Friday, April 6, 2012

Good Friday traditions

One of the stranger practices of Nordic Lutherans is that even hard-core doubters can be found carrying on with one of the finer traditions of the faith—listening to a performance of Bach's St. Matthew's Passion on Good Friday.  Couple of good reasons for this.
  • In a religious practice that minimizes ostentation, choral music is THE most venerated art form.  It demonstrates a determination to learn how to do something very difficult as a group.  In fact just listening to a three-hour concert demonstrates endurance. 
  • Religions often ask their followers to believe the unbelievable.  But there is absolutely nothing about the Good Friday story that is in any way beyond belief—not the cruelty of Roman imperialism, not the craven behavior of political leaders, not the weasel betrayals of friends, not the ugly behavior of mobs, NOTHING!
Oh and one other thing.  The St. Matthew Passion is incredibly beautiful.  And even though I haven't participated in devout observances since I was 18, I still make it a point to find a good SMP and curl up with the score on Good Friday.  I am under the (probably mistaken) notion that this re-ups my Lute credentials for another year.   This year I'll be listening to a live recording of a Belgian group called Choeur de Chambre de Namur with the Children's choir 'Les Pastoureaux' (Waterloo).  I haven't found much about them online but they sound terrific.

I have included the following clips for anyone who doesn't know the SMP.  This first one is by the Malmo Chamber Choir.  It is done in the old-fashoned pace of a funeral dirge.  Almost everyone does this at a much faster tempo these days but there is so much going on (double choir, double orchestra, etc.), sometimes listening at this slower tempo lets the listeners enjoy the complexity.

This aria comes right after Peter has denied his leader under the questioning of a maid.  Many consider this the musical highlight of the whole SMP.  I chose this clip because it shows the score.

About the third hour, this all comes to a glorious end with this lovely piece.  Again this performance is by the Malmo Chamber Choir.


  1. Seriously, I must be the world's worst lapsed Lutheran. Otoh, if you ever heard my old congregation sing....

  2. C'mon Wege, not everyone can sing Bach. And not all Lutheran Churches had great singing. But I have been in some. When an "evangelist" friend of my parents died, his funeral was one of the best. 300 hundred people singing in parts, on key, and lustily the great hymns "He the Pearly Gates Will Open (in Swedish)" and "To God be the Glory" was one of the musical highlights of my life. At a funeral! So it does happen. Sorry your church wasn't one of those places because bad singing is literally painful.

    But it doesn't make you a bad lapsed Lutheran.