We're offering a free download of "O Mensch, Bewein" from Bach's St. Matthew Passion, conducted by John Eliot Gardiner and featuring the English Baroque Soloists and the Monteverdi Choir.
St. Matthew Passion, BWV 244: O Mensch, bewein' dein Sunde gross
Johann Sebastian Bach
John Eliot Gardiner, conductor
English Baroque Soloists
Available at Arkivmusic.com
Bach never wrote an opera – unless you count the Passions, the retellings of the last days of Christ’s life. The St. Matthew Passion has a double orchestra and double choir. Bach has the gospel characters speaking in music, and the choruses sing the emotions of the crowds. It’s still stunning today; imagine what it was for the Leipzig congregants who heard the first performances. "There is one woman who famously said, ‘Well, if we have to sit through this, we might as well sit through an opera,’” said conductor Simon Rattle. “And she got it absolutely right. I think people were horrified.”
Or maybe they were just tired. “The first part of the Matthew passion was 75 minutes," added Rattle. "And then some poor bastard had to give a sermon lasting an hour or two and then another two hours of music. That congregation had stamina." An hour-long sermon, and no concession stand? That’s no opera. But it is one of the greatest music dramas ever. Here’s the chorus that comes just before the sermon, the end of Part One: "O Mensch, bewein" – O man, bewail your grievous sins.
This and all episodes of the Daily Bach podcast are no longer available for download. You may follow our new show My Classical Podcast instead.