The St. Matthew Passion, by John Reeves

This book defies any effort to categorize it according to genre. To begin with, it is a series of meditations on one of the greatest pieces of Western music, J. S. Bach's St. Matthew Passion. To that end, John Reeves, a composer and radio producer, helpfully includes the English libretto prepared by Edward Elgar and Ivor Atkins.

This little volume, however, attempts a multiple and complex series of other tasks. Its 21 poems are spoken by three separate, interspersed voices, the first of which is the author's as he considers eight locales where he has heard Bach performed. Then Reeves imagines Bach himself meditating on the Judenstrasse, the Jewish quarter near his church; the Agnus Dei; the Lord's Prayer; Gethsemane; his own chorales; the silence before and after music, the silence of Jesus before Pilate, and the silence of death; the cross as tree; and the Grunewald painting of the crucifixion.

The third voice is that of the church as it considers the Passion and the portions of the liturgy that enact it. In between the voices, Reeves inserts prose passages that orient the reader to the relevant portions of the Passion story, give helpful contexts for some of the author's poems about his experience with Bach's music, and relate the poems to appropriate parts of the liturgy. Ideally, then, in order to read this work completely, one needs to do some multitasking--playing Bach's music while reading the libretto, reflecting upon the author's prose introductions and reading the poems.