Guided Listening for

J.S. Bach's Cantata No. 4 "Christ lag in Todesbanden"

Blog posts: Good Friday Bach | Und singen Halleluja!
Verse 1 ~ Verse 2 ~ Verse 3 ~ Verse 5 ~ Verse 8

This Easter cantata, written in 1707, is based on a 7-verse hymn by Martin Luther.

You can read the texts of all 7 verses (with English translations) here.

There is also a brief introductory instrumental movement titled Sinfonia.

Together, the structure of the seven Verse movements is symmetrical, with choruses on the ends and in the middle, and duets and solo movements mirroring each other.


Each verse of the hymn has 7 phrases followed by the word, "Hallelujah."
Thus, the hymn tune has a total of eight musical phrases.
Phrases 3 and 4 are repetitions of Phrases 1 and 2.
(You can hear this tune presented clearly in Verse 7 of the Cantata)

Below are listening guides for Verses 1, 2, 3, 5, and 8 of the cantata,
as performed by John Eliot Gardiner, the Monteverdi Choir, and the English Baroque Soloists.
Amazon link.

Each video displays the piano/vocal score (with a not-so-great English translation, but it's something).

Note that Verse 8 (the final movement of the cantata) is a relatively straightforward 4-part setting of the chorale tune, so it's worth listening to that first to get a good sense of how the tune goes. The tune is used prominently in each of the individual verse movements.

Because each verse ends with the word "Hallelujah," it's also fascinating to compare the very different ways in which Bach sets this word for each movement. In Verse 1, the concluding "Hallelujah chorus" is joyfully frenetic; in Verse 2, the tragic text elicits unusually anguished, sorrowful "Hallelujahs." In Verse 3, the mood is defiant and virtuosic, in Verse 5, the "Hallelujahs" grow from subdued to triumphant.

There are quite a few annotations that direct you to various musical/textual details.
The annotations may be turned off by clicking the little red "speech" icon at the bottom of each video window.

Verse 1: Chorus

[NOTE: Go here for a page which lets you skip around easily within the 8-part structure of this verse via chapter links.]

Verse 2: Soprano/Alto

Verse 3: Tenor

Verse 5: Bass

Verse 8: Chorus