Christ lag in Todesbanden

Christ lag in Todesbanden

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

Behind the music

Extra videos
Extra videos

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

Extra videos

Organist Leo van Doeselaar

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

Vocal texts




  • Release date
    22 August 2014
  • Recording date
    9 October 2013
  • Location
    St. Martin's Church, Groningen
  • Organist
    Leo van Doeselaar
  • Organ registration
    Tim Knigge
  • 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
  • Music production, editing and mix
    Holger Schlegel
  • Film editor
    Dylan Glyn Jones
  • Colorist
    Martijn de Haas
  • Production assistants
    Marco Meijdam, Zoë de Wilde
  • Interview
    Onno van Ameijde
  • Acknowledgements
    Jan Haak

Help us to complete All of Bach

There are still many recordings to be made before the whole of Bach’s oeuvre is online. And we can’t complete the task without the financial support of our patrons. Please help us to complete the musical heritage of Bach, by supporting us with a donation!