St Mark Passion (N. Matthes)

St Mark Passion (W. N. 18) is a Passion (sacred oratorio), written in baroque style by Nikolaus Matthes (*1981) between April 2019 and April 2020. It describes the passion, death and sepulture of Jesus. It contains the entire text of chapters 14 and 15 of the Gospel of Mark.

The composer uses the libretto written by Christian Friedrich Henrici (Picander),[1] first used by Johann Sebastian Bach for the Good Friday's service in St. Thomas Church in Leipzig in 1731. Therefore, it is the first integral setting to music of this libretto since Bach in 1731, and the first contemporary one completely following the baroque style.[2]

Genesis and sourcesEdit

Relation to the passions by Johann Sebastian BachEdit

Two Passions by Johann Sebastian Bach, St John's[3] and St Matthew's,[4] have been passed on to our days in both text and music. A third one, St Luke's,[5] is definitely not written by Bach.

There is a fourth one, St Mark's,[6] of which only the text has survived; the music is completely lost. The text, written by Bach's librettist Christian Friedrich Henrici (Picander), has survived in two slightly different sources, dating to 1731 and 1744.[7]

Classification of the new composition and reconstructionsEdit

Many musicians, scientists and musicologists have tried in various ways to «reconstruct» Bach's St Mark Passion (see St Mark Passion, BWV 247). All these versions have Picander's text as their basis and are based on the assumption that Bach, for his St Mark Passion of 1731, has re-used music which he had composed in the years before. This may be music with a similar theme or topic, or with comparable rhyme or language schemes used in other vocal works of Bach (for example, from the Trauerode, BWV 198,[8] or the sacred cantata Widerstehe doch der Sünde, BWV 54),[9] then re-used with the «parody» method often used by Bach in other occasions, and then matched with the text of the Passion of St Mark. In other versions, missing parts have been supplemented by new compositions; in others again, the missing parts would not be sung, but performed by a speaker. And some more versions try to match the text of St Mark with parts from Bach's St John Passion or St Matthew Passion, i. e. in recitatives of Jesus, or in Turba choruses.

Since there is no secure scientific insight which pieces Bach might have used for his St Mark Passion,[10] and since there is also no evidence that he did so at all,[11] the thought came up to provide a new piece which would not be based on already existing pieces by Bach at all. It should be, for the first time since Bach, a piece backing on the style of baroque music and on Bach's personal style, using Picander's complete libretto and making it possible to be experienced as a «baroque oratorio» by a contemporary audience.

The new St Mark Passion is, despite its baroque instruments and the musical and stylistic means of Bach's time, a contemporary piece which provides the possibility for the musicians to participate in the study, production and premiere of a stylistically «baroque» piece. The piece will be first performed in Passiontide 2023, under the artistic and musical direction of the composer, and right on the day 292 years after the first performance of Bach's own St Mark passion on Good Friday, 23 March 1731 in Leipzig.

The PieceEdit

Disposition of the text and notationEdit

St Mark Passion has, regarding its text, a different disposition than Bach's other two passions. It is immediately noticeable that the Gospel text takes up most of the space. Also very striking is the fact that there are no Ariosi in St Mark's, unlike in St John's and St Matthew's. There are only Choruses, Arias, Accompagnato Recitatives (for the words of Jesus), Secco Recitatives (for the Evangelist and the smaller solo parts) and Chorales.

The very strict order of the text always changing between the Gospel and the Chorales or the Arias is only once interrupted by an instrumental interlude (in No. 47, when Pilatus gives out Jesus' corpse to Joseph of Arimathea). This is – beside the addition of two more chorale texts in the opening and final choruses of the passion (see below) – the only divergence from Picander's libretto.

The composition follows, in all its parts, the Gospel text as well as Picander's very libretto. The notation of the text follows the libretto from 1731 (and in the two arias from the 1744 version, obviously, the libretto from 1744).

The two parts of the PassionEdit

Both parts of the Passion («Before the Sermon» and «After the Sermon») contain the same number of pieces (see overview below). Also, both parts contain the same number of Arias and Chorales. This seems, at first glance, like a clear symmetry. But there is a very clear distinction between the two parts which is hidden in the plot line of the Gospel: In the first part, it is mostly Jesus who is speaking; the plot starts with the Anointing of Jesus in Bethany and reaches the treachery of Judas Iscariot and Jesus's capture. The second part, in contrast to the first one, is a lot in favour of the Turba choruses of the People, commenting on the plot or even acting in it themselves.


In each of the two parts, there are eight Chorales. The high density of Chorales with a total of 16 (in comparison: in Bach's St John Passion there are 11, in his St Matthew Passion there are 13) has led to give the Chorale a very high importance as a musical form in the new composition. It has been integrated in multiple ways to enhance this form.

All Chorales are based on their traditional Chorale melodies. Some of these melodies appear several times; for example, the first choral in either parts has the same melody («Wo Gott der Herr nicht bei uns hält»). In both parts, there is one large Chorale Phantasy (No. 25, «Ich will hier bei dir stehen» – final chorus of the first part, and No. 44, «Keinen hat Gott verlassen»).[12] Furthermore, in the opening and final Choruses of the passion, two more Chorales have been built in – as a Cantus Firmus (in No. 1, «O Traurigkeit! O Herzeleid») and as a full four-part Chorale (No. 50, «Wer nur den lieben Gott läßt walten»). The same has been done as Cantus Firmus in one of the Arias (No. 13, «Jesu, meine Freude») and in some of the Recitatives (No. 22, «Vater unser im Himmelreich», and No. 47: «Aus tiefer Not schrei ich zu dir»).


The overall eight arias are distributed to the four soloists. Each of them sings two arias, one in each part of the passion. The two tenor Arias «frame» the passion, the two alto Arias are in its middle (one of them towards the end of the first part, the second one as the opening of the second part) – another symmetry within the overall structure. Each pitch of the voice has one Aria with solo instruments and one Aria with a larger orchestral cast. The two arias from Picander's 1744 version (No. 13 and No. 36) have become the two Bass arias. (Assuming that in Bach's version of 1731 there might have been only three soloists, each of them singing two arias, this could lead to the explanation that in 1744, the two additional arias had been composed for the same pitch of voice, meaning: for a fourth soloist.)

Gospel; Recitatives (Evangelist and Jesus) and Turba ChorusesEdit

The Gospel text is, as in Bach, sung by the Evangelist (Tenor). For the first performance in 2023, two Evangelists have been engaged.[13] This is not a choice within the composition, but within terms of performance practice: In future performances with other Ensembles, the part of the Evangelist can be easily sung by one singer only. The double cast is a trial to perform the Gospel text in dialogue form.

The words of Jesus are – as they are in Bach's St Matthew Passion – set as Accompagnato Recitatives with accompaniment by the strings.

The Turba Choruses, strictly and theatrically, follow the plot of the Gospel. They describe and concentrate in observing or dramatic manner the events from the point of view of the disciples of Jesus, the High Priests or the People.

Vocal CastEdit


  • Evangelist (Tenor)
  • Jesus (Bass-Baritone)
  • Soprano, Alto, Tenor, Bass (with 2 Arias for each pitch of the voice)


  • Ancilla (Soprano)
  • Centurio (Tenor)
  • Petrus, Judas, Pilatus, Pontifex, Miles (Baritone)


  • Soprano, Alto, Tenor, Bass

Instrumental Cast[14]Edit

The choice was made to have a rich instrumental cast. There are – obviously – the strings, accompanied by a big Basso Continuo group, including two harpsichords, organ, lute and also bassoon, celli and double basses. Furthermore, there are two viols (for the whole passion) and two violas d'amore (for one Aria) as well as a big wind group: two traversos, two recorders and – for the whole passion – four oboes (in four versions: oboe, oboe d'amore, oboe da caccia and taille). As an additional color for the Cantus Firmus parts, as well as for a solo in an Aria (No. 46) and a Recitativo (No. 47), there is the horn (in various tunings). – The traverso (in the Tenor Aria No. 9), the violin (in the Bass Aria No. 13), the oboe da caccia (in the bass aria No 36) and the bassoon (in the Tenor Aria No 46 and in the instrumental interlude in No. 47) are used as solo instruments in crucial moments of the piece. Solo instruments appear also in duos (two oboes, in the Soprano Aria No. 19; oboe and violin, in the Soprano Aria No. 38) and as a «consort» (two violas d'amore and the two viols, in the Alto Aria no. 26).

Structure and NumbersEdit

First Part ∙ »Before the Sermon«Edit

1. Chorus ∙ »Geh, Jesu, geh zu deiner Pein«

2. a) Recitativo ∙ »Und nach zween Tagen war Ostern«

b) Chorus ∙ »Ja nicht auf das Fest«

c) Recitativo ∙ »Und da er zu Bethanien war«

d) Chorus ∙ »Was soll doch dieser Unrath«

e) Recitativo ∙ »Und murreten über sie.«

3. Chorale ∙ »Sie stellen uns wie Ketzern nach«

4. Recitativo ∙ »Jesus aber sprach«

5. Chorale ∙ »Mir hat die Welt trüglich gericht«

6. a) Recitativo ∙ »Und am ersten Tage«

b) Chorus ∙ »Wo wilt du, daß wir hingehen«

c) Recitativo ∙ »Und er sandte seiner Jünger zween«

d) Chorus ∙ »Bin ich’s?«

e) Recitativo ∙ »Und der andere: Bin ichs?«

7. Chorale ∙ »Ich, ich und meine Sünden«

8. Recitativo ∙ »Er antwortete, und sprach zu ihnen«

9. Aria (T) ∙ »Mein Heyland, dich vergeß ich nicht«

10. Recitativo ∙ »Und da sie den Lobgesang gesprochen«

11. Chorale ∙ »Wach auf, o Mensch, vom Sünden-Schlaf«

12. Recitativo ∙ »Petrus aber sagte zu ihm«

13. Aria (B) ∙ »Ich lasse dich, mein Jesu, nicht«

14. Recitativo ∙ »Desselbigen gleich sagten sie alle«

15. Chorale ∙ »Betrübtes Hertz, sey wohlgemuth«

16. Recitativo ∙ »Und gieng ein wenig fürbaß«

17. Chorale ∙ »Machs mit mir Gott, nach deiner Güt«

18. Recitativo ∙ »Und kam, und fand sie schlafend«

19. Aria (S) ∙ »Er kommt, er kommt, er ist vorhanden«

20. Recitativo ∙ »Und alsbald, da er noch redete«

21. Aria (A) ∙ »Falsche Welt, dein schmeichelnd Küssen«

22. Recitativo ∙ »Die aber legten ihre Hände an ihn«

23. Chorale ∙ »Jesu, ohne Missethat«

24. Recitativo ∙ »Und die Jünger verließen ihn alle«

25. Chorale (Chorus) ∙ »Ich will hier bei dir stehen«

Second Part ∙ »After the Sermon«Edit

26. Aria (A) ∙ »Mein Tröster ist nicht mehr bey mir«

27. a) Recitativo ∙ »Und sie führeten Jesum«

b) Chorus ∙ »Wir haben gehöret, daß er sagete«

c) Recitativo ∙ »Aber ihr Zeugniß«

28. Chorale ∙ »Was Menschen Krafft und Witz anfäht«

29. Recitativo ∙ »Und der Hohe Priester stund auf«

30. Chorale ∙ »Befiehl du deine Wege«

31. a) Recitativo ∙ »Da fragte ihn der Hohe Priester«

b) Chorus ∙ »Weissage uns«

c) Recitativo ∙ »Und die Knechte schlugen ihn«

32. Chorale ∙ »Du edles Angesichte«

33. a) Recitativo ∙ »Und Petrus war danieden im Pallast«

b) Chorus ∙ »Wahrlich, du bist der einer«

c) Recitativo ∙ »Er aber fieng an sich zu verfluchen«

34. Chorale ∙ »Herr, ich habe mißgehandelt«

35. Recitativo ∙ »Und bald am Morgen«

36. Aria (B) ∙ »Will ich doch gar gerne schweigen«

37. a) Recitativo ∙ »Er pflegete aber«

b) Chorus ∙ »Creutzige ihn« (I)

c) Recitativo ∙ »Pilatus aber sprach zu ihnen«

d) Chorus ∙ »Creutzige ihn« (II)

38. Aria (S) ∙ »Angenehmes Mord-Geschrey«

39. a) Recitativo ∙ »Pilatus aber gedachte«

b) Chorus ∙ »Gegrüßet seyst du, der Jüden König«

c) Recitativo ∙ »Und schlugen ihm das Haupt«

40. Chorale ∙ »Man hat dich sehr hart verhöhnet«

41. Recitativo ∙ »Und da sie ihn verspottet hatten«

42. Chorale ∙ »Das Wort sie sollen lassen stahn«

43. a) Recitativo ∙ »Und es war um die dritte Stunde«

b) Chorus ∙ »Pfui dich«

c) Recitativo ∙ »Desselben gleichen die Hohenpriester«

d) Chorus ∙ »Er hat andern geholffen«

e) Recitativo ∙ »Und die mit ihm gecreutziget waren«

44. Chorale (Chorus) ∙ »Keinen hat Gott verlassen«

45. a) Recitativo ∙ »Und etliche, die dabey stunden«

b) Chorus ∙ »Siehe, er ruffet dem Elias«

c) Recitativo ∙ »Da lief einer«

46. Aria (T) ∙ »Welt und Himmel, nehmt zu Ohren«

47a. Rezitativ ∙ »Und der Vorhang im Tempel zerriß«

47b. Choral ∙ »Warlich, dieser Mensch ist Gottes Sohn gewesen«

47c. Rezitativ ∙ »Und es waren auch Weiber da«

47d. Sinfonia

48. Chorale ∙ »O! Jesu du«

49. Recitativo ∙ »Und er kaufte ein Leinwand«

50. Chorus ∙ »Bey deinem Grab und Leichen-Stein«


  1. ^ Henrici, Christian Friedrich (1732), Picanders Ernst-Schertzhaffte und Satyrische Gedichte. 3. Teil. Leipzig 1732, retrieved 2021-06-10
  2. ^ "Markuspassion Website".{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  3. ^ "IMSLP – BWV 245: Bach, St John Passion".{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  4. ^ "IMSLP – BWV 244: Bach, St Matthew Passion".{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  5. ^ "IMSLP – BWV 246: Bach, St Luke Passion".{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  6. ^ "IMSLP – BWV 247: Bach, St Mark Passion".{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  7. ^ Tatjana Schabalina: „Texte zur Music“ in St. Petersburg – Weitere Funde, in: Bach-Jahrbuch 2009, S. 11–48.
  8. ^ Dürr, Alfred (1974). Neue Bach-Ausgabe; Serie II, Band 5; Kritischer Bericht. Kassel: Bärenreiter. p. 248.
  9. ^ Dürr, Alfred (1974). Neue Bach-Ausgabe; Serie II, Band 5; Kritischer Bericht. Kassel: Bärenreiter. p. 248.
  10. ^ Dürr, Alfred (1974). Neue Bach-Ausgabe; Serie II, Band 5; Kritischer Bericht. Kassel: Bärenreiter. pp. 259, paragraph 1.
  11. ^ Dürr, Alfred (1974). Neue Bach-Ausgabe; Serie II, Band 5; Kritischer Bericht. Kassel: Bärenreiter. pp. 266, paragraph 1.
  12. ^ Dürr, Alfred (1974). Neue Bach-Ausgabe; Serie II, Band 5; Kritischer Bericht. Kassel: Bärenreiter. pp. 266, paragraph 2.
  13. ^ "Markuspassion Website – Ensemble".{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  14. ^ Prinz, Ulrich (2005). Johann Sebastian Bachs Instrumentarium. Originalquellen, Besetzung, Verwendung. Kassel, Basel, London: Bärenreiter Verlag. ISBN 3-7618-1521-2.

External linksEdit