A new setting of the St. John Passion received the 2017 Association of Lutheran Church Musicians’ Raabe Prize for Excellence in Sacred Composition. The work was composed by Erik Meyer, Director of Music at the Church of St. Martin-in-the Fields, Philadelphia, PA.
This readily accessible, functional setting is for four soloists, SATB choir singing the part of the crowd. An optional congregational part may sing verses of “Herzliebster Jesu” throughout the piece as reflections.
Meyers’ composition beat out 78 other submissions. Judges cited the following reasons for the award:
• the thoughtful construction of the work, involving both choir and assembly through the incorporation of chorale stanzas as responses to the passion narrative;
• the centrality of the text to Christian witness and proclamation;
• the importance of the St. John Passion, particularly to Lutheran theology and liturgy;
• the paucity of (contemporary) passion settings that are accessible to a normal parish choir;
• a compositional style reminiscent of the passions of Heinrich Schütz.
In a recent interview Erik commented on the background to the creation of this new setting.
“When I began serving at St. Martin’s, I was pleasantly surprised to see that the congregation is very present during Holy Week. The St. John Passion was written to be sung liturgically on Good Friday. In a week where the choir is overworked, it was important that the setting not be too taxing. It was intentionally written to be similar to the Schütz passions, with the biblical text sung unaccompanied, whether evangelist, characters, or the crowd’s short turba choruses. Jesus gets his own chanting tone which outlines a different harmony, setting him apart from the other characters. The action is broken up with congregational singing of “Ah, Holy Jesus.” The work is easy enough for the average church choir to sing, and is intended to be used in a liturgical setting – the complete work is less than 30 minutes.
I have a deep love for the great historical passion settings, especially Bach’s St. Matthew, but they require large resources and lots of preparation. It is my hope that my setting of the St. John Passion is functional and accessible to most church choirs, while also being fitting, noble, and beautiful – part of the longstanding tradition of the musical passion.”
A recorded performance, persual score and purchase options may be found at: