Chor der Engel, D 440

Choir of angels

(Poet's title: Chor der Engel)

Set by Schubert:

  • D 440

Text by:

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Text written circa 1800.  First published 1808.

Part of  Goethe: Faust

Chor der Engel

Christ ist erstanden!
Freude dem Sterblichen,
Den die verderblichen,
Schleichenden, erblichen
Mängel umwanden.

Choir of angels

Christ has risen!
Joy to anyone who is mortal,
To anyone bound in corruption,
To anyone whose insidious, hereditary
Failings bind them.

Themes and images in this text:

JoyKnots and bondsResurrection

This chorus comes at the end of the opening scene of Goethe’s Faust (after the Prologues). Faust has been battling with a sense that his projects can never succeed and is on the verge of suicide, when he hears this chorus announcing the resurrection of Christ: Easter Sunday is beginning.

The twisted, convoluted phrases about the state of fallen humanity before the redemption brought about by Christ are the result of Goethe bringing together two (perhaps irreconcilable) metaphors used in traditional theology to explain the Fall of Man and the nature of the Atonement. On one level, humans are presented as having been shackled or bound up. Sin has tied us up and Christ’s death and resurrection represent the breaking of the chains: we are now free to step out from the chains of slavery and be what we always should have been. This is the tradition of ‘Liberation’ Theology. Phrases like ‘corrupt’ and ‘insidious’ come from another tradition, though. Here the stress is on the sin that is inherent in us even before we are born. As children of Adam and Eve, in this view, we have a hereditary tendency to sin and to rebel against God’s commands. Only a total rebirth of our natures can remove this taint of sin. Christ’s risen body is evidence that human genes can be ‘edited’ and restored to health. We can be reborn in him as a result of his death and resurrection.

Faust is attracted by both metaphors. He wants to be healed, and he also wants to be released. The drama that is about to begin will show how Mephistopheles manages to corrupt and shackle someone based on an offer to fulfil these desires.

Confirmed by Peter Rastl with Schubert’s probable source, Theater von Goethe. Erster Theil. Faust. Neueste Auflage. Wien 1816. Bey B. Ph. Bauer page 43; with Goethe’s Werke, Vollständige Ausgabe letzter Hand, Zwölfter Band, Stuttgart und Tübingen, in der J.G.Cottaschen Buchhandlung, 1828, pages 44-47; and with Faust. Eine Tragödie von Goethe, Tübingen, in der J.G.Cotta’schen Buchhandlung, 1808, pages 53-56.

To see an early edition of the text, go to page 43 [53 von 256] here: