‘Erbarme dich, mein Gott’ from ‘St Matthew Passion’ (BWV 244) by J.S. Bach. Performed by the Netherlands Bach Society conducted by Jos van Veldhoven. Soloists: Tim Mead (Alto), Shunske Sato (violin)
The St Matthew Passion tells the story of the last days of Jesus. He is betrayed, tried, crucified and buried. The lyrics were compiled by Picander (the pseudonym of Christian Friedrich Henrici), probably in close consultation with Bach himself. For their theme, they took the story as told by St Matthew the Evangelist. As different groups or people have their say, the singers get different roles – Christ, Judas, Peter, a slave girl, the pupils, the high priests, the people and the soldiers, etc. At key moments in the story, Bach and Picander added chorales and arias as a reflection of the biblical story. The action is suspended and the events are placed in the theological context of Bach’s day.
The chorale lyrics and melodies come from the Lutheran hymn book, and were well known to the congregation in Leipzig. Even though Bach’s harmonies were new, everyone would have recognised the melody and the words. The lyrics for the opening and closing choruses and the arias were brand new, however. Both the arias and the chorales often link up seamlessly with the evangelical words.
Watch the complete St Matthew Passion and read the full story at www.bachvereniging.nl/en/bwv/bwv-244/