This chorale, the author of which is unknown, has a melody written by Johann Shein (1586-1630), one of Bach’s predecessors at the Thomaskirche. The chosen stanza, the words of which bring us to the very heart of the passion, is, therefore, a perfect choice with which to mark the central and pivotal point in the palindromic structure (point E on the diagram). From this point we recede. It can surely be no accident that, at this point, Bach has arrived at movement number 40 in his score. Lent has 40 days; symbolic of the number of days that Christ was tempted in the wilderness. The words Through your prison must come our freedom mark the very essence of the Lutheran belief of the purpose of Good Friday.




Durch dein Gefängnis, Gottes Sohn,

muß uns die Freiheit kommen;

dein Kerker ist der Gnadenthron,

die Freistatt aller Frommen;

denn gingst du nicht die Knechtschaft ein,

müßt unsre Knechtschaft ewig sein.  

Through your prison, Son of God,

must come our freedom;

your dungeon is the throne of grace,

the sanctuary of all believers;

for if you did not accept servitude,

our servitude would be eternal.

As the palindrome advances beyond its pivotal central point, we are now faced with the unsettling prospect of advancing text, and an ever-developing plot, coupled with musical recapitulation or regression. The palindromic structure first becomes apparent at movement 42 (D2), which has identical music to movement 38, except for a few rhythmical differences to accommodate the underlay of the different words, and the fact that it is a semitone lower in key. There is a commonality in the sentiment of the words as well between numbers 38 and 42. In 43 Pilate provokes the crowd yet further with the line Behold your King. This leads to a reprise of the frenetic Kreuzige chorus (36) but this time with a five bar introduction which sets the phrase weg mit dem. This phrase recurs throughout this chorus and it is pertinent to note that, whereas movement 36 ended with a the three note homophonic statement of kreuzige, this one, as if for additional emphasis, ends with a four note homophonic statement kreuzigen ihn. In movement 45 Pilate is given his highest note yet, on the word König, and in 46 (entering palindromic section B2) the angry chorus finally seal Christ’s fate. In 47, the cross motif is again heard in the continuo, in an extended and augmented way, accompanying the word gekreuziget.  



Die Jüden aber schrieen und sprachen:

But the Jews cried out, saying:

42 Chorus

“Lässest du diesen los, so bist du des Kaisers Freund nicht; denn wer sich zum Könige machet, der ist wider den Kaiser.”

“If thou let this man go, thou art not Cæsar’s friend; whosoever maketh himself a king speaketh against Cæsar."
43 Evangelist

Da Pilatus das Wort hörete, führete er Jesum heraus und satze sich auf den Richtstuhl, an der Stätte, die da heißet; Hochpflaster, auf Ebräisch aber: Gabbatha. Es war aber der Rüsttag in Ostern um die sechste Stunde, und er spricht zu den Jüden:

When Pilate therefore heard that saying, he brought Jesus forth and sat down in the judgement seat in a place that is called the Pavement, but in the Hebrew, Gabbatha. And it was the preparation of the passover, and about the sixth hour, and he saith unto the Jews:
  Pilate “Sehet, das ist euer König!” “Behold your king!”

Sie schrieen aber:

But they cried out:
44 Chorus

“Weg, weg, mit dem, kreuzige ihn!”

“Away with him, away with him, crucify him!”
45 Evangelist Spricht Pilatus zu ihnen: Pilate saith unto them:
  Pilate “Soll ich euren König kreuzigen?” “Shall I crucify your king?”

Die Hohenpriester antworteten:

The chief priests answered:
46 Chorus

“Wir haben keinen König denn den Kaiser.”

“We have no king but Cæsar.”
47 Evangelist Da überantwortete er ihn, daß er gekreuziget würde. Sie nahmen aber Jesum und führeten ihn hin. Und er trug sein Kreuz und ging hinaus zur Stätte, die da heißet Schädelstätt, welche heißet auf Ebräisch; Golgatha. Then delivered he him therefore unto them to be crucified. And they took Jesus and led him away. And he, bearing a cross went forth into a place called the place of a skull, which is called in the Hebrew; Golgotha.