The chorales from the St. Matthew Passion are here organized by melody. The first column lists its place in the St. Matthew passion with a link to its midi arrangement. The second indicates its number in the Riemenshneider colection of 371 Harmonized Chorales. The name of the hymn text with its verse number is then listed, followed by a repeat of its English translation and some comments.

Chorale tune name

St. Matthew Passion setting (Bärenreiter Vocal Score  number linked to midi arangement)
(Riemenschneider 371 Harmonized Chorales)

Chorale text name

Chorale text

Herzlich tut mich verlangen / O Haupt voll blut und wunden

Tune: Hans L. Hassler, 1564-1612
This melody is clearly the most potent symbol of Christ's suffering for Bach and perhaps for his contemporaries as well. In this work it is sung six times to four different harmonizations, using three different hymn texts. It is also alluded to, instrumentally, a number of times within the St. Matthew Passion.
15 (98)

Erkenne mich, meinHüter (verse 5)

Text:  ?
Know me, my keeper,
my shepherd, take me to you.
Through You, source of all good things,
much good has befallen me.
Your mouth has refreshed me
with milk and sweetmeats.
Your spirit has favoured me.
with many a heavenly longing.
In this chorale, immediately after Jesus declares himself to to be the shepherd, the Believers confirm their Shepherd's care for them. This is perhaps the best known harmonization of the chorale melody.
17 (98)

Erkenne mich, meinHüter   (verse 6)

Text: ?
I would stand here beside you;
do not then scorn me!
I will not depart from you
even if your heart is breaking. '
When your heart grows pale
in the last pangs of death,
then I will hold you
in my arms and lap.
After the disciples vow that they will never abandon Jesus, the Believers sing the next verse of the chorale to the same harmonization as before (#15).  The believers know that the passion story  leads inexorably to the conclusion of Part I when "all the disciples deserted [Jesus] and fled", and the sorrow of this knowledge is reflected in the lowering of the setting by one semi-tone and by the absence of flutes from the doublings.  The chorale text switches persons here, and the Believers sing of God's promise to stand by them, in contrast to the disciples' (and often their own) "scorn" for Jesus.
44 (80)

Befiehl du deine wege: (verse 1)

Text: ?
Commend your way
and whatever troubles your heart
to the sure care of him,
who controls the heavens;
he who gives clouds, air and winds
their paths, course and track,
he will also find ways
where your feet can walk.
This aside to the notice of Jesus' silence before Pilate contrasts the suffering Jesus, who spoke not a word, with Jesus the Word, who speaks mightily in his creation.
54 (74)

O Haupt voll blut und wunden (verses 1 & 2)

Text: attributed to Bernard of Clairvaux, 1091-1153
German Text: Paul Gerhardt, 1607-1676
0 head, full of blood and wounds,
full of sorrow and full of scoffing!
0 head, wreathed for mockery
with a crown of thorns!
0 head, once beautifully adorned
with highest honour and renown,
but now highly abused:
Let me hail You!
Your noble countenance,
before which shrinks and cowers
the mightiest of world powers,
how You are spat upon!
How pallid You are,
who has treated your eyes! light,
that no light else can equal,
so shamefully amiss?
The mixed feelings of grief and gratitude reach a climax when Jesus is struck and spat upon, and require two verses of this passion chorale to reach full expression.
62 (89)

O Haupt voll blut und wunden (verse 9)

Text: attributed to Bernard of Clairvaux, 1091-1153
German Text: Paul Gerhardt, 1607-1676

When once I must depart,
do not depart from me!
When I must suffer death,
then stand by me!
When I most full of fear
at heart shall be,
then snatch me from the terrors
of fear and pain by your strength.

The final occasion for this chorale tune follows Jesus' final moments of life. The Believers recognize the power over their own death that Jesus gained by dying.

  Herzliebster Jesu

Tune: Johann Crüger, 1598-1662
This other well known passion chorale is used three time by Bach in this work.
3 (78)

Herzliebster Jesu (verse 1)

Text: Johann Hermann, 1585-1647
Beloved Jesus, what have you done wrong
that they have pronounced so hard a sentence?
What is your guilt, into what sort of misdeeds
have you fallen?
This first (four part) chorale in the St.Matthew Passion responds to Jesus' prediction that "the Son of Man will be handed over to be crucified."

Herzliebster Jesu (verse 2)

Text: Johann Hermann, 1585-1647
What is the cause of all such woes?
Ah, my sins have felled You.
Ah, Lord Jesus, I have deserved this,
which You are suffering!
The overwhelming sorrow that Jesus experiences at Gethsemane is followed by a most plaintive, questioning Tenor recitative.  Into this, the Believers come from afar, centuries later, with the sure, almost serene knowledge of the need for Christ's suffering. Their first question is only rhetorical, and forgiveness is implicit in the tone of their confession.
46 (105)

Herzliebster Jesu ( verse 4)

Text: Johann Hermann, 1585-1647
How miraculous indeed is this punishment!
The good shepherd suffers for the sheep;
the Master, righteous as he is, pays the
penalty for his vassals!
The chorale that comes immediately after the crowd screams for Jesus to be crucified shows the remarkable contrast between furious hate and quiet, incredulous faith.

O Welt, Ich müss dich lassen

Tune: Heinrich Isaac, c. 1450-1517
This famous melody began its life with the name "Innsbruck, ich müss dich lassen" before becoming a hymn.  Bach uses it in Part I and again in Part II.
10 (117)

O welt, ich müss dich lassen (verse 5)

Text: ?
It is I.  I should atone,
my hands and feet
bound, in hell.
The scourges and the fetters
and all that you endured --
that has my soul earned.
The disciples were not eager to be blamed for betraying Jesus, but the Believers stand up quickly and firmly confess their own guilt.
37 (50)

O welt, ich muss dich lassen (verse 3)

Who has buffeted You so,
my Salvation, and with torments
so harshly used You?
You are indeed not a sinner
like us and our children;
of misdeeds You know nothing.

O Lamm Gottes, unschuldig

Tune: Nikolaus Decius, c 1485-1550
This melody has its roots in a 13th century responsorium "Regnum Mundi." It found a place in the Sanctus and Agnus Dei for Advent and Lent and by the late middle ages was much loved.  Nikolaus Decius formed the melody and its Latin text into his German Agnus Dei, first published in 1542 and then again in 1545.  From the the latter publication it is evident that the song kept its traditional place in the communion liturgy. The song is conceived as a litany in which each of the three verses is identical except for the last line, which concludes: "Have mercy upon us, O Jesus" the first two times and "Give us your peace, O Jesus" the last.  This line, which stands outside of the song's strict metrical form, is like a concluding Kyrieleis.

O Lamm Gottes, unschuldig (verse 1)

Text: Nikolaus Decius, c 1485-1550
O guiltless Lamb of God
slaughtered on the stem of the cross,
always found patient,
how despised You were.
You have born all sin,
else we must have despaired.
Have mercy upon us, O Jesus!
Bach uses this communion song at the very beginning of his passion music for the worship service on the only day of the year in which communion is never celebrated.  Originally the melody was sounded only by the organ(s) since the melody would have clearly brought the text to mind. Only later did Bach decide that the chorale should be sung, probably by a group of boys.

Was mein Gott will, das

Tune: Claudin de Sermisy, c. 1490-1562
Claudin (as he was known far and wide) served under a number of French kings, beginning as a choir boy and working his way up to music director and court composer.  A large number of works of various types are attributed to him, including the song "Il me suffit." Hertog Albrecht, who had published Claudin's music in Königsberg, versified the chorale text specifically to fit the melody of "Il me suffit."  Claudin's melody found its way into other works as well, including the Genevan Psalm 39.
25 (115)

Was mein Gott will, das (verse 1)

Text: Albrecht, hertog van Pruisen, 1490-1568
Hertog Albrecht wrote this song after the death of his wife in 1547.  He based his text on a commentary by Luther on the third petition of the Lord's Prayer.
Whatever my God wills,
may it be so.
His will is best.
He is ready to help those
who firmly believe in him.
He helps them in time of need,
and, in his goodness,
chastises in measure.
Who trusts in God
and builds firmly on him,
God will not forsake.
In the St. Matthew Passion the chorale comes after Jesus prays for a second time for relief from his suffering, and with it the Believers offer comfort to their Saviour.

O mensch, bewein dein sunde gross

Tune: Matthias Greiter, 1525
This melody was originally linked to a versification of Psalm 119 and also found its way into Calvin's Psalter as Psalms 36 and 68. But in the German-Lutheran tradition it became best known as the melody for this text by Sebald Heydens.

O mensch, bewein dein sunde gross

Text: Sebald Heydens
0 Man, mourn your great sin;
For this, Christ, from his Father's bosom,
went forth and came to earth.
Of a Virgin pure and gentle,
He was born here for our sake.
He was willing to mediate.
To the dead He gave life
and conquered all sickness,
until the time came
that He should be sacrificed for us,
and carry the heavy burden of our sins
upon the Cross itself.
The sighing of the orchestra doesn't let up in this chorale fantasia till the last bar, but the chorus sings much more firmly and the combined forces of the sopranos and sopranos in ripieno (childrens's voices) simply singing the chorale melody gives it a triumphant air.

In dich hab' ich gehoffet, Herr

Tune: ?
32 (118)

In dich hab ich gehoffet, Herr (verse5)

Text: ?
The world has judged me deceitfully
with lies and with false promises,
with many a snare and secret plot.
Lord, guard me in this danger,
shield me from false deceits.

Werde munter, mein Gemute

Tune: Johann Schop, c 1600-1665
40 (121)

Werde munter, mein Gemute (verse 6)

Text: ?
Although I have strayed from You,
yet I have returned again;
for your Son has reconciled us
through his agony and mortal pain.
I do not deny my guilt
but my grace and favour
is far greater than the sin
which I ever confess in myself.
Peter's bitter weeping after having denied Jesus three times, and the poignant cry for mercy in the Alto Aria that follows, is here considerably sweetened by the Believers' very simple confession of faith.