Text, Translation and Musical Notes 

Red Text: The Gospel according to St John, chapters 18 and 19. German translation by Martin Luther in 1522. English translation according to the King James Authorised Bible of 1611.

Black Text: Poetic interpolations by various authors, see above.

Green Text: Chorale words by various authors from the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries.  

Purple Text: A musical commentary to assist listening by Peter Parfitt.

Translations of the non biblical texts and the chorale words have kindly been prepared for this performance by Robert Minett a retired member of the Modern Languages Department at St Margaret’s School for Girls. Additional help from John Witte, Head of English at St Margaret’s, is gratefully acknowledged.

The German text is replicated as it exists in Bach’s score. German speakers may notice some differences in spelling and grammar from contemporary German due to the fact that this is a sacred text, compiled in the eighteenth century, from even earlier sources, and not modern vernacular conversational German.

The numbering system replicates the division of the separate movements in Bach’s original score.

The words of the heavy, minor-key opening chorus (possibly written by Picander) are based on the first verse of Psalm 8 (O Lord our Governor, how excellent is thy name in all the world). The psalm is a lofty adoration of God, as supreme creator and ordainer of mankind, and all that is in the world and the heavens. The movement is in da capo (ABA) or ternary form, and the A and the B section each pursues a different musical motif. Tension, for the drama which is about to unfold, is portrayed in the chains of suspensions and dissonance (2nds and 7ths in particular) which characterise the wind parts, and the edgy and continuous undulating semiquaver motion in the strings, coupled with an insistent repeating bass pedal note and a very slow harmonic pulse, which together make the music sound anxious and turbulent, despite the meaning of the words. The opening declamatory word, Herr, immediately puts Christ as the central figure in our minds. (Used in the Old Testament to mean God, the word Herr would have been easily transferable in the minds of contemporary Lutherans to mean Christ, as the manifestation of God incarnate on Earth.)



Herr, Herr, Herr, unser Herrscher, dessen Ruhm in allen Landen herrlich ist!

Zeig uns durch deine Passion, daß du, der wahre Gottessohn, zu aller Zeit, auch in der größten Niedrigkeit, verherrlicht worden bist!

Lord, Lord, Lord, our master, whose fame is glorious in every land!

Show us through your passion, that you, the true son of God, have been glorified, for all time, even in the greatest depths!