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Christ lag in Todesbanden (Christ lay in death's bonds), also written Christ lag in Todes Banden, BWV 4, is a cantata by Johann Sebastian Bach. It was written for Easter, probably in 1707, and it is probably related to Bach's move from Arnstadt to Mühlhausen. It is based on a chorale of the same name by Martin Luther, which is used by Bach as a cantus firmus throughout the entire piece.

The piece is written for soprano, alto, tenor, bass, two violins, two Violas and basso continuo. It is in eight movements, all in E minor:

  1. Sinfonia: strings and continuo
  2. Verse I: "Christ lag in Todes Banden" - The alto, tenor, and bass voices sing free counterpoint, while the cantus firmus is sung by the soprano in unadorned, long notes.
  3. Verse II: "Den Tod niemand zwingen kunnt" ("Nobody could overcome death") - for soprano, alto and continuo.
  4. Verse III: "Jesus Christus, Gottes Sohn" ("Jesus Christ, Son of God") - for tenor and continuo with 2 violins obbligato.
  5. Verse IV: "Es war ein wunderlicher Krieg" ("There was a wondrous war") - for soprano, alto, tenor, bass and continuo.
  6. Verse V: "Hier ist das rechte Osterlamm" ("Here is the true Easter Lamb") - for bass, strings and continuo.
  7. Verse VI: "So feiern wir das hohe Fest" ("So we celebrate the high feast") - for soprano, tenor and continuo.
  8. Verse VII: "Wir essen und leben wohl" ("We eat and live well") - A chorale, sung and played by the whole ensemble.

Perhaps one of the best-known of Bach's church cantatas, this is one of his compositions for the first day of the three-day Easter celebration. Bach spent the Easter seasons of 1707 and 1708 in Mühlhausen, and from comparison of the handwriting with other surviving works of that period, it seems a fair estimate that this work was completed in 1708. At any rate, Bach performed this cantata in Leipzig in both 1724 and 1725, revising the work to include an overlapping trombone part among other things. The sources of the music we have today are the parts written for those Leipzig performances. The final chorale made its appearance for the 1725 performance.

In modern performance and recordings, practice varies as to whether or not the aria and duet movements of BWV 4 are to be sung with soloists rather than with a full choir. The Bach-Gesellschaft and Neue Bach Ausgabe score editions do not have the printed indications of "aria" and "duet" over the relevant movements that are common in the later cantatas. Given the lack of direct evidence, it is presently impossible to determine what Bach's own wishes regarding this particular piece were.


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