Although Bach's obituary states that he composed five passions, only two survive in complete form: the St. John and St. Matthew Passions, both first performed during Bach's early years in Leipzig. The St. John Passion for Good Friday, 1724, has texts drawn from St. John, chapters eighteen and nineteen; some excerpts from St. Matthew; contemporary poetry by B.H. Brockes and others (possibly Bach himself); and eleven chorales. The setting are for four-part chorus, four vocal soloists, and orchestra. Bach's work is notable for its highly dramatic presentation of the Passion story. During his Leipzig years, Bach made four different versions of the composition.
For the St. Matthew Passion, the date of first performance is traditionally given as Good Friday, 1729 (but is possibly Good Friday, 1727); Bach presented at least two later performances, with revisions. The libretto is based on St. Matthew, chapters twenty-six and twenty-seven; contemporary poetry by C.F. Henrici (Picander) and thirteen chorales. The setting is for double chorus (each four-part, with an additional soprano line for the opening number), two sets of four soloists, and a double orchestra. With its large forces, broad design, and masterful expression of the text, the St. Matthew Passion is one of the highest achievements of Lutheran church music.