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For Good Friday

April 2, 2010

Bach’s St Matthew Passion (Matthäuspassion, BWV 244) is undoubtably one of the greatest of all the masterpieces in the Western canon. Bach is peerless– not simply in his command of the musical language, but in his enormous sensitivity to the texts on which he composes. It has been written that the Matthäuspassion is characterized, in the bleakest moments of the narrative, by a “dark ecstacy,” which dwells in the great sorrow of the present even as it looks forward toward the Resurrection on the third day.

The bass aria “Mache dich, mein herze rein” (Purify yourself, my heart) is among its most haunting movements: Joseph of Arimathea has just recovered Jesus’ body from Pilate and is about to lay it in the tomb. The soloist sings for Joseph, even as his words – which come out of the very rich stuff of human experience – echo in the minds of all listeners and believers who may hear.

Below it is sung under the direction of Ton Koopman, whose Amsterdam Baroque Orchestra & Choir do it great justice (the text is included below the video).

Mache dich, mein Herze, rein,
Ich will Jesum selbst begraben.
Denn er soll nunmehr in mir
Für und für
Seine süße Ruhe haben.
Welt, geh aus, lass Jesum ein!

Purify thyself, my heart,
I myself will bury Jesus.
For he shall henceforth evermore
sweetly take his rest in me.
World, get out, let Jesus in!

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