O Traurigkeit, o Herzeleid

O Traurigkeit, o Herzeleid

BWV 404 performed by the Netherlands Bach Society
conducted by Christoph Prégardien
Grote Kerk, Alkmaar

Behind the music


Bach screams it quietly

Despair and unbelief on Good Friday

Chorales form the backbone of the Lutheran faith. The great reformer himself advocated a fides ex auditu, a faith you needed to hear to bring it closer, and he knew that combining edifying texts with music made them more powerful. He set a good example himself with 36 hymns; some based on psalm texts and some completely new. Eighteenth-century congregations were so familiar with these hymns that Bach and his contemporaries could easily use them to indicate the atmosphere of an aria, a choral section or an instrumental piece. They provided a sort of thematic signal or theological flag that waved over the composition.

Besides the numerous chorales we know among Bach’s vocal works – whether woven monophonically through a choral piece or aria, or set for four voices, usually with the original melody in the upper voice and with text, of course – we also know the composer wrote dozens of four-part chorale settings without words. Soon after Bach’s death, his music became a model, and his chorales taught many a composer how to write the best harmonies to a melody. Without words, we usually have to guess at the context, but in this case we do have some clues. Firstly, there is the unmistakable chorale text to this melody – ‘O darkest woe! O heart’s pain! Has earth so sad a wonder? That the Father's only Son now lies buried yonder! – which undoubtedly refers to Good Friday. Moreover, one source suggests that O Traurigkeit could be an excerpt from the lost St Mark Passion BWV 247, when Joseph of Arimathea is preparing the body of Jesus for burial. And that may explain why Bach comes to the point so directly – because in a Passion, the chorales often fit extra well in the narrative, also musically speaking. Especially in the first line of the chorale, you feel acute despair, before a certain resignation to the inevitable appears to set in.

O Traurigkeit, o Herzeleid
Friedrich Spee (verse 1) Johann Rist (verses 2-8)
Good Friday

Extra videos

Vocal texts


O Traurigkeit, o Herzeleid!
Ist das nicht zu beklagen?
Gott des Vaters einigs Kind
Wird ins Grab getragen.


‘O darkest woe! O heart’s pain!
Has earth so sad a wonder?
That the Father's only Son
now lies buried yonder!


  • Release date
    1 April 2021
  • Recording date
    28 February 2019
  • Location
    Grote Kerk, Alkmaar
  • Conductor
    Christoph Prégardien
  • Soprano
    Lucia Caihuela, Maria Valdmaa, Klaartje van Veldhoven, Lauren Armishaw, Orlanda Velez Isidro, Marjon Strijk
  • Alto
    Marine Fribourg, Elsbeth Gerritsen, Eimi Witmer, Inga Schneider, Bart Uvyn, Laura Lopes
  • Tenor
    Guy Cutting, Immo Schröder, David Lee, Adriaan de Koster, Yves Van Handenhove, Diederik Rooker
  • Bass
    Drew Santini, Matthew Baker, Martijn de Graaf Bierbrauwer, Donald Bentvelsen, Michiel Meijer, Joep van Geffen
  • Organ
    Siebe Henstra
  • Director and editor
    Bas Wielenga
  • Music recording
    Guido Tichelman, Bastiaan Kuijt, Pim van der Lee
  • Music edit and mix
    Guido Tichelman
  • Camera
    Martin Struijf, Jesper Blok, Wesley Schipper
  • Lights
    Zen Bloot, Patrick Galvin, Fiona Verkleij, Henry Rodgers
  • Assistant director
    Stefan Ebels
  • Video engineer
    Justin Mutsaers
  • Project manager team
    Ron Vermeulen
  • Assistant music recording
    Marloes Biermans
  • Producer concert
    Imke Deters, Marco Meijdam
  • Producer film
    Jessie Verbrugh

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