Hallelujah (Leonard Cohen song)

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Single by Leonard Cohen
from the album Various Positions
Released December 1984
Recorded June 1984
Length 4:36
Label Columbia
Writer(s) Leonard Cohen
Producer(s) John Lissauer
Various Positions track listing
"Night Comes On"
"The Captain"

"Hallelujah" is a song written by Canadian recording artist Leonard Cohen, originally released on his album Various Positions (1984). Achieving little initial success, the song found greater popular acclaim through a cover by John Cale, which inspired a cover by Jeff Buckley. Buckley's version is the most enduringly popular and critically acclaimed cover of the song to date. It is the subject of the book The Holy or the Broken: Leonard Cohen, Jeff Buckley & the Unlikely Ascent of "Hallelujah" (2012) by Alan Light. In a New York Times review of the book, Janet Maslin praises the book and the song, noting that "Cohen spent years struggling with his song 'Hallelujah.' He wrote perhaps as many as 80 verses before paring the song down."[1]

Following its increased popularity after being featured in the film Shrek (2001),[2][3] many cover versions have been performed by many and various singers, both in recordings and in concert, with over 300 versions known.[4] The song has been used in film and television soundtracks and televised talent contests.

Musical composition and lyrical interpretation[edit]

John Cale selected the verses by Leonard Cohen which most covers have since followed. First recorded by Cale in 1991 for the Cohen tribute album I'm Your Fan. John Cale's version is used in the film Shrek.

From the album Grace released in 1994. In 2007, Sony BMG rereleased the album (subtitle "The Legacy Edition") with a live music video of the song.

Different in style, Allison Crowe's single-take recording, from Tidings, released in 2003, is among a new generation of interpretations.

Rufus Wainwright recorded a version similar to Cale's, also on piano.

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"Hallelujah", in its original version, is in 12/8 time, which evokes both waltz and gospel music. Written in the key of C major, the chord progression matches lyrics from the song: "goes like this, the fourth, the fifth, the minor fall, and the major lift": C, F, G, A minor, F.[5]

Cohen wrote around 80 draft verses for "Hallelujah", with one writing session at the Royalton Hotel in New York where he was reduced to sitting on the floor in his underwear, banging his head on the floor.[6] His original version, as recorded on his Various Positions album, contains several biblical references, most notably evoking the stories of Samson and traitorous Delilah from the Book of Judges ("she cut your hair") as well as the adulterous King David and Bathsheba ("you saw her bathing on the roof, her beauty in the moonlight overthrew you").[5][7]

Following his original 1984 studio-album version, Cohen performed the original song on his world tour in 1985, but live performances during his 1988 and 1993 tours almost invariably contained a quite different set of lyrics with only the last verse being common to the two versions. Numerous singers mix lyrics from both versions, and occasionally make direct lyric changes, such as Rufus Wainwright, a Canadian-American singer, substituting "holy dark" and Allison Crowe, a Canadian singer-songwriter, substituting "Holy Ghost" for Cohen's "holy dove".

Cohen's lyrical poetry and his view that "many different hallelujahs exist" is reflected in wide-ranging covers with very different intents or tones, allowing the song to be "melancholic, fragile, uplifting [or] joyous" depending on the performer:[5] The Welsh singer-songwriter John Cale, the first person to record a cover version of the song (in 1991), promoted a message of "soberness and sincerity" in contrast to Cohen's dispassionate tone;[5] The cover by Jeff Buckley, an American singer-songwriter, is more sorrowful and was described by Buckley as "a hallelujah to the orgasm";[5][8] Crowe interpreted the song as a "very sexual" composition that discussed relationships;[5] Wainwright offered a "purifying and almost liturgical" interpretation;[5] and Guy Garvey of the British band Elbow made the hallelujah a "stately creature" and incorporated his religious interpretation of the song into his band's recordings.[5]


Chart (1985–2014) Peak
Austria (Ö3 Austria Top 40)[9] 67
Netherlands (Single Top 100)[10] 27
Sweden (Sverigetopplistan)[11] 16
Switzerland (Schweizer Hitparade)[12] 66
UK Singles (Official Charts Company)[13] 36

Cover versions[edit]

Since 1991, "Hallelujah" has been performed by a wide variety of singers: over 300, and in various languages.[4] Statistics from the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA); the Canadian Recording Industry Association; the Australian Recording Industry Association; and the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry show that, by late 2008, more than five million copies of the song sold in CD format.[citation needed] It has been the subject of a BBC Radio documentary and been in the soundtracks of numerous films and television programs.[14] Different interpretations of the song may include different verses, out of the over 80 verses Cohen originally wrote.[15]

In an April 2009 CBC Radio interview, Cohen said that he finds the number of covers of his song "ironic and amusing" given that when he first wrote it, his record company wouldn't put it out. However, he now thinks the song could benefit from a break in exposure: "I was just reading a review of a movie called Watchmen that uses it and the reviewer said – 'Can we please have a moratorium on "Hallelujah" in movies and television shows?' And I kind of feel the same way...I think it's a good song, but I think too many people sing it."[16][17] In early 2012, during interviews advancing his latest album, Old Ideas, and more touring, Cohen says that he's not tired of the song being covered: "There's been a couple of times when other people have said can we have a moratorium please on 'Hallelujah'? Must we have it at the end of every single drama and every single Idol? And once or twice I've felt maybe I should lend my voice to silencing it but on second thought no, I'm very happy that it's being sung."[18]

John Cale[edit]

John Cale's cover first appeared on I'm Your Fan (1991), a Leonard Cohen tribute album, and later on his live album Fragments of a Rainy Season (1992). Cale's version has vocals, piano, and lyrics that Cohen had only performed live. Cale had watched Cohen perform the song and asked Cohen to send him the lyrics.[19] Cohen then faxed Cale fifteen pages of lyrics. Cale claims that he "went through and just picked out the cheeky verses."[15]

Cale's version forms the basis of most subsequent performances, including Cohen's performances during his 2008–2009 world tour. It was the version used in the film Shrek (2001) (although it is Rufus Wainwright's version that appears on the soundtrack album).[5][19] It also appears on the first soundtrack album for the TV series Scrubs.[20][21]

Jeff Buckley[edit]

Single by Jeff Buckley
from the album Grace
Released 2007
Recorded Late 1993–94, at Bearsville Studios, Bearsville, New York
Length 6:53
Label Columbia
Writer(s) Leonard Cohen
Jeff Buckley singles chronology
"Forget Her"
Grace track listing
"So Real"
"Lover, You Should've Come Over"

Jeff Buckley, inspired by Cale's earlier cover, recorded one of the most acclaimed versions of "Hallelujah" for his only complete album, Grace, in 1994. Later, in 2007 it was released as single.

Critical reception[edit]

In 2004, Buckley's version was ranked number 259 on Rolling Stone's "The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time".[8] The same year Time called Buckley's version "exquisitely sung," observing "Cohen murmured the original like a dirge, but ... Buckley treated the ... song like a tiny capsule of humanity, using his voice to careen between glory and sadness, beauty and pain... It's one of the great songs."[22]

In September 2007, a poll of fifty songwriters conducted by the magazine Q listed "Hallelujah" among the all-time "Top 10 Greatest Tracks" with John Legend calling Buckley's version "as near perfect as you can get. The lyrics to 'Hallelujah' are just incredible and the melody's gorgeous and then there's Jeff's interpretation of it. It's one of the most beautiful pieces of recorded music I’ve ever heard."[23] In July 2009, the Buckley track was ranked number three on the 2009 Triple J Hottest 100 of All Time, a listener poll held every decade by the Australian radio station Triple J."[24]

On April 2, 2014 it was announced that Buckley's version of the song will be inducted into the Library of Congress's National Recording Registry.[25]

Commercial performance[edit]

Buckley's version was not an instant hit, nor did Buckley live to see the full measure of the reception his recording would ultimately have; he died in 1997. The album on which it appeared did not go Gold in the U.S. until 2002, nine years after its release. In fact, like Cohen's original, the Buckley version was not released as a single, until much later, and it didn't chart until 2006, posthumously for Buckley. In March of that year, Buckley had his first national Top 10 bestseller when "Hallelujah" was number seven in Norway. In 2007 it made the top 3 on the Swedish charts. In March 2008 it topped Billboard's Hot Digital Songs in the U.S. after a performance of the song by Jason Castro in the seventh season of American Idol.[26][27][28] The sudden resurgence of interest provided both Gold and Platinum status, the RIAA certifying the digital track on 22 April 2008.[29] It has sold 1,144,000 digital copies in the US as of May 2010.[30] It also hit number one in France in March 2008.

Usage in media[edit]

The Buckley version has been widely used in film and television dramas, including the series The West Wing,[22] Crossing Jordan,[22] Without a Trace,[22] The O.C.,[22] House, Cold Case, Dirt, Criminal Minds, ER, Third Watch,[22] Ugly Betty and LAX,[22] and the films Feast of Love, The Edukators, Vinterkyss and Lord of War.[5] "Hallelujah can be joyous or bittersweet, depending on what part of it you use", Time quoted Buckley's publisher as saying, and the magazine opined that its liberal use in some cases was "a tacit admission that neither the writers nor the actors could convey their characters' emotions as well as Buckley."[22]

On April 20, 2013, Buckley's version of the song was played at Fenway Park during a tribute honoring the victims of the Boston Marathon Bombings before the Red Sox played their first home game following the tragedy.[31]

Rufus Wainwright[edit]

Canadian-American musician and singer Rufus Wainwright had briefly met Jeff Buckley and recorded a tribute to him after his 1997 death. That song, "Memphis Skyline", referenced Buckley's version of "Hallelujah", which Wainwright would later record, though using piano and a similar arrangement to Cale's. Wainwright's version was included on the album Shrek: Music from the Original Motion Picture, although it was Cale's version that was used in the film itself.[19] The Shrek soundtrack, containing Wainwright's cover, was certified Double Platinum in the United States in 2003 as selling over two million copies.

Rufus Wainwright, his sister Martha Wainwright, and Joan Wasser performed the song in the film Leonard Cohen: I'm Your Man.


Chart (2007–10) Peak
UK Singles (Official Charts Company)[55] 100
US Rock Digital Songs (Billboard)[56] 34

k.d. lang[edit]

In 2004, k.d. lang recorded a version of "Hallelujah" on her album Hymns of the 49th Parallel. She has since sung it at several major events, such as at the Canadian Juno Awards of 2005,[57] where it "brought the audience to its feet for a two-minute ovation."[58] Lang also sang it at the 2006 Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame when Cohen was inducted into the Hall of Fame.[59] Cohen's partner, singer Anjani Thomas, said: "After hearing K.D. Lang perform that song at the Canadian Songwriter's Hall of Fame in 2006 we looked at each other and said, 'well, I think we can lay that song to rest now! It's really been done to its ultimate blissful state of perfection'."[60] Lang sang it at the opening ceremony of the 2010 Winter Olympic Games in Vancouver, before a claimed TV audience of three billion.[61]

Espen Lind featuring Kurt Nilsen, Alejandro Fuentes and Askil Holm[edit]

Single by Espen Lind featuring Kurt Nilsen, Alejandro Fuentes and Askil Holm
from the album Hallelujah – Live
Released 2006
Format Digital download
Genre Folk
Label Universal Records
Writer(s) Leonard Cohen
Espen Lind singles chronology
"Million Miles Away"
"The Boys of Summer"
Music video
"Hallelujah" on YouTube

In 2006 the Norwegian quartet of Espen Lind, Kurt Nilsen, Alejandro Fuentes and Askil Holm released a cover of the song. After debuting at number 8 on the Norwegian VG-lista, the single reached number 1 in January 2007.[71] The song remained listed on the Norwegian Top 20 for 37 (non-consecutive) weeks between 2006 and 2007.[72]

The song also appears on the 2006 album Hallelujah Live, credited to Espen Lind with Kurt Nilsen, Alejandro Fuentes and Askil Holm, which also reached the top of the Norwegian albums chart.[73]


Chart (2006) Peak
Norway (VG-lista)[74] 1

Alexandra Burke[edit]

Single by Alexandra Burke
from the album Overcome
B-side "Candyman" (Live on The X Factor)
"Without You" (Live on The X Factor)
Released 17 December 2008
Recorded 2008
Genre R&B
Length 3:39
Label Syco
Writer(s) Leonard Cohen
Producer(s) Quiz & Larossi
Alexandra Burke singles chronology
"Bad Boys"
Music video
"Hallelujah" on YouTube

Alexandra Burke, the winner of the fifth series of the reality television show The X Factor, released a condensed cover version of the song as a prize for her victory. It reached Christmas number one on the UK Singles Chart on 21 December 2008.[75]


The release of Burke's cover created interest in the previous versions of the song, including a Buckley fan campaign to take Buckley's cover to the top of the Christmas chart and therefore deny Burke the top spot.[76][77] The campaign was fuelled by Buckley fans' dislike of The X Factor's commercialism and the song's arrangement,[78][79] as well as their desire to introduce younger people to Buckley's version.[80] Burke herself was not enamoured of the choice of song, remarking "It just didn't do anything for me."[79]

Commercial performance[edit]

Burke's version broke a European sales record after selling over 105,000 digital downloads in just one day, breaking the previous record set by Leona Lewis.[81] The song sold 576,000 copies in its first week, becoming the fastest-selling single released by a woman in the United Kingdom and the 2008 Christmas number one, while Buckley's cover charted at number two and Cohen's original version at number 36.[75]

On 28 December 2008, the UK Singles Chart listed Burke's version as the biggest selling single of the year,[81][82] with NME announcing sales of over 1 million copies since its release.[83] It has sold 1.28 million as of December 2014, making it the biggest selling X Factor winner's single to date.[84]


Chart (2008) Peak
Austria (Ö3 Austria Top 40)[85] 53
European Hot 100 Singles[86] 6
Ireland (IRMA)[87] 1
UK Singles (Official Charts Company)[88] 1


Region Certification Sales/shipments
United Kingdom (BPI)[89] 2× Platinum 1,291,000[84]

^shipments figures based on certification alone

Other cover versions[edit]

Bob Dylan was among the first to perform Cohen's song in concert with his earliest noted performance being in Montreal on 8 July 1988.[90] Other notable singers who have covered "Hallelujah" include Brandi Carlile, Willie Nelson, Tim Minchin, Alter Bridge (Myles Kennedy) and Bono. Bono's version, which is mostly spoken, was included in Tower of Song, an all-star tribute to Cohen in 1995. Bon Jovi has covered the song several times in concert, including on their 2008 Live at Madison Square Garden DVD.[91] Nerdore Rapper Beefy recorded a version in 2005 as a B-Side to his first album The Whitesican EP that was later released in his Pale By Comparison compilation. British singer Kathryn Williams performed the song at an open-air concert in Regent's Park,[92] and later released it on her 2004 album Relations.[5] English songwriter and singer Imogen Heap covered it as well.[93] Progressive rock recording artist Kevin Max covered it on his album Between the Fence & the Universe (2004). In 2005 blues singer and guitarist Popa Chubby released Big Man Big Guitar containing a live version. Rea Garvey sang it on the soundtrack to the German romantic comedy Barfuss.[94] Paramore covers it as an introduction to their own song of the same title in their live album The Final Riot!.[95]

International group Il Divo released a Spanish-language adaptation with different lyrics on their album The Promise (2008), which topped the charts in the UK. The song was performed by recording artist Damien Rice at the 2008 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductions when Cohen was inducted. That same year Welsh mezzo-soprano Katherine Jenkins recorded a classical-crossover version for her album Sacred Arias.[90] Kate Voegele performed it in character as Mia Catalano in the U.S. teen drama One Tree Hill. Also appearing on an album, her version made the Hot 100 Billboard charts and reached number 53 in the UK shortly after airing of the episode there.[96] Also in 2008, the Welsh band Brigyn released a version in Welsh.[97] The following year, Yasmin Levy's album, Sentir, included a Ladino cover described by the Green Pear Review as "almost a Sephardic fado", and very positively discussed in the leonardcohenforum.

The song was covered by Jason Castro, an American Idol season 7 contestant, on 4 March 2008. His performance was well received by the judges,[98] and it propelled Jeff Buckley's version of the song to the top of the Billboard digital song chart.[26][27] His version was included in his self titled debut album and his second studio album, Who I Am. Since then the song has become a favorite of reality singing show contestants, becoming a hit for the winner of the fifth series of X Factor, Alexandra Burke. Unreleased versions of "Hallelujah" sung by other of the show's finalists, Diana Vickers, Eoghan Quigg, and JLS, have also leaked on the Internet. Lisa Hordijk, winner of the 2009 Dutch X Factor released "Hallelujah" as her debut single, which went double platinum and remained at the top of the Dutch charts for ten weeks.[99] In May 2010 on Australia's Got Talent a version sung by 15-year-old Bobby Andonov led judge Dannii Minogue to declare, "Bobby, I have heard so many versions of that song, that is now my favourite version of that song and you can print that tomorrow".[100] The song was also covered by Brian Melo during the final performance round of the fifth season of Canadian Idol in 2007; Melo would go on to win the title.

A 2009 hit by Orthodox Jewish singer Ohad Moskowitz, "Bo'i Kala", featuring the words of the traditional tune accompanying a Jewish bride to the chuppah, is a musical adaptation of "Hallelujah".[101][102]

On 16 April 2010, the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra and the Richard Eaton Singers conducted by Jack Everly premiered a new arrangement for orchestra and chorus by Claude Lapalme.[103] Also in 2010, the Maccabeats of Yeshiva University released Voices from the Heights, with an a cappella version with the words of the Jewish liturgy "Lecha Dodi". On 4 August, YouTube cover artists Michael Henry and Justin Robinett uploaded their cover. Tangerine Dream also covered the song in their 2010 album Under Cover – Chapter One. Neil Diamond recorded it for his 2010 album, Dreams. Progressive metal band Pain of Salvation performed it live several times; it is on the live album Ending Themes (On the Two Deaths of Pain of Salvation). The Swedish singer Ulf Lundell has also contributed to a cover, titled "halleluja". A video of the song was filmed in Toronto, Canada in December 2010 by filmmaker Greg Riccio Jr. supporting the Free Hugs Campaign to promote random acts of kindness.[104]

German metal guitarist Axel Rudi Pell released a cover of the song on his album The Ballads IV and as a single in 2011. Steven Page performed the song live at the state funeral of Canadian Opposition Leader Jack Layton on 27 August 2011.[105] The Swiss pop rock singer Bastian Baker released a cover in 2012, which charted in Switzerland and France.

Marcy Playground did a cover for the song for the album Lunch, Recess & Detention in 2012.

Canadian recording artist Allison Crowe recorded a critically praised version of "Hallelujah" in a single take for her album Tidings (2003). Crowe also performed the song for a national television special broadcast annually across Canada each year from 2003 through 2008.[5] In May 2012 Canada's Royal Winnipeg Ballet presented the World Premiere of The Doorway – Scenes from Leonard Cohen, created and choreographed by Jorden Morris – with "Hallelujah" performed by Allison Crowe (voice and piano) and ballerinas Sophia Lee and Jo-Ann Gudilin dancing alternate dates."[106]

The "Maltese tenor," Joseph Calleja, performed it as a duet with Ronan Keating during Calleja's annual concert for an audience of thousands at The Granaries, Floriana on Saturday, 7 July 2012.[107]

On the third season of the American version of The Voice, contestant Nicole Nelson sang "Hallelujah" in the "Blind Audition" stages, and all four coaches selected Nelson for their team. Later in the season, the show recorded a shortened version in honor of the victims of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting. All four coaches — Adam Levine, Blake Shelton, CeeLo Green and Christina Aguilera — performed, with hosts Carson Daly and Christina Milian along with the show contestants singing background vocals. Each person in the ensemble held up a card that displayed the name and age of one of the people lost in the tragedy.[108]

American entertainer Adam Sandler performed an off-color parody of "Hallelujah" in December 2012 at Madison Square Garden in New York City as part of 12-12-12: The Concert for Sandy Relief. Sandler's version contained numerous references to Hurricane Sandy and contemporary events in local culture, sports and politics.[109]

In 2013, Straight No Chaser covered the song on their Under the Influence album.[110]

South African singer Karen Zoid released a version as a tribute to former South African president Nelson Mandela in December 2013.[111] The South African Idol winner Elvis Blue also recorded a version on Idols Top 10 Christmas Album.[112]

Irish-born priest Father Ray Kelly was officiating a wedding at Oldcastle church in Meath, Ireland in March, 2014 when he decided to surprise the couple, Chris and Leah O'Kane, performing a version with lyrics written for the occasion. The video went viral on YouTube.[113]

Hong Kong singer, G.E.M., covered the song on her X.X.X touring concert in 2013 and subsequently released a live recording on the tour album.[114]

In 2014 Maltese child singer Veronica Rotin, covered this on her debut album Veronica Rotin as a duet with her elder sister Kelly.[115] Peter Hollens covered the song with Jackie Evancho on his 2014 eponymous album and on a single that reached No. 4 on Billboard's Classical Digital Songs chart.[116]

On 31 May 2015, a 167-piece operatic choir Côr Glanaethwy sang a rendition in Welsh in the final of Britain's Got Talent (series 9).[117] They came third in the competition.[118]

December 31st, 2015 The Athens Georgia-based Widespread Panic played a stirring cover live at the Fabulous Fox Theatre in Atlanta, GA. to close the first of three sets ringing in the New Year. [119] Their moving rendition of Hallelujah was one of 5 songs never before performed [120] and was met with stunning acclaim by all those in attendance.[121]

Accolades and achievements[edit]

  • The BBC commemorated the 25th anniversary of the first recording with an hour-long radio documentary, The Fourth, The Fifth, The Minor Fall, in which the song's history and numerous cover versions were presented and discussed.[5]
  • It was named one of the Top Ten Greatest Tracks of all time in a poll of songwriters conducted by the British music magazine Q.[122]
  • It was listed as one of the 500 greatest songs by Rolling Stone magazine.[8]
  • In the February 2009 issue of Blender, "Hallelujah" was named that month's "Greatest Song Ever" (a monthly feature).[123]
  • In 2005, "Hallelujah" was named the tenth-greatest Canadian song of all time in Chart magazine's annual readers' poll.
  • On 21 December 2008, "Hallelujah" became the first song in 51 years[75] to be numbers 1 and 2 on the UK Singles Chart; The X Factor winner Alexandra Burke's and American singer Jeff Buckley's covers were the two highest-selling songs in the week beginning 15 December 2008. Leonard Cohen's version was number 36 in the same chart.[124]
  • Pulitzer Prize-winning author Geraldine Brooks took the title of her 2015 novel about King David, The Secret Chord from this song.[125]

Other charted versions[edit]

Covering Artist(s) Year Peak chart positions Certifications
Bon Jovi 2008 29 177
Kate Voegele 53 68
Lisa Lois 2009 99 1
Justin Timberlake and Matt Morris feat. Charlie Sexton 2010 22 25 31 5 37 8 10 91 13
Natalia and Gabriel Ríos 1 6 81
Karise Eden 2012 2 35
Bastian Baker[A] 55 18 24
Matthew Schuler 2013 40
Xavier Naidoo 2014 20 36
"—" denotes releases that did not chart.
  • A ^ Bastian Baker's version of "Hallelujah" did not enter the Ultratop 50, but peaked at number 5 on the Wallonia Ultratip chart, which acts as a 50-song extension to the Ultratop 50.[142]


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  126. ^ Peak positions on the Australian ARIA Singles chart:
  127. ^ Peak positions on the Ö3 Austria Top 40 chart:
  128. ^ Peak positions on the Belgian Ultratop 50 Flanders chart:
  129. ^ Peak positions on the Belgian Ultratop 50 Wallonia chart:
  130. ^ Peak chart positions on the Billboard Canadian Hot 100:
  131. ^ Peak positions on the Danish Tracklisten:
  132. ^ Peak positions on the European Hot 100 Singles chart:
  133. ^ Peak positions on the French Singles Chart:
  134. ^ Peak chart positions on the Dutch Single Top 100:
  135. ^ Peak chart positions on the New Zealand Singles Chart:
  136. ^ Peak chart positions on the Swedish Singles Chart:
  137. ^ Peak positions on the Swiss Singles Chart:
  138. ^ Peak chart positions on the UK Singles Chart:
  139. ^ Peak chart positions on the US Billboard Hot 100:
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Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]