If you came here looking for a post on erotic passions, I suggest you look elsewhere. I am using the word in its oldest sense, derived from the Greek πασχω, I suffer. For while I am a militant atheist, for the next week or so I shall be listening to a lot of sacred music, culminating in one of the Bach Passion on Friday. If I tell you that I shall be listening to Gesualdo's Tenebrae responses, settings of the Lamentations by Palestrina, Lassus, Victoria, Couperin and, best of all, Tallis, you may think I have fallen to late-onset religious mania. But there is something about listening to these works at their appointed time int he liturgical calendar that adds to the experience, and it is not necessary to give credence to flying spaghetti monsters, parthenogenesis, transubstantiation or any other hocus-pocus, to be moved by them. I think of it as like drinking a fine wine sur place.
When I first heard Bach it was the Matthew Passion that gripped me, with the dramatic intensity of Peter's denial, the mob's demands that Barrabas be released and Jesus be crucified, the veil of the temple being rent in twain, to name three. And it was a revelation to find the chorale, the hymn that we sang at school and knew as, 'O sacred head, sore wounded', appear in so many different and subtle ways. I laid my hands on a volume of Bach chorales from the library and would play them on the old upright piano in my bedroom; I found them well-suited for my self-taught piano technique. Later I discovered that the John Passion is even more beautiful. I think that's the one I will play on Friday. I have it in the version conducted by John Eliot Gardiner and the Monteverdi Choir and the English Baroque Soloists