Bach’s St. Matthew Passion as we know it today evidently had a long history dating back before 1727. It is unclear whether the work performed at the Thomaskirche , Leipzig on Good Friday 1729 was based on a still earlier version. Whatever the case, the surviving version of 1729 presents the work in a form strikingly different from its later incarnation. For example, the opening section ends with the chorale ‘ Jesum lass ich nicht von mir ’ which was replaced by the large-scale cantus firmus chorus ‘O Mensch , bewein dein Sünde gross’ for the 1736 performance.
The well-known alto aria ‘Ach! Nun ist mein Jesus hin ’ is still assigned to a bass in the earlier version, and the aria ‘ Komm süsses Kreuz ’ calls for a lute instead of the later viola da gamba . Moreover, the pieces for double chorus only require a single continuo group. Other differences can be found in the instrumental scoring and voice leading. The early version of the St. Matthew Passion is thus a most interesting addition to the great concert repertoire.