Credo in unum Deum,
Patrem omnipotentem,
Factorem caeli et terrae,
Visibilum omnium, et invisibilium.
Et in unum Dominum Jesum Christum,
Filium Dei unigentium.
Et ex Patre natum ante omnia saecula.
Deum de Deo, lumen de lumine,
Deum verum de Deo vero.
Genitum, non factum,
Consubstantialem Patri:
Per quem omnia facta sunt.
Qui propter nos homines,
Et propter nostram salutem
Descendit de caelis.
Et incarnateus est de Spiritu Sancto
Ex Maria Virgine:
Et homo factus est.
Crucifixus etiam pro nobis:
Sub Pontio Pilato passus, sepultus est.
Et resurrexit tertia die,
Secundum Scripturas.
Et ascendit in caelum:
Sedet ad dexteram Patris.
Et iterum venturus est cum gloria,
Judicare vivos et mortuos:
Cujus regni non erit finis.
Et in Spiritum Sanctum Dominum,
Et vivificantem:
Qui ex Patre Filioque procedit.
Qui cum Patre et Filio
Simul adoratur, et conglorificatur:
Qui locutus est per Prophetas.
Et unam sanctam catholicam
Et apostolicam Ecclesiam.
Confiteor unum baptisma
In remissionem peccatorum.
Et expecto ressurectionem mortuorum.
Et vitam venturi saeculi.
I believe in one God,
Father almighty,
Creator of heaven and earth,
All things seen and unseen.
And in one Lord, Jesus Christ,
The only begotten Son.
Born of the Father before all ages.
God from God, light from light,
True God from True God.
Begotten, not made,
One in being with the Father:
Through Him all things were made.
For us men.
And for our salvation
He came down from heaven.
And was incarnate by the Holy Spirit
Of the Virgin Mary:
and became man
He was crucified also for us,
Suffered under Pontius Pilate, and was buried
And the third day He rose again,
According to the Scriptures.
And ascended into heaven:
He sits at the right hand of the Father.
And He shall come again with glory
To judge both living and dead:
of His kingdom there shall be no end.
And I believe in the Holy Spirit, Lord,
and giver of life:
Who proceeds from the Father and Son.
Who with the Father and Son
is adored and glorified:
Who spoke through the Prophets.
And in one holy catholic
and apostolic Church.
I confess one baptism
For the remission of sins.
And look for the resurrection of the dead.
And the life of the world to come.

The Nicene Creed, commonly referred to as the “Credo,” contains within it all the essential elements of the Christian faith. It is by far the longest of the Ordinary texts, and consequently often the longest of the musical settings. In order to keep the music from becoming too long, composers often write music for the Credo that is syllabic (one note per syllable), rather than melismatic (many notes per syllable). Also, the number of text repetitions in the Credo are far fewer than one finds in a short text, such as in the “Kyrie,” “Benedictus,” or “Agnus Dei.” This, too, helps to control the length of the Credo. Bach divides the Credo into nine separate movements, each of which has a different “affect” to reflect the nuances of the text.

Still, the musical setting of the Credo is long, an there are many points of interest meriting discussion. The primary focus of our discussion here, then, will be the central movement, the “Crucifixus.”


Because it is often performed by itself by church choirs, this movement is arguably the most famous single movement of the Mass in B Minor.

Crucifixu etiam pro nobis: He was crucified also for us
Sub Pontio Pilato passus, et sepultus est Suffered under Pontius Pilate, and was buried

Setting only two lines of the Nicene Creed, this movement is the focus because it is at the center of the Christian belief system – that Christ was crucified, died, and was buried. (In the subsequent movement, we hear of His resurrection, which completes this tenet of Christianity.) Yet with just these few words, Bach creates a marvelous musical tapestry woven from seemingly disparate compositional and textual ideas.

The “Crucifixus” employs a popular genre of the Baroque, the ground bass. A ground bass (sometimes also called “passacaglia” or “chaconne”) was a type of piece built around a repeating bass line. The bass melody is usually heard by itself at the start of the work; in this case, the ground bass appears in the continuo line (played in all likelihood by the organ, cellos, and basses) while the strings and flutes fill in the harmonies implied by the bass line. A ground bass always has strong harmonic implications even when it stands alone; here, Bach’s scoring leaves no doubt as to the chords he intended.

This is the same bass used by Henry Purcell in “Dido’s Lament” from his opera Dido and Aeneas. Though Bach writes the bass line in E minor and Purcell in G minor, they are unmistakably the same. The minor key and overall downward movement create a lamenting feel – obviously what Purcell had intended in his setting. Bach, too, clearly intends the somber mood, since Christ hangs on the cross, then dies and is buried during this movement.

There are thirteen statements of the ground bass altogether – representing Christ and the 12 apostles, perhaps? It wouldn’t surprise me, since Bach was heavily into numerology. The first eleven statements are identical (in the bass, that is). The penultimate statement changes direction two measures from the end: instead of continuing the downward slide, this changes direction, leading back up from C-natural to C-sharp to D, which then resolves to G. This results in the movement ending in G Major, rather than E minor. Why, you might ask, since the text and music are so somber to this point? Clearly this is because Bach is anticipating the ultimate result of Christ’s death: in order to rise from the dead, he must first die, but by rising from the dead, he restores life (everlasting life, that is) to all believers.

You students of music theory might find it interesting to note (no pun intended) that it is not the bass line alone that promotes this change of key. In fact, an analysis of the supporting choral parts reveals the following pitches at the change of direction: C-sharp, G, E-flat, B-flat. This combination of pitches, creating a major triad and the interval of an augmented sixth, is knowns as a German augmented sixth chord (abbreviated Ger+6). It usually resolves with the augmented interval (here, E-flat and C-sharp) sliding outward to an octave, and leads ultimately to the dominant of a key. Bach creates this chord in order to smooth the transition into the new key for the end of the movement:

You might have noticed here that this movement ends in a VERY low range for the sopranos (they never like to sing this low!) but this, too, has its reason. The accompanying text here is “sepultus est” – He was buried. Bach writes descending choral parts to reflect the lowering of Christ’s body into the grave.

This is not the only example of word painting in this movement. As we have seen in other works by Bach, the composer pays careful attention to the text to ensure that the music is indeed reflecting the words at the moment, and the “Crucifixus” is no exception to this.

Although the “Crucifixus” is clearly the central movement of the Credo, there are so many other wonderful things to talk about in this movement. Here are some other things of note, in no particular order:

The Credo begins with a stile antico movement that is based upon an old Gregorian chant idea. Typically, in setting of the Credo during the Renaissance, a priest or cantor would sing the first four words alone and a cappella; this procedure is called “intoning,” and it serves to alert the congregation of the text which is to follow. The most common intonation, known even today in the Catholic Church, was the following:

Bach uses a transposed version of this in his setting of the Credo in the Mass in B Minor, this time with rhythms notated and with a walking bass accompaniment in the continuo. Ultimately, Bach writes more than 15 different statements of this “head motive” (the motive which begins the movement, and most subsequent vocal entrances).

Another really interesting aspect is the way that this motive sort of “criss-crosses” itself. Bach, of course, didn’t write the motive; he borrowed it from an earlier repertoire, but I can’t help think that he would have loved the imagery that motive creates: criss-crossing in a movement whose central focus is on the Crucifixion.

Movement 3 is interesting for its scoring. Bach writes this for a vocal duet (soprano and alto), which might represent the second person of the Trinity (Jesus, the Son of God). This movement is also an example of one of the many movements in the Mass in B Minor in which Bach uses a ritornello, a recurring theme in the orchestra. Bach may very well have learned this technique from Vivaldi, whose works he definitely knew.

Movement 4 is also interesting because it, too, has a criss-crossing idea in the orchestra which is present throughout the movement. This again refers to the Crucifixion, even though the text does not yet mention that event. Clearly, however, there is a connection between the incarnation (Christ’s being born) and the Crucifixion, since the latter event could not occur without the former. The vocal entrances again are imitative, with some outlining a triad – could this be another musical representation of the Trinity? The movement is surprisingly somber considering the text deals with the birth of the Lord, which we tend to represent in more pleasant terms; Bach, of course, is anticipating the resulting death of Christ, which comes in the subsequent movement (the “Crucifixus”). Finally, the violins (once again in unison) play the same criss-crossing rhythmic idea in every measure of this movement. That serves as an ostinato [a continuously repeating idea], the same principle in action in the “Crucifixus,” though in that case the repetition is both rhythmic and melodic (same pitches and rhythms throughout). Is this use of two “fixed” ideas – motives/themes which repeat without change – in back-to-back movements an indication that Christ’s fate was predetermined? He had no choice? His path was fixed? His death inevitable?

Kyrie – Gloria – Credo – Sanctus – Osanna & Benedictus – Agnus Dei