Passions and oratorios by Johann Sebastian Bach
During the 19th century the Passions were almost considered to give Bach the status of a fifth Evangelist. That semi mystical sense of awe has since given way to more rational feelings, but nevertheless there is probably no one who can be impervious to the extraordinary effect created by the two great Passions. In 1724 the St. John Passion was first performed in the Nikolaikirche; three more performances followed between 1725 and 1749.
In 1726 Bach performed a Passion attributed to Reinhard Keiser, which he had known since his time at Weimar, before he presented the first version of the St. Matthew Passion in 1727. This work supplied almost ideally the musical requirements of the Good Friday Vesper service. In 1736, by incorporating into the work the chorale-fantasy O Mensch bewein dein Sünde gross he gave the work the definitive form which we know today.
The St. Mark Passion of 1731 was undoubtedly fashioned on a far more modest scale. We can only surmise what a splendid composition we have lost here. The work obviously derived largely from the Trauerode BWV 198, from which many movements were taken. The most chorale movements have survived in the chorale collections. These facts appear to provide sufficient justification for attempting to reconstruct the lost work for performance, even though none of the numerous attempts which have been made to do so can claim to fulfil Bach's intentions or fully to match the greatness of his art.
Less problematic are Bach's other oratorios, whereby the Christmas Oratorio BWV 248 overshadows the no less accomplished Ascension Oratorio BWV 11 and Easter Oratorio BWV 249.