The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: For Easter and Passover, for both believers and non-believers of all kinds, J.S. Bach offers the perfect piece of spiritual music. | April 8, 2012

By Jacob Stockinger

This weekend is a major weekend in terms of religion.

It features the Jewish Passover and the Christian Easter.

Both events celebrate freedom, one from slavery and the other from mortality.

I am often at a loss about what music best commemorates such events because so much religion seems to rely on a sense of its own superiority to other belief systems, toward which it can be downright hostile or even deadly.

Just look at the history of Holy Wars and The Crusades and Jihad and The Inquisition and the Hundred Years Wars and so on.

But leave it Johann Sebastian Bach (below), that old Reformation Lutheran himself, to offer us all a work that is as universal as music as genuine religious feelings – NOT religion intolerance – can get.

It is the “Erbarme dich” from his St. Matthew Passion.

The German title means “Have Mercy” and it applies, I think, to all of us and to each other.

It is what we expect for ourselves and what should extend to others.

So in honor of the various religious holidays and just a sense of universal humane bonding, I offer it today as a “You Must Hear This” selection.

If you have a better suggestion, The Ear wants to hear about it.


  1. I’m sorry, I’m not feeling it here. The Passion story is not a universal story, and it has been a historical source for the persecution of the Jews for centuries. So have Luther’s writings. As it happens, I have been working on a chapter for a jointly-written book for Cambridge on various aspects of antisemitism and music in the 17th and 18th centuries, and the amount of material at my disposal, including hair-raising utterances of Luther and Neumeister, is truly shocking. Mahler was the victim of antisemitism himself as he tried to obtain a position at the Vienna opera, and even after his conversion it did not stop. The number of anti-Jewish books available for sale in Bach’s time was vast. Bach had some in his own library, such as Johann Müller’s Judenthum. I love Bach, of course, but Passions make me queasy.

    Comment by Baroque musician — April 5, 2015 @ 7:02 am

  2. […] Classical music: For Easter and Passover, for both believers and non-believers of all kinds, J.S. Ba… ( Share this:FacebookRedditTwitterEmailLike this:LikeBe the first to like this post. This entry was posted in liveblog, playlist and tagged Anthony Rolfe Johnson, Concentus Musicus Wien, Johann Sebastian Bach, Philippe Herreweghe, Sibylla Rubens, St Matthew Passion. […]

    Pingback by WDBX Opera Overnight: Easter Music « The Blogapus — April 9, 2012 @ 4:21 am

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