Cantores Minores. Photo: Tiiu Kaitalo.
Wed 17.4.2019 07.00 pm Helsinki Cathedral, Helsinki
Fri 19.4.2019 06.00 pm Helsinki Cathedral, Helsinki

St. John Passion

Finland’s Most Beloved St. John’s Passion

J. S. Bach

Tom Nyman, tenor (evangelist)
Jyrki Korhonen, bass (Jesus)
Helena Juntunen, soprano
Teppo Lampela, countertenor
Niall Chorell, tenor
Tommi Hakala, bass
Veikko Vallinoja, baritone
Cantores Minores
Finnish Baroque Orchestra
Hannu Norjanen, conductor


The premiere of Johann Sebastian Bach’s (1685–1750) St. John Passion took place in the St. Nicholas Church in Leipzig on Good Friday 1724. Bach had begun working as Thomaskantor only ten months earlier. The yearly church music performances, for which Bach had prepared since the year before when he was appointed Thomaskantor, were started with his St. John Passion.

The St. John Passion, Bach’s first grand composition, has been preserved in five different versions. The composer amended and renewed his work several times during 25 years, while his other great passion composition, the St. Matthew Passion, obtained its final shape fairly quickly in 1736 (premiered in 1729 at the latest, but probably already in 1727). Why did Bach have the need to modify the St. John Passion again and again? The most important reason is probably the incoherence of the text. For the St. John Passion, the composer used texts by several writers in addition to the Bible. But while composing the St. Matthew Passion, Bach used a coherent libretto written by Picander (Christian Friederich Henrici). Because of the inconsistencies in the text of the St. John Passion, Bach has clearly wanted to try different structural solutions in order to create a uniform whole dramatically.

Although there are many stages to the birth of the St. John Passion, it does not decrease its musical significance. It is a demonstration of the brilliant musical ingenuity and craftsmanship of its composer. Regrettably, the St. John Passion is easily overshadowed by its big brother the St. Matthew Passion, as the St. Matthew Passion is generally considered a perfect whole without any roughness from the text. At least in part, the reason behind the St. John Passion remaining in the shadow must also be Felix Mendelssohn’s (1809–1847) St. Matthew Passion. It was performed in Berlin in 1829, after which Bach as a composer started receiving attention again. However, as the St. Matthew Passion was exalted as the Pantheon of music, the St. John Passion was undervalued as a less-worth and less coherent piece of work. Fortunately, the St. John Passion has returned to daylight, and it has attained the position it deserves in contemporary repertoires.

Duration: 2 h 15 min (no intermission)