chorus I answers als wie ein Lamm (just like a lamb - another reference to Christ).
The dialogue with these questions is repeated, and then, from measure 30, Chorus I sings the text of the incipit again while in ripieno sopranos sing the first two lines of Nikolaus Decius' chorale "O Lamm Gottes, unschuldig" (O Lamb of God, innocent) as the cantus firmus. All sentences of the first stanza of Decius' hymn are used as cantus firmus throughout the movement by the ripienists.
The opening chorus continues by taking up the questions and answers by Chorus I and II again, now adding: Sehet -- Was? -- seht die Geduld (See it! -- What? - See the endurance) and ultimately Seht -- Wohin? -- auf unsre Schuld (Look! -- Where? -- to our guilt), after which Chorus I and II sing the last lines of Picander's text in separate blocks. When the cantus firmus has died out, Chorus I and II return to the first three lines of the text, from measure 82 until the conclusion of the chorus in measure 90.
Matthew 26:1-2 places the first scene two days before the Passover feast. After a few words of introduction by the Evangelist, the first words of Christ, set as an accompagnato recitative with slow strings, contain an ominous prediction of his imminent fate.
Chorale: first stanza of Johann Heermann's "Herzliebster Jesu". The first two lines of the hymn are a rhetorical question: "My dearest Jesus, which crimes have you committed, that such dire judgement has been passed?"
Recitative and Aria for alto.
The narration follows Jesus' instructions for securing the upper room for Passover, and the beginning of the Last Supper. Upon Jesus' declaration that one of the twelve will betray him in 9d, they ask him "Lord, is it I?" The word Herr appears 11 times, once for each disciple except Judas Iscariot.
Recitative and Aria (soprano)
In the 1727/1729 version without music and text "Es dient zu meinem Freude"
Recitative (with Chorus II: Was ist die Ursach aller solcher Plagen?) and Aria (with Chorus II: Ich will bei meinem Jesu wachen) for tenor
Recitative and Aria (bass)
Aria for soprano and alto (with Chorus II: Laßt ihn, haltet, bindet nicht!) and Chorus (I & II)
Part I is closed by a four-part Chorale Fantasia (both choirs) on the chorale O Mensch, bewein dein Sünde groß (O mankind, mourn your great sins), recapitulating that Jesus was born of the Virgin to "become the intercessor". The sopranos sing the cantus firmus, the other voices interpret aspects of the narration. In the 1742 and 1743-1746 versions, a ripieno soprano choir was added to the soprano line.
In the 1727/1729 version, this part is concluded by a four-part setting of verse 6 of the Chorale "Meinen Jesum laß ich nicht (Jesum laß ich nicht von mir)".
The first scene of Part Two is an interrogation at the High Priest Caiaphas (No. 37) where two witnesses report Jesus having spoken about destroying the Temple and building it again in three days. Jesus is silent to this, but his answer to the question if he is the Son of God is considered a sacrilege calling for his death. Outside in the courtyard (No. 38) Peter is told three times that he belongs to Jesus and denies it three times - then the cock crows. In the morning (No. 41) Jesus is sent to Pontius Pilate while Judas is overcome by remorse and kills himself. Pilate interrogates Jesus (No. 43), is impressed and is inclined to release him, as it was customary to release one prisoner for the holiday, supported in this by his wife. But the crowd, given the choice to have Jesus released or Barabbas, a thief, insurrectionist and murderer, asks with one voice "Barrabam!". They vote to crucify Jesus, Pilate gives in, washing his hands claiming his innocence, and delivers Jesus to torture and crucifixion. On the way to the crucifixion site (No. 55) Simon of Cyrene is forced to carry the cross. At Golgatha (No. 58) Jesus and two others are crucified and mocked by the crowd. Even his last words are misunderstood. Where he cites Psalm 22, "Eli, Eli, lama asabthani?" (My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?), he is supposed to have called Elijah. He dies. St. Matthew describes the tearing of the Temple curtain and an earthquake - set to music by Bach. In the evening (No. 63c) Joseph of Arimathea asks Pilate for the corpse for burial. The following day (No. 66) officials remind Pilate of the talk of resurrection and ask for guards and a seal for the grave to prevent fraud.
Part Two is opened by a dialog between the alto soloist deploring her lost Jesus and choir II offering help in searching for him, quoting Song of Songs 6:1 (Wo ist denn dein Freund hingegangen). In the 1727/1729 version, the soloist is a bass.
Recitative and Aria (tenor)
Recitative and Aria (soprano)
Recitative and Aria (alto)
Recitative and Aria (bass) Lute instead of Viola da gamba in 1727/1729 version.
Recitative and Aria for alto (from Chorus I), with a dialogue with Chorus II ("Wohin?") in the Aria
This is by far the most unusually chromatic setting of this chorale tune (Befiehl du deine Wege/O Haupt, voll Blut und Wunden) found in the Passion, occurring at the high point of intensity at the death of Jesus. This also marks the completion of Bach's gradual emptying out of the key signature in subsequent settings of this tune: No. 15 has four sharps (E major), No. 17 has three flats (E-flat major), No. 44 has two sharps (D major), No. 54 has one flat (D minor), and No. 62 has no accidentals (A minor).
Recitative and Aria (bass)
Recitative for bass, tenor, alto and soprano, with Chorus II singing Mein Jesu, gute Nacht!.
The work is closed by a grand scale chorus in da capo form, choir I and II mostly in unison for the first part Wir setzen uns mit Tränen nieder (We sit down in tears), but in dialog in the middle section, choir II repeating "Ruhe sanfte, sanfte ruh!" ("Rest gently, gently rest!"), choir I reflecting: "Your grave and headstone shall, for the anxious conscience, be a comfortable pillow and the resting place for the soul. Highly contented, there the eyes fall asleep." These are the last words (before the recapitulation), marked by Bach himself: p pp ppp (soft, very soft, extremely soft).
The St Matthew Passion was not heard in more or less its entirety outside Leipzig until 1829, when the twenty-year-old Felix Mendelssohn performed a version in Berlin, with the Berlin Singakademie, to great acclaim. Mendelssohn's revival brought the music of Bach, particularly the large-scale works, to public and scholarly attention (although the St John Passion had been rehearsed by the Singakademie in 1822).
Sterndale Bennett 1845 edition of the Passion was to be the first of many (as Adolph Bernhard Marx and Adolf Martin Schlesinger's one in 1830), the latest being by Neil Jenkins (1997) and Nicholas Fisher and John Russell (2008). Appreciation, performance and study of Bach's composition have persisted into the present era.
The Passion was performed under the Cantor of St. Thomas until about 1800. Specifically, in 1780, the Cantor, Doles, had three of Bach's Passions performed, assumed to include the St. John and St. Matthew, and "possibly the St. Luke".
In 1824, Felix Mendelssohn's maternal grandmother Bella Salomon had given him a copy of the score of the Passion.Carl Friedrich Zelter had been head of the Sing-Akademie since 1800. He had been hired to teach music theory to both Felix Mendelssohn and his sister Fanny. Zelter had a supply of J. S. Bach scores and was an admirer of Bach's music but he was reluctant to undertake public performances.
When Felix Mendelssohn was preparing his revival performance of the Passion in 1829 in Berlin (the first performance outside Leipzig), he cut out "ten arias (about a third of them), seven choruses (about half), [but] only a few of the chorales," which "emphasized the drama of the Passion story ... at the expense of the reflective and Italianate solo singing."
In 1827, Felix and a few friends began weekly sessions to rehearse the Passion. One of the group was Eduard Devrient, a baritone and since 1820 one of the principal singers at the Berlin Royal Opera. Around December 1828 - January 1829 Devrient persuaded Felix that the two of them should approach Zelter to get the Sing-Akademie to support their project. Devrient was especially enthusiastic, hoping to sing the part of Jesus as he eventually did. Zelter was reluctant but eventually gave his approval; that of the Singakademie board followed.
Once the fuller group of singers and the orchestra were brought in, Devrient recalled, participants were amazed at "the abundance of melodies, the rich expression of emotion, the passion, the singular style of declamation, and the force of the dramatic action." The 20-year-old Felix himself conducted the rehearsals and first two performances by the Singakademie.
Their first performance was effectively publicized in six consecutive issues of the Berliner Allgemeine Musikalische Zeitung, founded and edited by Adolf Bernhard Marx. It took place on 11 March 1829 and was sold out quickly. There was a second performance on 21 March, also sold out. In a third, on 18 April, Zelter conducted, and soon there were performances in Frankfurt (where a previously projected performance of the Passion had been upstaged by those in Berlin) and in Breslau and Stettin.
William Sterndale Bennett became a founder of the Bach Society of London in 1849 with the intention of introducing Bach's works to the English public. Helen Johnston (a student at Queen's College, London) translated the libretto of the Passion, and Bennett conducted the first English performance at the Hanover Square Rooms London on 6 April 1854 (the same year that it appeared in print by the Old Bach Society (Alte Bach-Gesellschaft). The soloists included Charlotte Helen Sainton-Dolby.
Excerpts of the work were performed on the American television program Omnibus on 31 March 1957 in the episode "The Music of J.S. Bach." The presenter and explicator was Leonard Bernstein, who introduced the St Matthew Passion as "that glorious work that started me off on my own private passion for Bach."
The St Matthew Passion has been presented in staged performances. Typically, these are done with all performers in street clothes or neutral costumes, the orchestras on stage, at least the soloists singing without scores from memory, and the words acted out in a solemn, melodramatic fashion with only a minimal stage set. On the other hand, George Balanchine staged it in 1943 with Stokowski conducting, and the Hamburg Ballet presented a Saint Matthew Passion under John Neumeier with Peter Schreier in 1981. Notable staged performances include Jonathan Miller's 1997 production in English.
Staged productions of the Passion include Lindy Hume's 2005 production for the Perth International Arts Festival, restaged in 2013 for Opera Queensland with Leif Aruhn-Solén, Sara Macliver, Tobias Cole; and Peter Sellars' 2010 production with the Berlin Philharmonic under Simon Rattle with Mark Padmore, Camilla Tilling, Magdalena Ko?ená, Topi Lehtipuu, Christian Gerhaher and Thomas Quasthoff.