From NPR’s A Visitor’s Guide to the St. Matthew’s Passion: “I think the St. Matthew Passion is one of the greatest pieces of music in the western repertory,” Bostridge says. “And to start one’s journey toward understanding that piece is a very important point in anybody’s life.”

Johann Sebastian Bach wrote his St. Matthew Passion for a single purpose—to present the biblical passion story, in music, at Good Friday vesper services.

Bach’s Passion continues to move audiences more than 280 years after it was first heard in St. Thomas’s Church in Leipzig, Germany. Standing as one of the pillars of Western sacred music, it is at once monumental and intimate, deeply sorrowful and powerful.

Bach’s Passion retells the dramatic and compelling story of the events leading up to the crucifixion of Jesus. Bach divided the music into two parts. Highlights of part one include the last supper and the betrayal and arrest of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane.

In part two, the music turns darker and softer—signalling the inevitability of the story—as it depicts the trial, crucifixion and burial of Jesus. The Passion ends with the darkly textured chorus, “In tears of grief.” Bach could leave his parishioners in a sorrowful mood, knowing that they’d be celebrating Christ’s resurrection in just a few days.