BWV 718

All of Bach: a project by the Netherlands Bach Society

Christ lag in Todesbanden

BWV 718 performed by Leo van Doeselaar
St. Martin's Church, Groningen

Leo van Doeselaar explains how Bach revives Sweelinck's Echo Fantasies.

A Miracle of Conciseness and Efficiency

Bach tightened the screws on himself in the variations on this capricious Easter hymn.

The Lutheran hymn on which this short chorale partita is based is about the resurrection of Christ. Although the first line of the hymn and the title refer to Christ ‘in Todesbanden’, the tone soon changes, and the first verse ends with a joyful ‘alleluia!’, as do all the other six verses. Yet they also reflect on the Passion as well. This switching back and forth between moods explains the rather restless, capricious character of this chorale prelude.

Within the sections that follow one another in quick succession, the chorale text is illustrated through various musical means. Although the high ornaments tumble over one another from the start, darkness also prevails in the second section, which emphasises the hopeless condition of sinful man. In the next verse, the focus then turns completely on the risen Christ, who has laughed in the face of death. This turnaround is coupled with a remarkable rise in tempo and lots of cheerful notes. And then the battle between life and death is recapitulated with the help of a whole series of echo effects, followed by a sort of ecstasy because darkness has been conquered by light forever. Finally, there is celebration all round, and the Easter bread is put triumphantly on the table in the final verse.

Considering that all of this takes place in five minutes, this chorale arrangement is a miracle of conciseness and efficiency. Although no autograph has survived, on the basis of the earliest copy, we can situate the work around 1712 at least. And it may be even earlier, if all the references to the work of his earliest sources of inspiration, Böhm, Buxtehude and Reincken, are taken seriously. In that case, what we see here is a very young Bach, who has tightened the screws on himself up to the pain threshold.


Christ lag in Todesbanden

organ work (chorale partita)

Special notes/reuse
Although no autograph of this work has survived, there are several copies that differ slightly from one another.

Cast & Crew

release date 22 August 2014
recording date 8 October 2013
Location St. Martin's Church, Groningen
ORGANIST Leo van Doeselaar
Organ Arp Schnitger, 1692
Producer Frank van der Weij
FILM DIRECTORS Jan Van den Bossche, Frank van der Weij
DIRECTORS OF PHOTOGRAPHY Jorrit Garretsen, Sal Kroonenberg
FILM EDITOR Dylan Glyn Jones
Colorist Martijn de Haas
PRODUCTION ASSISTANTS Marco Meijdam, Zoë de Wilde
interview Onno van Ameijde

Vocal Texts




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