Closing chorus of Johann Sebastian Bach’s St. Matthew Passion
The closing chorus, of Johann Sebastian Bach’s St. Matthew Passion is one of the most powerful and moving moments in all of Western classical music. Composed in 1727, the Slotkoor brings the piece to a close with a sense of profound sadness and grief, as the choir repeats the words “Wir setzen uns mit Tränen nieder” (“We sit down in tears”).
Composition and Structure
The St. Matthew Passion is divided into two parts, each of which is further subdivided into various musical movements. The Slotkoor is the final movement of the second part, and is preceded by several chorales, or hymns, and recitatives that continue the story of Jesus’ crucifixion and burial.
The Slotkoor itself is a choral fugue, in which the choir repeats the words “Wir setzen uns mit Tränen nieder” in a haunting and mournful melody. The fugue begins with a single voice singing the melody, which is then repeated by the other voices in the choir. As the fugue progresses, the voices become increasingly interwoven, creating a dense and complex texture.
The closing chorus is a masterful example of Bach’s compositional genius, and employs a range of musical techniques to convey its emotional power. One of the most striking features of the Slotkoor is its use of counterpoint, or the simultaneous layering of multiple musical lines. Bach weaves together a rich tapestry of voices, each singing a different melody or harmony, to create a sound that is both intricate and deeply moving.
In addition to his use of counterpoint, Bach also employs a range of harmonic devices to enhance the emotional impact of the Slotkoor. For example, he frequently employs chromaticism, or the use of notes outside the key of the piece, to create a sense of tension and release. This technique is particularly effective in the Slotkoor, where the chromaticism adds to the overall sense of grief and sadness.
Another key element of the closing chorus is Bach’s use of dynamics, or the variation of loudness and softness in the music. Throughout the piece, Bach employs a range of dynamic contrasts, from the hushed pianissimos of the opening to the thunderous fortissimos of the climax. These dynamic shifts not only add to the emotional impact of the music, but also help to create a sense of structure and drama.
As a devout Lutheran, Bach’s music was deeply influenced by his faith. The St. Matthew Passion, in particular, is a reflection of his profound religious convictions, and stands as a testament to the central tenets of the Christian faith.
The Slotkoor, with its repeated refrain of “Wir setzen uns mit Tränen nieder,” is a poignant reminder of the sorrow and grief that accompany the death of Jesus Christ. The words are taken from Psalm 130, which reads “Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord. Lord, hear my voice! Let your ears be attentive to the voice of my supplications!” By repeating these words in a mournful and haunting melody, Bach captures the deep sadness and grief that accompany the crucifixion.
At the same time, the closing chorus also serves as a reminder of the hope and redemption that are central to the Christian faith. The final line of the chorus reads “Ruhe sanfte, sanfte ruh!” (“Rest gently, gently rest!”), a reference to the peace and comfort that are promised to those who believe in Jesus Christ. By ending the St. Matthew Passion on this note of hope and comfort, Bach emphasizes the redemptive power of the Christian message, and offers a message of solace and comfort