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Cantata BWV 4
Christ lag in Todes Banden
Discussions - Part 3

Continue from Part 2

More Messages

Aryeh Oron wrote (May 24, 2000):
[37] I have not had the Junghänel's CD while we were discussing BWV 106, BWV 196 & BWV 4 in previous weeks. I still have not had it, while I sent to the group my review of the recordings of BWV 12 last week. But, at last I have it, I manages to listen to it couple of times, and my initial conclusion is that this record is well deserved almost every praise it got in the Bach Cantatas Mailing List. However, I do not find it wholly convincing from every aspect. Indeed, its intimate atmosphere is the best visit card of the OVPP approach, the voices are very well balanced and blend charmingly together, the instruments are beautifully played, and the emphasis on the words rather than on the music is well justified. The pronunciation of the words is so clear, that you could almost write them on paper according to what you hear (BTW, it is not mentioned in the booklet, when each tenor is singing. I believe that Türk is singing the Solo parts and Jochens the Chorale parts). The balance between the instrumental and the vocal parts is perfect. They are on equal level. I mean that you do not have the feeling that the instruments accompany the voices or that they overshadow them, but that they play together or one against the other, as needed. The fugal parts obtain the best clarity from this approach. What I miss is a little bit more drama and emotion, and a little bit more softness and tenderness. Don't understand me wrongly. I like this CD very much, because it illuminates special sides of the cantatas, which are rarely revealed in other performances. And the aspects that I miss here, I find in other recordings. The cantatas sound so different in this rendering than any other recording, almost like new works of art, and this approach is performed so convincingly, that this record becomes a 'must have' for every cantatas collection. But, I also believe that this record should not be the only version one should hold of each cantata included in it. Since all the cantatas in this record has been discussed in our group in the last couple of months, one can easily come to conclusion that there are other recordings for each cantata with different approaches indeed, but not less valid. Regarding BWV 12 in particular, I love Wöldike, Suzuki, and Junghänel almost on the same level, different as they are, and maybe exactly for this reason.

Matthew Westphal wrote (May 24, 2000):
[To Aryeh Oron] [37] I'm glad you finally got the Cantus Cölln CD and I thank you for your comments on it.

One tiny point: you said you think Türk is singing the solos and Jochens the chorale parts. I can't remember where I heard or saw this (Junghänel may have mentioned it when I interviewed him for, but I believe that Jochens is singing all of it and Türk wasn't involved in this recording at all. (He was probably in Japan singing for Suzuki!)

The article for has five performers -- conductors Paul McCreesh, Konrad Junghänel and Philippe Herreweghe and singers Drew Minter and Julianne Baird -- talking about performing Bach one-singer-per-part. I will let the list know when the article is up on the site.

Johan van Veen wrote (May 24, 2000):
[37] I have just looked at this recording and this is who is singing what:

- BWV 4: Aria Jesus Christus, Gottes Sohn - Jochens; Duet So feiern wir das hohe Fest – Jochens
- BWV 106: Aria Ach Herr, lehre uns bedenken - Türk; Aria Heute wirst du mit mir im Paradies sein – Jochens
- BWV 196: Duet Der Herr segne euch – Türk
- BWV 12: Aria Sei getreu, alle Pein – Jochens

Ryan Michero wrote (May 24, 2000):
[37] I think Johan is right. Türk's voice is pretty recognizable, and I know I heard him in a few places on the recording. I also remember that Jochens sings for sure in BWV 12.


BWV 4 + BWV 106 - Rafi' Lavi's Discussion

Aryeh Oron wrote (July 1, 2000):
Rafi Lavi is a famous Israeli painter, as well as classical music critic, who writes regularly a column for the local weekly newspaper 'Ha'ir'. Every Tuesday evening a group of dedicated classical music fans is gathered at Lavi's home. He chooses for them a certain work of classical music and they listen together to all the recordings of that work without prior notice what they are going to hear, or who the performers are. Then they compare the various recordings of the work to each other and give them marks. The results are published in the newspaper couple of weeks afterwards. I have never participated in those weekly musical meetings. However, I read the weekly column with curiosity to see if the work under discussion interests me. Last week's comparison was dedicated to cantatas BWV 4 & BWV 106. Before quoting from that article, I have to say that the opinions expressed there do not reflect in any way my personal opinion. But because the matter of our group is discussing Bach cantatas and especially recordings of them, it is interesting to read a review about the same subject from another source. Here is my translation to English of the original Hebrew text:

"The CD in which Junghänel conducts Bach cantatas [37] has raised a lot of attention lately, because it sounds so marvellous and also because it includes two of the most known and beloved cantatas - BWV 4 'Christ lag in Todesbanden' and BWV 106 'Actus Tragicus'.
We compared both of them. We did not choose arias for soloists, but choral movements, which generally characterize the performances. Also, we included only recordings from the last 30 years. It means that Harnoncourt-Leonhardt production [15] was the most veteran of them. All of them were HIP.
According to the participants' statements, all of us were looking for the same thing: beautiful voices, transparent weave of them, fluent flow, not heavy, not didactic, but also not superficial. And at the end, a performance that will 'touch the heart', as the listeners said.
As has been expected, the renderings of Harnoncourt to BWV 4 [15] and Leonhardt to BWV 106 arrived to the last place. Their performances, which once sounded to us innovative, fresh and bold, sound today old-fashioned, heavy, steady and ordinary.
In BWV 4 Suzuki [29] arrived first. He is flexible, plays beautifully with the voices and very expressive. In BWV 106 he was placed at the bottom. He was called stiff and clumsy.
Rifkin, the performance that uses one voice per part instead of choir, has not recorded BWV 4. In BWV 106 he arrived to the first place far ahead before the others. Jeffery Thomas performance [27], whose approach is similar to Rifkin, got a lot of sympathy. In BWV 4 he was second by a narrow margin, and in BWV 106 he was second together with two others.
[37] Junghänel, the cause for celebration, arrived third, after Suzuki and Thomas in BWV 4, and second, together with Gardiner and Thomas, in BWV 106. By the way, Gardiner [18] was laid at the bottom in BWV 4.
[24] Parrott, who recorded only BWV 4 in Rifkin's method, was put in the middle, in exact distance from the 'good' and the 'bad' recordings.
[28] Koopman, who records the complete cantatas and is considered by many to be the ultimate, was not appreciated in our group - in both cantatas. 'Ordinary', 'smeared', 'tedious', were some of the compliments he got.
Conclusion? Rifkin, Thomas, and Junghänel. Suzuki and Gardishould be checked according to each cantata and the soloists must not be forgotten, because in these renderings they change from one CD to the other. Koopman is out. Leonhardt and Harnoncourt are passé. And all the above said is valid until the next comparison."


Cantata BWV 4 Score

Jorge Cacho wrote (November 3, 2000):
Does anybody know if it's possible to download the score of the Cantata BWV 4 from the web? (I only need the vocal part)


Richter’s BWV 4

Bob Sherman wrote (July 5, 2001):
[14] Pablo wrote (reagarding the topic My First Cantata) about how it took him a long time to get into "Christ Lag in Todesbanden" but now he loves it, on the Richter recording.

I agree, this is one of my favorite performances and I have played it hundreds of times. But for whatever it may be worth, I offer this thought:

Somehow the LP of Richter's BWV 4 seems to have much more depth, power, and intimacy than the CD. Something was lost in the conversion. Recommend that everyone who can do so get a good copy of the LP and tape it before you wear it out.

Pablo Fagoaga wrote (July 5, 2001):
(To Bob Sherman) I never heard the LP, and the description you make of the vinyl version makes me terribly curious... I can hardly imagine MORE impact from the recording. But I can tell you that your impresion of a "somehow" deeper (and, may I add...sweeter???) and intimate sound is not just you going nuts, but the result of a sure good listening ability you have.

The parameters that conform the CD technical standard (in the famous "blue book" of the industry) are the following:
1) 16 bits: this means that each unique sound is defined by "16 letter words". AS with languaje, this makes possible a fixed quantity of combinations. the more bits you allow to conform a work, the more works are possible, with the consecuent possibility to define more specific and unique sounds.
2) 20 to 20000 hz of frequency response: in order to be able to fit 75 minutes of music in the 640 megabytes that a CD can store, industry leaders decided that frequencies below 20 hz and above 20000 would we just cuted off, with the (logical) argument that they are almost (if not definitively) inaudible for why waste storage capacity with them??? they said.
3) sampling rate of 44 khz: this determines that every second of music is made up by 44.000 tiny secuenced samples of sound. This works like the pixel resolution of your monitor, the more pixels you use to draw a curve, the smoother it looks. Say, the more samples you use to build a second of music, the more accurate the sound is to the original signal.

The fact that Compact Disks sound exactly the same no mather how many times you play them, the absolute absence of mechanical distortion, and background tape hiss or LP clicks and plops made CD a good accomplishment. BUT, from the begining of the format, MANY audiophiles said it sounded dry, metallic and somehow "shallow and dull". That is because of the compromises taken to fit a rasonable ammount of music in each 640 MB disk. SO, BOB, YOU'RE ABSOLUTELY RIGHT, LPs DO SOUND WARMER, AND DEEPER.

With the invention of the DVD standard, which allows to store up to 17 Gigabytes in a single disk (this means about 20 times the information found in a regular CD), the future promises a new standard that will take almost no compromise on sound quality, getting us closer to the best of both worlds, with a rpofound sound, and durability. Sony is trying with "Super Audio CD", and Pioneer and Phillips are trying to get DVD Audio into the market. Unfortunately, a war of formats is about to take place, with not many of us with the economic possibility to put a bet !!! At least I will have to wait for a winner. After boring you to death, regards

PS: I have some trivia for the group: Why did industry leaders decided that a CD had to be able to store between 75 and 80 minutes of music, instead of any other amount of time ??? (given the fact that they had the posibility to choose!!)


BWV 4 Christ lag in Todesbanden/ Es war ein wunderlicher Krieg

Andreas Burgardt wrote (November 26, 2001):
This email message is a notification to let you know that a file has been uploaded to the Files area of the Bach_Cantatas group.

File : /EsWarEinWunderlicherKrieg.mp3
Uploaded by :
Description : "Es war ein wunderlicher Krieg" from the cantata "Christ lag in Todesbanden" BWV 4. Johannes Bartsch (soloist of the Tölzer Knabenchor), Peter de Groot, Robert Coupe, Harry van der Kamp and the Concerto Palatino, Bologna in an OVPP recording made during the Bachfest in Bremen 1993.

You can access this file at the URL:

To learn more about file sharing for your group, please visit:

Boyd Pehrson wrote (November 30, 2001):
[To Andreas Burghardt] Thank you for your upload Andreas! Very interesting, and beautiful. I have listened to it six times already. Thank you for your CD information as well!

Boyd Pehrson wrote (November 30, 2001):
[To Andreas Burghardt] Andreas, thanks for the upload. That recording certainly expresses all the clarity of minimalism that One Voice Per Part promises! This is probably the most un-baroque of all the Cantatas, and that verse is probably the most un-baroque of all of BWV 4's verses! The Cantata starts out with one of the most theologically straightforward texts- Luther's own text from the Walther hymnal. It certainly sets the idea that Bach was serious about embracing his church theology. The alto parts are wonderful at the Cantata's opening but at the middle here in "Es war ein wunderlicher Krieg" they are muted. This verse sounds nearly like a Tenor Soprano duet with OVPP, since the alto is minimized, and no instrumentation is present save the continuo. The Bass part seems content to follow the continuo and merely provide ornamentation for it.

The performance by Master Bartsch is very nice, and I am sure the recording would be splendid with a few more soprano voices, but his "solo" here is an interesting understatement of soprano in a chorale. The quartet here is not the picture of Walther's Hymnal idea for choir, the hymnal from where this text is used, and so familiar to Bach's congregation. This verse reminds me of Schütz's work when
sung in this style. I think a quieter Bass or a louder Soprano would improve the clarity of the texts in an OVPP recording like this. Perhaps some better direction to balance the voices?

Though, I now take issue with the veracity of the OVPP movement, (see my review of Parrott's OVPP book) I do believe it is an interesting alternative modern performance practice for Bach, albeit not a historic one. I like to see these various practices performed as they are all Bach, and if boys are involved, then all the better! Plus OVPP allows us to look at Bach from different perspectives, in that respect I do support it(as I support Glenn Gould's Goldberg Variations played on modern piano).

Here is a great example of what One Voice Per Part sounds like in performance, and this is probably the most "minimal" of Bach's Cantata verses, and thus the most OVPP of OVPP in Bach performance! I would like to propose to Douglas that we keep this recording available as an OVPP example, along with other examples of performance issues such as the duet example of BWV 21, the Burrowes, and the historic Straub recording. These could be part of the basic database perhaps?


Christ lag in Todesbanden

Andreas Burgardt wrote (March 28, 2002):
Suitable to Good Friday I have uploaded an interesting interpretation of "Christ lag in Todesbanden" BWV 625, played by a viola da gamba quartet (Paolo Biordi, Rodney Prada, Vittorio Ghielmi and Christiano Contadin). The chorale is sung by four soloisof the Tölzer Knabenchor (Tim Fricke, Markus Gnadl, Ludwig Mittelhammer and Thomas Timmer). The recording is taken from the CD Quartetto Italiano di Viole da Gamba. Preludi ai Corali. Winter & Winter 910 053-2

Best wishes for the Easter holiday

Boyd Pehrson wrote (March 29, 2002):
[To Andreas Burghardt] Thank you for your upload Andreas! Very interesting, and beautiful. I have listened to it six times already. Thank you for your CD information as well!


New Translations of BWV-4, "Christ lag in Todesbanden"

Paul Farseth wrote (March 29, 2002):
Thanks to Aryeh's help there is a new pair of translations of Bach's early Easter cantata, "Christ lag in Todesbanden", BWV-4 available on the Bach Cantatas Web Site at:

This file gives the German, a literal translation, and a performance translation (aimed at clarity and at putting images in roughly the same place and beat of each line as in the original German...for the sake of Bach's musical idea painting) all set up in parallel columns in a .PDF file.

(To read the file you will need the a .PDF reader such as Adobe Acrobat Reader, but most computers already have that tool installed. I am trying to make up a satisfactory HTML version, but so far I have had trouble making the columns display correctly in synchrony, so the PDF format is a nice fall back.)


Christ Lag in Todesbanden and the word Alleluhia

David Zale wrote (February 11, 2003):
My church has always welcomed my musical contributions to services (I'm a cellist). This year at Good Friday, I decided to get some folks together and include the sinfonia, 3rd, 4th, and final chorale movements from BWV #4 in the service. This was recieved warmly, however it seems that my church (Lutheran) "buries" the word Alleuhia for the season of Lent. I'm curious about two things; Has anyone else heard of this, and does anyone know when this practice began? I find it interesting that Bach used text that focuses so much on a word that is avoided now in the same church! Last thing, I'm told I can substitute the word Hosanna, and that might work, but does anyone have a better idea asside from scrapping my plan?

Thanks in advance,

Hugo Saldias wrote (February 11, 2003):
[To David Zale] I am also a lutheran and my organ teacher was too. In the Orgelbuechlein collection of 45 choral preludes Bach writes a short version of Christ lag in Todesbanden. When I studied this long time ago (now I am 52 and half) the explanation given to me was this: Bach situates this choral in between saturday and easter sunday,that is why the word Alleluia comes at the end.In particular this is noticable in the organ choral prelude of the orgelbuechlein: the short piece is in the dorian style (d minor if you like) and the last bar "modulates" we can say to a glorious D MAYOR , for the words alleluia,and the piece ends in D MAYOR giving the idea of the easter sunday morning news: through the blood of our Lord the doors of heaven are open.The pedal part in all the work gives the idea of unwraping a body or another interpretation gives the idea of walking through heaven (that it was closed since the original sin of Adam and Eve).It is the greatest mystery (together with the Trinity) without the resurrection,the cross, and all other things including christmas and the encarnation are non sense.The resurrection validates all the new testament and saying of the prophets of the old testament as we , all that share the faith, now.

That is the meaning of the word Aleluia in Bach's treatment of Christ Lag in Todesbanden.

Thomas Braatz wrote (February 11, 2003):
[To David Zale] Perhaps you can still play the sinfonia, but the other mvts. are from an Easter chorale cantata which really should not be performed in a church until Easter. Bach would not have performed this cantata on Good Friday. Just why 'Hosanna' could be substituted for 'Halleluja' I do not know. Perhaps Dick Wursten can enlighten us on this point?

Have you considered excerpting some mvts. from Bach's Passions? Or even some of few Lent cantatas that have come down to us? The 1st and 4th mvts. of BWV 23 "Du wahrer Gott und Davids Sohn" come mind as being particularly moving and appropriate for Good Friday. The 4th mvt. ends with a wonderful 'Amen' that no church should be able to object to under these circumstances.

Skip & Stacy Jennings wrote (February 12, 2003):
[To David Zale] We are Episcopalian and from the end of Epiphany until Easter, we don't sing Alleluia either. I'll ask our choir master what he knows about it.

Jeremy Thomas wrote (February 12, 2003):
[To David Zale] This is the first time I've heard of this practice. "Alleluia" means "praise ye the Lord" and "Hosanna" means "save now" - but I don't know if that helps at all (clutching at straws).

Thomas Gebhardt wrote (February 12, 2003):
[To David Zale] The word "Halleluja" is clearly intended to mark the resurrection of Christ. For this reason the word is omitted in traditional Christian services (or: in Christian churches at all) from ash wednesday to the night before easter sunday, when it is sung again for the first time with an especially solemn melody.

Bach's cantata BWV 4 is intended for easter - so there's no discussion about Bach's use of the word: it is used here to MARK easter day. It seems rather odd to have the piece on Good Friday - for this day Bach's St John Passion (BWV 245) would be the appropriate music.

Dick Wursten wrote (February 12, 2003):
halleluja - gloria - hosanna

AFAIK This is the 'philosophy' behind the suppression of the Halleluja, Gloria, Te Deum laudamus etc.. during Lent (or even already from Sunday septuagesima, making the period of Lent as long as the period of easter 7 weeks, 50 days):

In order to know what light is, we need to see darkness In order to appreciate common food, we need to abstain from it. In order to understand how extra-ordinary ordinary life is we have to 'alienate' the ordinary for a time

This is what happens during the periods of Fasting/Lent... In the field of light we see the colours change in church. Dark colours dominate: black at the summit (or deepest depth) of the period: Good Friday... the colour purple in general. Concerning food we are asked to abstain from normal eating-habits. This you can do rigorously, but also in modern ways (not a bad practice I dare to presume in our times of overconsumption, sorry for the digression) Concering matters of life the liturgy of the church surprises us: We expect - of course - after the kyrie eleison the outburst of the choir (or community) in a gloria in excelsis Deo (or Gott in der Höh allein sei Ehr) but it doesn't come...

And the Hallelujah (normally appearing three times to hail the reading and proclamation ot the Gospel, Evangelium, Good news) is not heard either. Instead we hear the prayer from the 'tractus', which is always humble. And in the 'Metten' (matinen) the ambrosian hymn (Te Deum Ladaumus) is also suppressed... Even the formula which traditionally concluded the Mass: Ite, Missa est is replaced by an incentive to continue prayer...

This of course is meant to make people ask: Why? Is something wrong? The answer should be: Yes, there is something wrong. This is not heaven we are living in.... How should we sing a gloria when life is still corrupt and evil dominates... (compare: By the rivers of babylon, the harp is hanging upon the willow psalm 137: 1-4).

That God is gracious and benevolent, that He will redeem us etc... never can be taken for granted... We never should get accustomed to it in this sense that the element of 'wonder' and 'amazement' is lost... It's amazing grace, not self-evident grace.

The surprise of the suppression of the gloria/halleluja should provoke this kind of reflection.

And: if you do this during Lent, than the return of the 'Alleluia' at the enof the service of Easter-Saturday is enormous (to do it correct, you should stay in church during the night, waking, praying, reading till daylight breaks... And at the first rays of light of eastermorning... one should announce the resurrection of the Lord and start to sing an endless Alleluia (praise the Lord) and rise with him into a new life (or life-renewed... f.i. Epistle to the Collossians 2:12 / Romans 6:4). Luther was extremely fond of those old medieval Easterhymns which just tell the story of easter and after each sentence two alleluias are sung...: f.i. Erstanden ist der heilig Christ.

Why is hosanna allowed? Because hosanna is a prayer and means: "Lord, save (us)"

Santu de Silva wrote (February 13, 2003):
[To Thomas Gebhardt] It's a matter of association. Hosanna is associated with Palm Sunday (blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord, Hosanna in the highest) and Alleluia with the resurrection (He is risen, Alleluia!), so hosanna is a greeting that has overtones of impending death, in the context of the passion story. These connotations might not be there for jewish folks; it is strictly a Christian thing.

Though one could deplore the emotionalism of these kinds of things, the tradition of separating the tragic parts of the season from the celebratory parts is understandable. there really is no reason one shouldn't sing anything at any time, but one likes to respect traditions that means so much to some people, esp when performing music for them!



Neil Halliday wrote (February 13, 2004):
A fine 'recording' of this well-known cantata can be made by assembling the following movements from Richter [14] and Rilling [19].

Mvt. 1. Sinfonia.

This version is slow, grand, gloomy and emotional. The changing dynamics at the start are striking in their impact.

Rilling is vigorous and unemotional, missing some of this movement's impact. His is the fastest of all the recordings of this movement, HIP and non-HIP, shown at the BCW.

Mvt. 2. Chorus "Christ lag in Todesbanden."

This version is lively, yet has a more moderate tempo than Richter, and shows excellent colour, clarity and presentation of the chorale theme. Rilling sets up a powerful 'jazzy' rhythm; and the forward presence of the striking writing for strings is a feature of this recording.

Richter loses some of the detail due to a slightly foggy acoustic, and slightly rushed presentation; and we have a certain 'thump-thump-thump' character that results from a staccato treatment of the continuo and other instruments.

Mvt. 3. Duet (S,A.)

This version uses the soprano and alto sections of the choir with lovely effect, with an attractive continuo featuring some lovely playing on organ.

Rilling's two ladies (Wiens and Watkinson) use too much vibrato, which eventually becomes distracting, and the continuo treatment, while bright, lacks subtlety. However, this version is worth hearing as a contrast to Richter's approach.

Mvt. 4. Aria (T) "Jesus Christus, Gottes Sohn.

Schreier is magnificent, and Rilling supplies an attractive accompaniment featuring a lovely part for solo violin.

Richter is close to displaying his occasional 'bull-at-a-gate' syndrome with the fast tempo of this, and the following movement. He uses the tenor section of the choir, as well as the entire violin section of his orchestra, in this movement, in contrast to Rilling.

Mvt. 5. Chorus "Es war ein wunderlicher Krieg".

Rilling's more expressive treatment wins out in this characterful movement.

Richter has a tendency to more of the "bull-at-a-gate' syndrome here, as noted above.

Mvt. 6. Aria (B). "Hier ist das rechte Osterlamm"

This version is considered by many to be one of the treasures of recorded music. DFD, in 1968, was in his prime, and Richter's large string orchestra has never sounded cleaner or more sensuously beautiful.

Rilling, with Schöne, is satisfacory, in a faster rendition, but not as engaging, nor in the same class as Richter.

Mvt. 7. Duet. (S,T.)

Here we have a charming version from Rilling's chamber forces - with the colouful and expressive voices of Wiens (S), and Schreier (T) uniting in a pleasing manner, and cello and chamber organ giving an expressive treatment of the dance-like continuo part.

Richter's large forces perhaps sound inapproriate in the 'skipping' continuo part, and the soprano and tenor sections of the choir are not as vivid as Rilling's soloists - which is a reversal of the situation that existed in the first duet. However, this version is worth hearing.

Mvt. 8. Chorale.

This is a measured, strong performance from Rilling.

Richter perhaps sounds almost too enthusiastic, too vigorous, but that might depend on the mood of the listener.

I note that Rilling does not employ cornet and trombones to double the voices in movements 2 and 8, as does Richter, but this hardly seems to be a drawback in this cantata (I don't really miss them).


It's certainly worthwhile owning both sets - I often find that where Rilling is weak, Richter comes to the rescue, and vice-versa. And I suppose this works with other recordings as well.


Continue on Part 4

Cantata BWV 4: Details
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