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The melodies of the Three Bach Chorales were not actually composed by Johann Sebastian Bach. Most if not all were in current usage in the Lutheran church; in turn these and the other several hundred tunes came from a variety of sources within and outside the church. It is what Bach did with these tunes, harmonizing them in clear, even simple ways that are astounding when performed or heard.
The titles in the original German and most common English versions are: I. O Haupt voll Blut und Wunden / O Sacred Head Now Wounded; II. Kein Stündlein geht dahin / No Brief Hour Vanishes; and III. Alles is an Gottes Segen / Everything is in God's Blessing.
The text of the first chorale is a translation by Paul Gerdardt (1607-1676) of a medieval Latin poem. The tune, originally written by Hans Leo Hassler (1564-1612), was later adapted to fit Gerhardt's text. Bach in turn arranged the tune to use in the St. Matthew Passion, as well as in the Christmas Oratorio and a cantata. It is interesting to note that in the 20th century singer/songwriter Paul Simon used the tune, mostly as harmonized by Bach, as the basis for his song American Tune.
The composer of the second chorale melody is unknown, but the earliest appearance of the tune was in 1698. In 1736, Breitkopf published it as part of a collection of 954 tunes harmonized by Bach with figured bass (melody line, bass line, and numbers and other symbols to indicate the harmonies). The harmonizaiton here is by the arranger, following Bach's figured bass notations.
The melody of the last chorale is by Johann Löhner (1645-1705), as adapted with the current text for the Harmonischer Lieder-Schatz (1738). It was later harmonized by J.S. Bach, although it is unclear whether it was for a specific larger work.
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