Passion Music are musical compositions about the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus.

They were similar to an oratorio but had no operatic influence. It is a musical setting of a religious story or scared theme, in a dramatic form without scenery. It is performed in German instead of Latin. They were usually performed in churches before the holy week. (i.e. before Easter) and the chorus represented the crowd in the Passion story.

The history of Passions had developed over the years.

4th Century
The history of reading of the Passion dated back to approximately the 4th Century.

5th Century
Pope Leo the Great specified that the Gospel of Matthew be used on Psalm Sunday and the following Wednesday; The Gospel of John be used on Good Friday.

8th Century
Around this time, the character is determined as follows:

A priest recited, in Latin, the story of the Passion from one of the Gospels, in a speaking voice exvept for the words of Christ, which would be taken over by a traditional plainsong.

10th Century
Luke replaced Matthew on Wednesday and Mark was added on Tuesday.

12th Century
By this time, there was a tenor as Narrator, a bass as Christ, and an alto as the Crowd.

15th Century
The more musically elaborated characters of the Passions became common. The German reformers adapted it to the German language.

16th Century
Unaccompanied polyphonic settings of the complete Latin text of the passion were based on a plainchant.

Outstanding examples of the German type of Passion are the settings of Heinrich Schutz (1585 – 1672). Schutz studied in Italy and adopted a combination of the Italian vocal/choral style with the German contrapuntal style. The 4-part chorus is accompanied by strings. The various character are allotted to different vocal soloists and the words can be designated as oratorio Passions.

Schutz was famous for his magnificent settings of the Passion and the Christmas Oratorio.

J. S. Bach wrote St. John’s Passion and St. Matthew’s Passion. Both Passions were strong in dramatic quality and strong in religious believes, accompanied with a mixture of simplicity and complexity. Bach also employed the use of the chorus as commentator on the events and an Evangelist as the narrator.

George Friderich Handel composed one Passion during his stay in Germany. The text was in German but it was not taken from the Scriptures. It was by Brockes, hence its name, the Brockes Passion.

~ Written by Boon Sin Ler

Word Box

A dramatic choral work based on a sacred or religious subject for solo singers, chorus and orchestra. Like the opera, it consisted of recitatives and arias, but it is usually performed without scenery or costumes in concert hall or church.

Also known as Plainsong. It is a traditional ritual melody of the Christian Church. Also called the “Gregorian chant”. It comprises an unaccompanied vocal melody in free rhythm, like that of speech. It has its own system of notation, employing stave of 4 lines instead of 5.

Polyphonic music is music in which several melodic lines are weaved contrapuntally or sounded simultaneously as a texture, as opposed to monophonic and homopohonic music.

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