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Dialogue Cantatas

BCML Discussion 2014: Dialogue, Chorale Cantatas

William Hoffman wrote (April 4, 2014):
To: Members of the Bach Cantatas Mailing List: Dialogue and Chorale Cantatas with General Topics are The Order of Discussion, Part 16, Year 2014 4th Cycle, posted at Active participation of members, existing and new, is encouraged. A wealth of materials, including Details and a complete, up-to-date Discography with featured audio and video recordings is part of each week's discussion of one vocal work.

William Hoffman
Discussion Leader df (de-facto)


Fear/Hope question

Uri Golomb wrote (April 8, 2014):
In cantatas 60 and 66, there are dialogues between "Furcht" (fear) and "Hoffnung" (Hope). Are there any other cantatas, besides these two, in which these particular allegorical figures are represented? Also, do any of you know of pre-Bachian precedents for such dialogues?

Peter Smaill wrote (April 8, 2014):
[To Uri Golonb] Certainly the use of allegorical figures in the Baroque predates BWV 60 and 66- the obvious case being Handel's Triumph of Time and Truth, which started its long compositional history in 1707 from a libretto by Cardinal Pamphili- "Il trionfo del Tempo e il Disinganno". In this the figures of Beauty, Pleasure, Time and Truth contend : the conclusion being the triumph of verity over pleasure, and the conversion of the beauty-figure, Bellezza, to virtue.

The century-old tradition of musical moral drama begins with Cavallieri's "Rappresentatione di anima e di Corpo." Bach's librettists' choice of Hope and Fear casts the dialogue into a rather Lutheran frame of mind, for it is Faith (i.e. Hope) which is triumphant over fear; particularly fear of death, a theme which Eric Chafe considers underlies the Trinity series in the whole of the first cycle, starting with BWV 20, "O Ewigkeit, du Donnerwort".

However, a precise precedent for Hope/Fear dialogues - say in Buxtehude or Schutz- does not spring to mind and further contributions to this interesting question will be appreciated, such that this mini-genre within the Cantatas is better understood.


Jesus-Soul Dialogue Cantatas & Arias

William Hoffman wrote (April 10, 2014):
Bach in his composition of so-called “Dialogue Cantatas” genre for soprano representing the Soul and bass representing Jesus Christ was following a tradition dating to early Christian and Medieval mysticism, set to music in Late Renaissance, and popular during the Baroque period as an operatic scene that found expression in the Bach family. Following and expanding on Baroque practice, Bach composed and designated a series of four sacred cantatas as Soul-Jesus Dialogues (BWV 32, 49, 57, and 58), all in the third cycle in 1726, as well as composing two earlier works. Meanhile, Bach in his sacred cantatas fashioned numerous dialogue arias and vox Christi monologue arias, ariosi, and recitatives in the manner of his Passions according to John, Matthew, and Mark.

Bach’s first extant soprano-bass dialogue chamber cantata, BWV 152, “Tritt auf die Glaubensbahn” (Step forward on the way of faith; Francis Browne English translations), closes with a Soul-Jesus imaginary love duet in 6/4 loure dance style (Weimar 1714), “How should I embrace you, most beloved of souls?” Soprano-bass Cantata 59, “Wer mich liebet, der wird mein Wort halten I,” probably was his first work in Leipzig for Pentecost Sunday 1723, opening with a soprano-bass duet quoting Jesus in the Gospel of John (14:23): “Who loves me will keep my word” (KJV) that previously quoted as a bass recitative in Cantata 172/2 in Weimar.

The six Bach dialogue cantatas for soprano and bass with small orchestra have the established form of intimate solo cantatas without choruses, having alternating arias and recitatives and mostly a single chorale, totaling usually five or six movements. Yet, within this overall plan, none of the works follows the same pattern. This is due to the particular settings of the librettist, particularly the published works of Georg Christian Lehms, 1711; Erdmann Neumeister, 1711, and Solomo Franck, 1715. Here are the six dialogue sacred cantatas in the order of the BCML Discussion and below each is its basic form.

Discussion BWV Title Event/Librettist

+This week 32 Liebster Jesu, mein Verlangen 1st Sunday after Epiphany, 1726/Lehms
1. Soprano Aria, 2. Bass Recit., 3. Bass Aria, 4. S-B Recit.-Arioso, 5. SB Aria, 6. Plain Chorale
+Apr 13 49 Ich gehe und such mit verlangen 20th Sunday after Trinity, 1726/?Picander
1. Sinfonia, 2. Bass Aria, 3. Soprano-Bass Recit-Arioso, 4. Soprano Aria, 5. SB Recit., 6. SB Aria
+April 20 57 Selig ist der Mann 2nd Day of Christmas (St. Stephens), 1725/Lehms
1. Bass Aria, 2. Soprano Recit., 3. Soprano Aria, 4. SB Recit., 5. Bass Aria, 6. SB Recit., 7. S Aria, 8. Chorale
+April 27 58 Ach Gott, wie manches Herzeleid II Sunday after New Year, 1727/Anonymous
1. Soprano-Bass Aria, 2. Bass Recit., 3. Soprano Aria, 4. Soprano Arioso, 5. Soprano-Bass Aria
+May 4 59 Wer mich liebet, I Whit Sunday (1st Day of Pentecost, 1723/Neumeister
1. Soprano-Bass Aria, 2. Soprano Recit., 3. Plain chorale, 4. Bass Aria, 5. Plain chorale
+March 11 152 Tritt auf die Glaubensbahn Sunday after Christmas, 1714/Franck
1. Sinfonia, 2. Bass Aria, 3. Bass Recit.-Arioso, 4. Soprano Aria, 5. B Recit., 6. Soprano-Bass Aria

Bach designated a fifth sacred cantata as a “Dialogue Between Fear and Hope,” BWV 60, “O Ewigkeit, du Donnerwort II,” for the 24th Sunday after Trinity 1723 in the first cycle. It uses an anonymous text with three soloists: an alto portraying Fear, a tenor as Hope, and the bass vox Christi. Here, the two allegorical figures represent the divided soul of man, having both fear and hope. Except for the closing chorale, the entire cantata is a dialogue: three movements for alto and tenor in dialogue (opening chorale aria, recitative, and aria), and an extended operatic-style scena between Fear in recitatives and the bass arioso responding in variations.

Bach’s “first great ‘Dialogue between Jesus and the Faithful Soul’” dates to 1707 in the memorial Cantata BWV 106, “Gottes Zeit is die allerbeste Zeit,” says Richard D. P. Jones in The Creative Development of Johann Sebastian Bach, Volume 1: 1695-1717.1 The alto as the Soul (Mvt. 3a) sings Psalm 31:5, “Into your hand I commit my spirit,” “an acceptance of death in the light of the New Covenent, as revealed in the previous movement,” observes Jones. The bass vox Christi replies in an extended aria (Luke 23:43), “Today you shall be with me in paradise.” The Soul replies with Luther’s Nunc dimmittis paraphrase, “With peace and joy I go to that place” with the chorale melody, “Mit Fried und Freud ich fahr dahin,” recalling “the pictorial mode of chorale treatment found,” says Jones, in Cantata 4,” “Christ lag in Todesbanden,” probably performed on Easter Sunday.

The dialogue form was quite popular in 17th century Germany, particularly among certain composers, including members of the Bach family. The Jesus-Soul dialogue “derives from the Song of Solomon where, according to Christian interpretation, the bridegroom is identified with Jesus (or God or the Holy Spirit) and the bride with the Faithful Soul (or the Church or the congregation),” says Jones in The Creative Development of Johann Sebastian Bach, Volume II: 1717-1750.2 Andreas Hammerschmidt, J. R. Ahle, and W. C. Briegel “all published collections of such [biblical epic] dialogues from 1645 onwards,” says Jones. Also, Heinrich Schütz and Buxtehude each produced six compositions.

The dialogue form “must have sounded distinctly old-fashion by the 1720s, had not Bach taken special measures to update it using operatic and concertante methods” in the “type he employed in Cycle III,” observes Jones (Volume 2, Ibid.). Two of the cantatas, BWV 57 and 32, used texts from the Lehms 1711 published cycle that have an allegorical interpretation of the events in the day’s gospel. Bach supports the texts with extended instrumental ritornellos. The other two Cantatas, BWV 49 and 58, to anonymous texts, poPicander, uses biblical quotations and chorale arias and have operatic-style love duets.

After Cantata 152 in Weimar, Bach set various vox Christi bass voice monologue arias, ariosi and recitatives, in the manner of Passion settings, usually using biblical quotations or paraphrases, in numerous sacred cantatas.3 In the dialogue arias and cantatas Bach “seems very much at home in attempting a compromise between traditional ecclesiastical and modern, secular styles,” observes Jones (Ibid. Volume 2: 218). In his liturgical oratorio- is largely responsible for Passion settings of John and Matthew Bach used both the traditional biblical narrative and the “highly secularized, theatrical Passion-oratorio cultivated by Brockes, Hunold, and others,” observes Jones. “In particular, in certain movements from both Passions, Bach adopts the dialogue format often employed by Brockes [and Picander] – a dialogue no longer between Jesus and the Soul but between the allegorical figure ‘Tochter Zion’ (Daughter Zion) and a group of ‘Die Glaubigen’ (The Faithful).

The two types of Bach Passion dialogues are the bass arias with chorus in the St. John Passion, “Eilt” (No. 24) and “Mein truer Heiland” (No. 32) and the dialogue format between the two choruses in the St. Matthew Passion, where, “in particular, the dialogue element derived from the theatrical Passion-oratorio is largely responsible for the dramatic power and immediacy of the Picander-Bach commentary on the Gospel narratve,” says Jones.

Köthen Secular Dialogue Cantatas

In the secular realm most prominent is Christian Friedrich Hunold (Menantes, 1680-1721), Köthen court poet, who wrote several documented serenade texts for Bach, published about 1718-1721. Since there was virtually no opportunity for sacred composition, Bach turned to secular celebratory serenades with poet Hunold/Menantes and fashioned mostly dialogue cantatas involving allegorical figures. These chamber one-act operas without costumes or scenery using varied dance-style arias Bach preserved and parodied in 1724 in Leipzig in four sacred cantatas for the second and third days of the feasts of Easter and Pentecost, respectively, BWV 66, 134, 173, and 184, all to new, parodied anonymous texts.

Best known is Cantata BWV 66, “Erfreuet euch, ihr Herzen” (Rejoice, you hearts), presented on Easter Monday 1724, has an anonymous text parodied from the 1718 Köthen serenade, BWV 66a, “Der Himmel dacht auf Anhalts Ruhm und Glück” (Heaven considered Anhalt’s glory and fortune). In the original Menantes text, the voice of Anhalt’s Happiness became the alto representing Weakness in 1724 and Fear in the 1731 revival, while the voice of Fame became the tenor Confidence in 1724 and Hope in 1731, says Alfred Dürr in The Cantatas of J. S. Bach.4 A bass recitative and aria (Mvts. 2 and 3) in the sacred version is presumed to be the first and second movements sung by Happiness in the 1718 serenade version, sung an octave lower, since only the Menantes text survives. Since the bass texts are not biblical quotations or paraphrases, they are not sung by the vox Christi.

The original dialogue form is preserved in Cantata 134, “Ein Herz, das seinen Jesum lebend weiß” (A heart that knows its Jesus living), for Easter Tuesday 1724, using undesignated solo alto and tenor voices. In the original music that survives virtually unchanged, BWV 134a, the alto is called Time and the tenor is called Godly Providence. The two parodied serenade dialogue texts for Pentecost Monday and Tuesday 1724 are based on anonymous original texts, post-Menantes, and have no character designations in either secular or sacred versions. Cantata 173, Erhöhtes Fleisch und Blut (Exalted flesh and blood), for Pentecost Monday has duets for soprano and bass and soprano and tenor. Cantata 184, “Erwüschtes Freudenlicht” (Longed-for light of joy), for Pentecost Tuesday, has an opening soprano-alto duet while no text survives from the original, BWV 184a, only some instrumental parts.

Only the texts of three other Menantes Köthen serenades survive, designated BWV Anh. 5-7, presumably set by Bach but not parodied in Leipzig. Cantata BWV Anh. 7, “Heut ist gewiß ein gutter Tag” (Today indeed is one fine day), is a “Pastoral Dialogue” for the shepherd-related characters: the shepherdess Sylvia, the huntsman Phillis, and the shepherd Thyrsis.

Of all Bach’s some 50 celebratory secular drammi per musica, cantatas, and serenades composed in Leipzig, only three works have designated dialogues or duets: Dramma per musica Cantata 201 with mythical

characters and, the Coffee Cantata BWV 211 and Peasant Cantata Burlesque BWV 212 with real characters. The three works are:

+BWV 201; 1729, possibly on October 1; Der Streit zwischen Phoebus und Pan: “Geschwindet, ihr wirbelnden Winde!” (The Dispute Between Phoebus and Pan: Quickly away, ye whirling winds); dramma per musica, text by Picander; six characters: Momus, Mercurius, Tmolus, Midas, Phoebus, Pan; repeated 1736-39 during the Scheibe controversy, and 1749. Cantata 201 has six recitative dialogues alternating with character arias for all six characters.

+ Cantata 211, “Schweigt stille, plaudert nicht” (Keep quiet, don’t chatter), and Cantata 212, “Mer hahn en neuen Oberkeet” (We have a new governor), two quasi-operatic comic cantatas, introduced respectively in the summer of 1734, and on August 30, 1742. These two dialogues for soprano and baritone lasting half an hour and set to Picander texts are the only secular cantatas to have people from real life as their subjects, also found in intermezzi and opera buffa, in contrast to mythological or allegorical figures. These watershed works, “already form part of the background of the German Singspiel,“ says Rudolf Eller in “Thoughts on Bach’s Leipzig Creative Years.”5 The Coffee Cantata 211 features characters Lieschen and her father, Schlendrain in three dialogue recitatives and a closing ensemble while the Peasant Cantata 212 homage work features five miniature recitative dialogues and two duets for peasant characters sung by soprano and bass.

Besides the bass monologue vox Christi arias, ariosi, and recitatives cited above, Wikipedia, , Wikipedia has identified other non-dialogue cantatas that have separate soul (three alto, one soprano) solos and vox Christi bass solos []

+Cantata 81, “Jesus schläft, was soll ich hoffen? (Jesus sleeps, what shall I hope for?), for the Fourth Sunday after Epiphany 1724 (anonymous text, ?Christian Weise Sr.). Bach expresses the questions of the anxious "soul" in a dramatic way, similar to dialogues such as in “O Ewigkeit, du Donnerwort,” BWV 60. The first (alto) aria speaks of the "sleeping", illustrated by the recorders, low registers of the strings, and long notes in the voice. The central movement 4 within a symmetrical arrangement is devoted to the bass as the vox Christi (voice of Christ). The continuo and the voice use similar material in this arioso, intensifying the words, “Ihr Kleingläubigen, warum seid ihr so furchtsam?” (Matthew 8:26; You people of little faith, why are you so fearful?).

+Cantata 159, “Sehet, wir gehn hinauf gen Jerusalem (Behold, let us go up to Jerusalem, Luke 18:31), for Quinquagesima Sunday (Last Sunday in Lent), 1729 (Picander text). Movement 1 is a dialogue of Jesus and the Soul. The soul is sung by the alto, Jesus by the bass as the vox Christi (voice of Christ). Bach achieves dramatic contrast, setting the words of Jesus as an arioso, accompanied by the continuo, the Soul's answers as a recitativo accompagnato, accompanied by the strings. The instrumentation is opposite to the treatment in the St Matthew Passion, where the words of Jesus are accompanied by the "halo" of a string quartet. In movement 2, the expressive melodic lines of the alto, “Ich folge dir nach” (I follow Thee yet) are commented by the Pchorale on the melody of “Befiehl du deine Wege.” The cantata culminates in movement 4, the vox Christi reflecting the completion of the Passion, “Es ist vollbracht” (It is accomplished, John 19:30a).

+Cantata 145, “Ich lebe, mein Herze, zu deinem Ergötzen” (I live, my heart, for your delight), for Easter Sunday 1729 (Oicander text). The music begins in a duet with obbligato violin. The tenor expresses the position of Jesus "Ich lebe, mein Herze, zu deinem Ergötzen" (I live, my heart, for your pleasure), whereas the soprano answers as the believer: "Du lebest, mein Jesu, zu meinem Ergötzen" (You live, my Jesus, for my pleasure). The movement resembles duets of Bach's secular cantatas and is possibly the parody of an unknown work.[1] It is unusual that Bach has the tenor represent the voice of Jesus.

+Cantata 172, “Erschallet, ihr Lieder” (Ring out, you songs), for Pentecost Sunday 1714 (Salomo Franck text). The cantata opens with a chorus, followed by the recitative, in which words spoken by Jesus are sung by the bass as the vox Christi (voice of Christ), “Wer mich liebet, der wird mein Wort halten” (Who loves me will keep my word, John 14:23) [see dialogue Cantata 59 above]. A bass aria with trumpets addresses the Trinity, and a tenor aria then describes the Spirit that was present at the Creation. This is followed by an intimate duet of the Soul (soprano) and the Spirit (alto), to which an oboe plays the ornamented melody of Martin Luther's hymn "Komm, Heiliger Geist, Herre Gott" and a solo cello provides the bass line. The theme of intimacy between God and Man is developed further in the following chorale, “Von Gott kömmt mir ein Freudenschein” (A joyful light from God comes to me), Stanza 4, Philip Niccolai’s “Wie schön leuchtet der Morgenstern” (How beautifully shines the morning star).

+Cantata 21, “Ich hatte viel Bekümmernis” (I had much affliction), for the Third Sunday after Trinity and “Anytime” (1714). Similar to other cantatas of that time, ideas are expressed in dialogue: in movements 7 and 8 the soprano portrays the Seele (soul), the bass, as the vox Christi, Jesus: 7. Recitative, Soprano (Soul): “Ach Jesu, meine Ruh” (Ah Jesus, my inner peace); Bass (Jesus): “O Seele sieh! Ich bin bei dir” (Oh soul,see! I am with you); 8. Duet, Soprano (Soul): “Komm, mein Jesu, und erquicke” (Come, my Jesus, and restore); Bass (Jesus): “Ja, ich komme und erquicke” (Yes, I come and restore). The style of the poetry suggests Salomon Franck as the author, as in Erschallet, ihr Lieder, erklinget, ihr Saiten! BWV 172.

Bach Family Dialogue Concerti

About 1676-79, members of the Bach Family produced thee sacred dialogue concertos that Sebastian Bach preserved in his Alt Bachisches Archiv of music from the Bach Family.6 The Johann Michael Bach (1648-1694) 1676 “Liebster Jesu, hör mein Flehen” (Dearest Jesus, hear my supplication), a Dialogue for the Second Sunday in Lent (Reminiscere), and Johann Christoph Bach (1642-1703) undesignated 1676 Dialogue, “Herr, wende dich und sei mir Gnädig” (Lord, turn and be merciful to me, Job 11:16), and an extensive and influential Bach family wedding work, Meine Freundin, du bist schön (My love, your are fair), based on the Song of Solomon.

+“Liebster Jesu, hör mein Flehen” of Johann Michael Bach is a dramatic seven-minute dialogue between Christ (bass) and the Canaanitish woman (soprano) and three intercessory disciples (alto and two tenors), supported by strings of two violins (Christ) and two violas (woman), and the disciples (double bass). Based on the Gospel for the Second Sunday in Lent, it has the solos of the woman imploring Jesus to save her possessed daughter (Matthew 15:21-28), the disciples’ repeated intercession, and Jesus responses end with a tutti chorale, “As a father takes pity on his young children,” from Johann Gramann’s “Nun lob, mein Seel, den Herren (Now praise, my Soul, the Lord). “The form of the epic dialogue in which” various “17th century composers excelled apparently did not appeal Michael,” says Karl Geiringer in The Bach Family: Seven Generations of Creative Genius.7

+“Herr, wende dich und sei mir Gnädig” of Johann Christoph Bach is an 11 ½ minute undesignated dialogue for ATTB (with 2 vn 2 va, bc) with a brief introductory sinfonia followed by biblical vocal lines using passages from Job, various Psalms, Isaiah, and 2 Corinthians 6:12. It closes with the chorale “Frisch auf mein’ Seel’, verzage nicht” (Cheer up, my soul, fear not), in NLGB No. 283, “Cross, Persecution & Challenges; Zahn melody 7578), in Orgelbüchlein No. 103 (not set). Because the Dialogue has no service designation or Gospel referece, it is possible that it is for a home devotional. “Several of the pieces by Johann Christoph use rich and daring harmonies—for instance, the successive seventh chords of the dialogue ‘Herr, wende dich und sei mir gnädig’ . . . . Here there may be a precedent for Johann Sebastian's love of harmonic exploration,” says Peter Rose in a recording review.8

+Johann Christoph’s dialogue wedding cantata, Meine Freundin, du bist schön, seems to have had a major impact on Sebastian Bach, says John Eliott Gardiner in his new Bach musical biography, BACH: Music in the Castle of Heaven.9 Particularly in Bach’s cantatas and Passions, the Book of Solomon’s “transparent erotic imagery are invariably allegorical, corralled [!!] into the service. They belong to a tradition that goes back to Origen (third century AD), which saw the church accept the male and female lovers as symbols, respectively, of Jesus and the individual Christian soul.” “The soprano-bass duet (‘Mein Freund ist mein / und ich bin sein’) from BWV 140, Wachet auf, riuft uns die Stimme, is merely the best known of several of Bach’s cantatas that treat this thjeme of the bridegroom (Jesus) eager to receive his bride (the Christian anima) in mystic union as part of a musical tradition that goes back to Palestrina and Clemens and then to Monteverdi, Grandi, and Schütz.”

Gardiner suggests that “Bach was recalling the rich subtext and multiple double-entendres of his cousin Johann Christoph’s 1679 wedding cantata,” Meine Freundin, du bist schön (My love, your are fair). Gardiner describes the cantata as an extended nuptial dialogue between bridegroom (bass) and bride (soprano) in which citations from the biblical Song of Songs (2-8) and Ecclesiastes 3 -- treated literally, topically or as poetic conceit -- are interspersed with written narrative description of the earthly lovers by Johann Ambrosius Bach. The 20-minute work is divided into three parts: The couple out strolling meet and in a duet plan an encounter in the groom’s garden. In the long chaconne scene, the woman bride a solo and then meets two companions (tenor and alto) and they accompany her to the garden where they meet the groom and the four celebrate with eat and drink. In the closing, a chorus joins the four in a song of grace.10

The cantata story reminds Gardiner of the Bach family gatherings, beginning with a chorale and including the Bach 1707 Wedding Quodlibet, BWV 524, as well as Bach’s two mature burlesques, the Coffee and Peasant Cantatas and a number of wedding cantatas. Although Bach did not compose such a nuptial dialogue, Gardiner points out that Bach in his sacred cantatas creates the allegory of the bridegroom and bride in mystic union as Jesus and the Christian soul in bass-soprano duets that show loving reciprocity and mutuality in a tradition dating to Palestrina.

The dialogue wedding cantata “holds a unique position among the works of Johann Christoph,” says Geiringer (Ibid.: 53f). It displays a robust sense of humor one is hardly led to expect from a composer of such lofty works as Ich lasse dich nicht or Der gerechte. To treat the venerated Song of Solomon, which was usually interpreted in a purely symbolic fashion, in so realistic a manner for a wedding celebration was highly unorthodox, and bound to create hilarity among the listeners.”


1 Jones, “Music to Delight the Spirit, “ “The Early Cantatas,” Part 1: The Formative Years (c.1695-c.1709) (Oxford University Press: New York: 106)
2 Jones, “Music to Delight the Spirit,” Cöthen and early Leipzig Years: 1717-29, Sacred and secular: the vocal works (New York: Oxford University Press, 2013: 171f).
3 See Wikipedia article, “Vox Christi,” for a summary of the term and uses in 31 Bach sacred cantatas in Weimar and all three church cycles, ,
4 See Dürr, The Cantatas of Johann Sebastian Bach, revised and translated by Richard D. P. Jones (New York: Oxford University Press, 2005: 277).
5 Eller article, 1975; translated by Stephen A. Crist. BACH, Vol. 21, No. 2. Summer 1990: 47.
6 Details of complete recording of the Alt Bachisches Archiv are found at BCW,, liner notes by Peter Wollny. All three Bach family works also are found in Reinhard Goebel’s recording, BCW V-2.
7 Karl Geiringer in collaboration with Irene Geiringer (London: George Allen & Unwin Ltd, 1954:44).
8 Rose review in Early Music 33.1 (2005) 141-144, on line,
9 Gardiner Bach biography, in Chapter 3, “The Bach Gene” (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 74-76).
10 A recording of the vocal concerto is found at


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