The poem is part of the Empfindsamkeit movement of the 1750s. It is the middle of three oratorio texts by Ramler - Die Hirten bei der Krippe zu Bethlehem, Der Tod Jesu, and Die Auferstehung und Himmelfahrt - which may have been viewed by Ramler as a libretto cycle, though they were never set as a cycle by any composer. The libretto was intended for Graun but a copy of Ramler's text was somehow received by Telemann who produced his own setting of the oratorio (TWV 5:6) in Hamburg before Graun could perform the premiere in Berlin. Ramler revised his text in 1760.
The text is not a full retelling of the Passion of Christ and it does not quote Bible texts. Instead, it presents emotively various aspects of the Passion.
Carl Heinrich Graun, Berlin 1755 - the best known of the settings; it was performed yearly in many cities in Germany throughout the second half of the 18th century. The Australian premiere of Graun's passion cantata took place on Good Friday 2012 in St John's Cathedral in Brisbane with the Badinerie Players and the Brisbane Chamber Choir under Michael O'Loghlin and with Shelli Hulcombe (soprano), Bethany Shepherd (soprano), Gregory Massingham (tenor), Jason Barry-Smith (bass).
Unlike Bach's Passions, Graun's setting does not imbue the tenor soloist with the role of narrator or Evangelist, nor is the bass cast as Vox Christi. The music is post-Baroque, an italianate galant style, and contains little counterpoint (notably in the duet, no. 17) or fugal movements (chorus no. 14 is a double fugue). Instead, it gives prominence to melody and voice. All arias are da capo arias with stylistic borrowings from opera arias. Grauner's recitative settings are highly expressive, culminating in the moving simplicity of the bass's recitative no. 23 on the death of Jesus, "Er ist nicht mehr!" (He is no more!). The last chorus starts quite powerfully, but then ebbs away into a mystical silence.
Kraus - with Kom! din herdestaf att bära Philharmonia Chor Stuttgart, Stuttgarter Kammerorchester, Helmut Wolf. Carus-Verlag 1997
König, Ingeborg (1972). Studien zum Libretto des "Tod Jesu" von Karl Wilhelm Ramler und Karl Heinrich Graun (in German). Katzbichler. ISBN3-87397-023-6.
Lölkes, Herbert (1999). Ramlers "Der Tod Jesu" in den Vertonungen von Graun und Telemann (in German). Bärenreiter. ISBN3-7618-1480-1.
^Howard E. Smither A History of the Oratorio 2000 p. 88 "One might also view the three texts by Carl Wilhelm Ramler - Die Hirten bei der Krippe zu Bethlehem, Der Tod Jesu, and Die Auferstehung und Himmelfahrt - as a libretto cycle, but these seem never to have been set by a single composer."