Bach's church music in Latin

Most of Johann Sebastian Bach's extant church music in Latinsettings of (parts of) the Mass ordinary and the Magnificat— dates from his Leipzig period (1723–50). Bach started to assimilate and expand compositions on a Latin text by other composers before his tenure as Thomaskantor in Leipzig, and he continued to do so after he had taken up that post. The text of some of these examples by other composers was a mixture of German and Latin: also Bach contributed a few works employing both languages in the same composition, for example his early Kyrie "Christe, du Lamm Gottes".[1]

The bulk of Bach's sacred music, many hundreds of compositions such as church cantatas, motets, Passions, oratorios, chorale settings and sacred songs, was set to a German text, or incorporated one or more melodies associated with the German words of a Lutheran hymn. His output of music on a Latin text, comprising less than a dozen of known independent compositions, was comparatively small: in Lutheranism, and Bach was a Lutheran, church services were generally in the native tongue, which was German for the places where Bach was employed. A few traditional Latin texts, such as the Magnificat and some excerpts of the Mass liturgy, had however not been completely banned from worship practice during the Protestant Reformation. It depended on local traditions whether any of such Latin texts were used in church services occasionally. In Leipzig, compared to Lutheran practice elsewhere, an uncharacteristic amount of Latin was used in church:[2] it included music on Latin texts being performed on ordinary Sundays,[3] on high holidays (Christmas, Easter, Pentecost), and the Magnificat also on Marian feasts (Annunciation, Visitation, Purification).

In his first years in Leipzig Bach produced a Latin Magnificat and several settings of the Sanctus. In 1733 he composed a large-scale Kyrie–Gloria Mass for the Catholic court in Dresden. Around the same time he produced the final version of his Magnificat. Probably around 1738–39 he wrote four more Kyrie–Gloria Masses, to a large extent based on earlier compositions. In the last years of his life he extracted a cantata on a Latin text from his 1733 Kyrie–Gloria Mass, and finally integrated that Mass, and various other earlier compositions, into his Mass in B minor.

Bach's involvement with Latin church music thus stemmed from several circumstances:

That being identifiable motivations for his involvement with Latin church music, some questions remain however without conclusive answer, including:

From the early 19th century there was a renewed attention for Bach and his music: his Latin church music, including BWV Anh. 167 (published as a composition by Bach in 1805), the Magnificat (published in 1811), BWV 234 (published in 1818) and the Mass in B minor (heralded as "the greatest musical art work of all times and nations" in 1818), received a fair share of that renewed attention – the first 19th-century publication of a work for voices and orchestra on a German text only followed in 1821.[4] In the second half of the 20th century Bach's compositions on a Latin text were grouped in the third chapter of the Bach-Werke-Verzeichnis.[5]

Settings of (parts of) the Latin mass liturgy

Bach composed five Kyrie–Gloria Masses, the first of which was later expanded to the Mass in B minor. He also set the Sanctus part of the mass liturgy a few times, and copied and arranged mass-related compositions by other composers.

Mass in B minor, BWV 232, and related earlier compositions

Further information: Mass in B minor structure

Around 1748–49 Bach completed his Mass in B minor, BWV 232, based on various earlier compositions including cantata movements and the early versions of Part I (Kyrie–Gloria Mass composed in 1733), of the first movement of Part II and of the Sanctus (Part III). The Mass in B minor is Bach's only setting of the complete ordinary of the Mass.

Sanctus for six vocal parts (1724)

In 1724 Bach composed a Sanctus for six vocal parts (SSSATB) and elaborate orchestral score for the Christmas service. Bach revised it when he reused it in the Mass in B minor, changing its initial vocal scoring to SSAATB, and its meter from to C.[6][7]

Mass for the court at Dresden (1733)

In 1733, Bach composed an extended Missa for the court in Dresden, a setting of two parts of the Latin mass, the Kyrie and Gloria, scored for five vocal parts and orchestra. Later he derived the cantata Gloria in excelsis Deo, BWV 191 from this Missa in B minor, and included the Missa to his Mass in B minor, BWV 232.

Cantata Gloria in excelsis Deo, BWV 191 (around 1745)

Further information: Gloria in excelsis Deo, BWV 191

Bach used three movements of the Gloria of the Mass for the Dresden court to compose his cantata Gloria in excelsis Deo, BWV 191, possibly for a performance in 1745.[7] The cantata was composed for a Christmas service sometime in the mid-1740s (between 1743 and 1746).[8]

Mass in B minor, BWV 232 (around 1748–49)

Further information: Mass in B minor

In the last years of his life, Bach integrated the complete Mass for the Dresden court (Bach) as Kyrie and Gloria in his Mass in B minor, his only complete mass (or missa tota).[9] Scoring and structure are identical with the later work. Another part of this Mass was derived from the 1724 Sanctus for six vocal parts. Also the music of several movements of his earlier German cantatas was integrated in this mass.

Hans Georg Nägeli described the work, in 1818, as "the greatest musical art work of all times and nations."[10]

Kyrie–Gloria Masses, BWV 233–236 (1738–39?)

Lysa castle, possibly the location of performances of BWV 233 to 236

Apart from the 1733 Mass for the Dresden court (later incorporated in the Mass in B minor), Bach wrote four further Kyrie–Gloria Masses. These compositions, consisting of the first two sections of the Mass ordinary (i.e. the Kyrie and the Gloria), have been indicated as Missae breves (Latin for "short masses") or Lutheran Masses. They seem to have been intended for liturgical use, considering a performance time of about 20 minutes each, the average duration of a Bach cantata. They may have been composed around 1738/39.[11] Possibly they were written for Count Franz Anton von Sporck or performed by him in Lysá.[12]

Each of the Kyrie-Gloria Masses is in six movements: the Kyrie is one choral movement (with Kyrie/Christe/Kyrie subdivisions) and the Gloria is in five movements. The first and last movement of the Gloria are also choral, framing three arias for different voice types. The music consists mostly of parodies of earlier cantata movements.[13] Bach changed the music slightly to adjust to the Latin words, but kept the original instrumentation. The opening chorus of Es wartet alles auf dich, BWV 187, became the final movement of the Missa in G minor, Cum sancto spiritu. Occasionally he switched a voice part, for example he asked for a tenor in the Quoniam of that Missa, a parody of the soprano aria Halt ich nur fest an ihm of that cantata.

Kyrie–Gloria Mass in F major, BWV 233

For the Missa in F major, BWV 233, scored for horns, oboes, bassoon, strings, SATB, and basso continuo,[14] Bach derived most of the six movements from earlier cantatas as parodies.[5]

No. Title Voice Base
  1 Kyrie eleison – Christe eleison – Kyrie eleison Chorus Kyrie "Christe, du Lamm Gottes" in F major, BWV 233a (Good Friday, 6 April 1708?)[1]
  2 Gloria in excelsis Chorus
  3 Domine Deus Bass possibly BWV Anh. 18/6[15]
  4 Qui tollis Soprano BWV 102/3
  5 Quoniam Alto BWV 102/5
  6 Cum sancto Spiritu Chorus BWV 40/1

Kyrie–Gloria Mass in A major, BWV 234

For the Missa in A major, BWV 234, scored for flute, strings, SATB, and basso continuo, Bach parodied music from at least four earlier cantatas.[5]

No. Title Voice Base
  1 Kyrie eleison – Christe eleison – Kyrie eleison Chorus
  2 Gloria in excelsis Chorus BWV 67/6
  3 Domine Deus Bass
  4 Qui tollis Soprano BWV 179/5
  5 Quoniam Alto BWV 79/2
  6 Cum sancto Spiritu Chorus Vivace part: Opening chorus of BWV 136

In 1818 this was one of a very few of Bach's compositions for voices and orchestra to appear in print prior the Bach Gesellschaft complete edition in the second half of the 19th century.[4]

Kyrie–Gloria Mass in G minor, BWV 235

For the Missa in G minor, BWV 235, scored for oboes, strings, SATB, basso continuo, Bach derived all six movements from cantatas as parodies.[5]

No. Title Voice Base
  1 Kyrie eleison – Christe eleison – Kyrie eleison Chorus BWV 102/1
  2 Gloria in excelsis Chorus BWV 72/1
  3 Gratias Bass BWV 187/4
  4 Domine Fili Alto BWV 187/3
  5 Qui tollisQuoniam Tenor BWV 187/5
  6 Cum sancto Spiritu Chorus BWV 187/1

Kyrie–Gloria Mass in G major, BWV 236

For the Missa in G major, BWV 236, scored for oboes, strings, SATB, basso continuo, Bach derived all six movements from cantatas as parodies.[5]

No. Title Voice Base
  1 Kyrie eleison – Christe eleison – Kyrie eleison Chorus BWV 179/1
  2 Gloria in excelsis Chorus BWV 79/1
  3 Gratias Bass BWV 138/5
  4 Domine Deus Soprano, alto BWV 79/5
  5 Quoniam Tenor BWV 179/3
  6 Cum sancto Spiritu Chorus BWV 17/1

Separate movements, copies, and arrangements

Bach composed and copied separate movements on a text extracted from the Mass ordinary. He also copied and arranged larger Mass compositions (mostly Kyrie–Gloria masses).

Sanctus in C major, BWV 237 (1723?)

Bach composed the Sanctus in C major for SATB choir and orchestra, BWV 237, possibly for St. John's Day, 24 June 1723.[16]

Sanctus in D major, BWV 238 (1723)

Bach's Sanctus in D major, BWV 238, for SATB choir and orchestra, was first performed on Christmas, 25 December 1723.[17]

Sanctus in D minor, BWV 239 (copied by Bach 1738-41)

The Sanctus in D minor, BWV 239, by an unknown composer, was copied by Bach in the period from 1738 to 1741.[18] It is a composition for SATB voices, string orchestra and continuo.[19]

Sanctus in G major, BWV 240 (Bach manuscript from 1742)

Bach's manuscript of the Sanctus in G major, BWV 240, dates from 1742.[20] The authenticity of this composition for SATB choir and orchestra is however doubted.[21]

Sanctus, BWV 241, arranged from Kerll's Missa superba (Bach manuscript from 1747–48)

The Sanctus for double SATB choir and orchestra, BWV 241, is Bach's arrangement of the Sanctus of Johann Caspar Kerll's Missa superba.[22][23] Bach's manuscript of this Sanctus setting was written between July 1747 and August 1748.[24]

Kyrie–Gloria Mass in C minor after Durante, BWV 242 and Anh. 26 (Bach manuscript from 1727–32)

In the period from 1727 to 1732 Bach produced the manuscript of a Kyrie–Gloria Mass in C minor for SATB choir and orchestra, BWV Anh. 26, based on a composition by Francesco Durante. Bach's manuscript included his own setting of a "Christe eleison", BWV 242. Elsewhere in the score there are some instances of Bach adjusting the text placement.[25][26]

Masses from Bassani's Acroama missale (copied 1736–40) and Credo intonation in F major, BWV 1081 (added 1747–48)

The Acroama missale is a collection of six Mass settings by Giovanni Battista Bassani, first published in Augsburg in 1709. Between 1736 and 1740 Bach had these six Masses copied, without the Benedictus and Agnus Dei, writing himself the Credo lyrics in the score. BWV 1081 is a Credo intonation in F major for SATB choir which Bach composed in 1747–48 as an insertion in the fifth of these masses.[27]

Kyrie–Gloria Mass in A minor, BWV Anh. 24, after Pez's Missa Sancti Lamberti (Bach manuscript from 1715–17 and 1724)

BWV Anh. 24 is a Kyrie and Gloria in A minor after the Missa Sancti Lamberti by Johann Christoph Pez. The Kyrie was copied, and expanded with a melody line different from the continuo, in Weimar (1715–17). The Gloria was copied without modification in Leipzig (1724).[28]

Kyrie-Gloria Mass in C major, BWV Anh. 25 (Bach manuscript from 1740–42)

BWV Anh. 25 is a Kyrie–Gloria Mass in C major,[22] sometimes attributed to Johann Ludwig Bach:[29] copied by J. S. Bach c.1740-1742.[30]

Sanctus in F major by Johann Ludwig Krebs, BWV Anh. 27

BWV Anh. 27 is a Sanctus in F major by Johann Ludwig Krebs.[22]

Sanctus in B major, BWV Anh. 28

BWV Anh. 28 is a Sanctus in B major[22] by an unknown composer.[31]

Continuo part of a Kyrie-Gloria Mass in C minor, BWV Anh. 29 (Bach manuscript from 1714–17)

BWV Anh. 29 is a Kyrie-Gloria Mass in C minor of which only the continuo part survives,[32] found in a manuscript Bach wrote in the period from 1714 to 1717.[33]

Missa super cantilena "Allein Gott in der Höh' sei Ehr", BWV Anh. 166 (Bach manuscript from 1729)

BWV Anh. 166 is a Kyrie–Gloria Mass in E minor composed in 1716 by Johann Ludwig Bach, known as Missa super cantilena "Allein Gott in der Höh' sei Ehr", JLB 38.[34] Previously the work had also been attributed to Johann Nicolaus Bach.[35][36] The part scores were written out by J. S. Bach and others for performance in 1729.[37] In his copy, J. S. Bach added 5 bars of music at the beginning of the Gloria.[34] J. S. Bach's variant of the incipit of the Gloria is rendered in Vol. 41 of the Bach-Gesellschaft Ausgabe.[38] The text of the Gloria is partly in German: it intersperses the Latin text of the Gloria with, as cantus firmus, all four stanzas of "Allein Gott in der Höh sei Ehr" (which is itself a paraphrase of the Gloria), a Lutheran hymn by Nicolaus Decius and Joachim Slüter.[39][34][35]

Kyrie–Gloria Mass in G major, BWV Anh. 167 (Bach manuscript from 1732–35 and 1738–39)

BWV Anh. 167 is a Kyrie–Gloria Mass in G major for double SATB choir and orchestra attributed to Christoph Bernhard, Johann Philipp Krieger or David Pohle,[40] formerly also attributed to Johann Ludwig Bach and Antonio Lotti.[22] One of its 18th century manuscript copies, produced 1732–35 and 1738–39, is partially in J. S. Bach's handwriting.[41] Published and performed as J. S. Bach's in 1805.[42]

Kyrie–Gloria Mass, BNB I/P/2, after Palestrina's Missa sine nomine a 6 (Bach manuscript from c. 1742)

Around 1742 Bach arranged the Kyrie and the Gloria of of Palestrina's Missa sine nomine a 6, and copied the other movements of this Mass, up to the Agnus dei, without modification (BNB I/P/2; BWV deest). Bach transposed the Kyrie and Gloria sections from D minor to E minor and provided a colla parte orchestration for these sections, written out as performance parts for a Kyrie–Gloria Mass for SSATTB choir, and an orchestra consisting of cornets, trombones and continuo.[22][43][44]

Magnificat settings

Bach composed the Magnificat in E-flat major, BWV 243a, in 1723, and then revised it in or around 1733 to the better known Magnificat in D major, BWV 243. In the early 1740s he copied two Magnificats by other composers, expanding one of the movements of these earlier compositions.

Magnificat in E-flat major, BWV 243a (1723)

A few weeks after arriving at his new post as Thomaskantor in Leipzig in 1723, Bach presented a Magnificat for SSATB voices and orchestra at the Marian feast of Visitation (2 July)

Later that year, for Christmas, he presented this Magnificat again, with additionally four inserted hymns, partly in German and partly in Latin, related to the celebration of that feast.

Magnificat in D major, BWV 243 (1733)

Further information: Magnificat in D major, BWV 243

In 1733 Bach again presented this Magnificat, but transposed to the key of D major and in a somewhat more elaborated orchestration, for the feast of Visitation. It is this version of his Magnificat that would become the most frequently performed version.

Bach's copy and arrangement of Caldara's Magnificat in C major, BNB I/C/1 and BWV 1082 (early 1740s)

BNB I/C/1 refers to Bach's copy of a Magnificat in C major by Antonio Caldara.[45] Bach started to copy Caldara's Magnificat on 31 May 1740 and completed his manuscript, later classified as D-B Mus. ms. 2755, Fascicle 1, in 1742.[46] Bach's manuscript also contained a reworked version (i.e., expanded with two upper voices) of the "Suscepit Israel" movement in E minor: Bach's arrangement of that movement is known as BWV 1082.[22][47]

Bach's copy of Torri's Magnificat in C major, BWV Anh. 30 (c. 1742)

BWV Anh. 30 is a Magnificat in C major for SSAATTBB choir and orchestra by Pietro Torri, copied by Bach around 1742.[22][48] The composition used to be attributed to Antonio Lotti.[49]

Other adaptations of compositions originally on a Latin text

Bach parodied and arranged Latin church music by other composers to church music on a German text.

Tilge, Höchster, meine Sünden, BWV 1083, after Pergolesi's Stabat Mater (1745–47)

Tilge, Höchster, meine Sünden, BWV 1083, is Bach's adaptation of Pergolesi's 1736 Stabat Mater. Bach's parody, written around 1745–47, used a German version of Psalm 51 as text.[50]

Der Gerechte kömmt um, BC C 8, after the Tristis est anima mea motet attributed to Kuhnau (1723–50?)

Der Gerechte kömmt um, BC C 8, is a motet on a German text parodied from the Latin Tristis est anima mea motet attributed to Johann Kuhnau, Bach's predecessor as Thomaskantor in Leipzig. On stylistic grounds the arrangement, including a transposition from F minor to E minor and a colla parte orchestration, is attributed to Bach.[51][52][53]


BWV 191, Gloria in excelsis Deo 
See Gloria in excelsis Deo, BWV 191#Selected recordings
BWV 232(a), Missa/Mass in B minor 
See Mass in B minor discography
BWV 233–236, Missa in F major, A major, G minor and G major
BWV 237–242, separate Sanctus and Christe Eleison compositions
BWV 243–243a, Magnificat 
See Discography of Bach's Magnificat, Magnificat (Bach)#Reception history and Magnificat in E-flat major, BWV 243a#Selected recordings
BWV 1081–1082, Anh. 24–30
BWV Anh. 166 
See Johann Ludwig Bach#Recordings
BWV Anh. 167


  1. 1 2 Bach Digital Work 0292
  2. Spitta, Philipp. "Book V: Leipzig, 1723-1734" in Johann Sebastian Bach: his work and influence on the music of Germany, 1685–1750, translated by Clara Bell and John Alexander Fuller-Maitland, In Three Volumes, Vol. II. London, Novello & Co, 1884. p. 264
  3. Spitta 1884, p. 266 ff.
  4. 1 2 Charles Sanford Terry. "Introduction" of Johann Sebastian Bach: His Life, Art, and Work. London: Constable (1920), p. xvii
  5. 1 2 3 4 5 (German) Schmieder, Wolfgang, Alfred Dürr, and Yoshitake Kobayashi (eds.). 1998. Bach-Werke-Verzeichnis: Kleine Ausgabe (BWV2a). Wiesbaden: Breitkopf & Härtel. ISBN 978-3765102493, pp. 234–250
  6. Christoph Wolff, Bach: The Learned Musician, W.W. Norton, 2000, p. 265, ISBN 0-393-04825-X
  7. 1 2 Steinitz, Margaret. "Bach's Latin Church Music". London Bach Society. Retrieved 16 September 2010.
  8. Peter Williams, J.S. Bach: A Life in Music, Cambridge University Press, 2007, pp. 259, ISBN 978-0-521-87074-0}
  9. Laurson, Jens F. (2009). "Johann Sebastian Bach (16851750) / Missa (1733)". Retrieved 12 February 2013.
  10. "Missa in B Minor ("Kyrie" and "Gloria" of the B Minor Mass)". World Digital Library. 1733. Retrieved 2013-08-08.
  11. Christoph Wolff: Johann Sebastian Bach, 2nd edition 2007. S. Fischer, Frankfurt, ISBN 978-3-596-16739-5
  12. "Count Frantisek Antonin von Sporck". Retrieved 20 September 2010.
  13. Margaret Steinitz. "Bach's Latin Church Music". London Bach Society. Retrieved 16 September 2010.
  14. Missae Breves & Sanctus BWV 233–242 on
  15. (Italian) Alberto Basso. Frau Musika: La vita e le opere di J. S. Bach, Volume 2: Lipsia e le opere de la maturità (1723–1750). Turin: EDT, 1983. ISBN 88-7063-028-5, p. 518
  16. Bach Digital Work 0296
  17. Bach Digital Work 0297
  18. D-B Mus. ms. Bach P 13, Fascicle 3 and PL-Kj Mus. ms. Bach St 113, Fascicle 1 (olim: D-B Mus. ms. Bach St 113, Fascicle 1) at Bach Digital website
  19. Bach Digital Work 0298
  20. D-B Mus. ms. Bach P 13, Fascicle 2 and D-B Mus. ms. Bach St 115 at Bach Digital website
  21. Bach Digital Work 0299
  22. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 Kirsten Beißwenger, editor. New Bach Edition, Series II: Masses, Passions, Oratorios, Volume 9: Latin Church Music, Passions: Works with Doubtful Authenticity, Arrangements of Music from other Composers (ScoreCritical Commentary). Bärenreiter, 2000.
  23. Bach Digital Work 0300
  24. D-Cv A.V,1109,(1), 1a and 1b at Bach Digital website
  25. Bach Digital Work 0301 and 1334
  26. Boyd, Malcolm (1999). Oxford Composer Companions: J.S. Bach. Oxford, England: Oxford University Press. p. 299. ISBN 0-19-866208-4.
  27. Bach Digital Work 1267; D-B Mus. ms. 1160 at Bach Digital website
  28. Bach Digital Work 1332
  29. Bach Digital Work 1333
  30. D-LEb Mus. ms. 9 at Bach Digital website
  31. Bach Digital Work 1336
  32. Bach Digital Work 1337
  33. PL-Kj Mus. ms. Bach St 547 (olim: D-B Mus. ms. Bach St 547) at Bach Digital website
  34. 1 2 3 Mass in E minor, BWV Anh 166 at
  35. 1 2 Klaus Hofmann (editor). Johann Nikolaus Bach: Missa brevis Allein Gott in der Höh sei Ehr. Carus Verlag, 1976 (21993)
  36. Geiringer, Karl and Irene. The Bach Family: Seven Generations of Creative Genius, footnote p. 117. New York: Oxford University Press, 1954.
  37. Bach Digital Work 1477
  38. Alfred Dörffel (editor). Bach-Gesellschaft Ausgabe Vol. 41: Kirchenmusikwerke. Ergänzungsband Breitkopf & Härtel, 1894. p. 276
  39. Maria Zadori, Lena Susanne Norin, Guy de Mey, Klaus Mertens, Veronika Winter, Gundula Anders, Hans Jörg Mammel, Hans-Joachim Weber, Annette Schneider, Rheinische Kantorei, Das Kleine Konzert and Hermann Max (conductor). Johann Ludwig Bach: Trauermusik (für Soli, Doppelchor, 2 Orchester). Capriccio, 2011
  40. Bach Digital Work 1478
  41. D-B Mus. ms. Bach P 659 at Bach Digital website
  42. Alfred Dörffel. "Statistik der Concerte im Saale des Gewandhauses zu Leipzig" p. 3, in Geschichte der Gewandhausconcerte zu Leipzig vom 25. November 1781 bis 25. November 1881: Im Auftrage der Concert-Direction verfasst. Leipzig, 1884.
  43. Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina Missa sine nomine a 6 at
  44. Bach Digital Work 1676; D-B Mus. ms. 16714 (olim: D-B Mus. ms. Bach P 995) at Bach Digital website
  45. Bach Digital Work 8841
  46. D-B Mus. ms. 2755, Fascicle 1 (olim: D-B Mus. ms. Bach P 977) at Bach Digital website
  47. Bach Digital Work 1268; D-Bsa SA 301, Fascicle 1 and Fascicle 2 at Bach Digital website
  48. Bach Digital Work 1338; D-B Mus. ms. Bach P 195 at Bach Digital website
  49. Magnificat in C major BWV Anh 30 at
  50. Bach Digital Work 1269
  51. Bach Digital Work 1532
  52. Morton, Wyant (1992). Questions of authenticity in three motets attributed to Johann Sebastian Bach (Thesis) (PDF). University of Arizona.
  53. "Der Gerechte kömmt um", No. 39 of D-B Mus. ms. 8155 (i.e., as included in the Wer ist der, so von Edom kömmt pasticcio) at Berlin State Library website
  54. "Missae Breves & Sanctus BWV 233-242 Recordings - Part 1". Retrieved 20 September 2010.
  55. 1 2 3 Mona Spägele, Harry Van Berne, Stephan Schreckenberger, Christiane Iven, Bremen Baroque Orchestra, Alsfelder Vocal Ensemble, Gesualdo Consort, etc. and Wolfgang Helbich (conductor). The Sacred Apocryphal (8-CD Set) CPO, 2014

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