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ClassicsOnline Home » BACH, J.S.: Organ Chorales from the Leipzig Manuscript, Vol. 1
Johann Sebastian Bach (1685 - 1750)
Organ Chorales from the Leipzig Manuscript Vol. 1
Fantasia super Komm, Heiliger Geist, BWV 651
(Fantasia on Come, Holy Ghost)
An Wasserflüssen Babylon, BWV 653
By the waters of Babylon)
Schmücke, dich, o liebe Seele, BWV 654
(Deck thyself, beloved soul)
Trio super Herr Jesu Christ, dich zu uns wend, BWV 655
(Trio on Lord Jesus Christ, turn to us)
O Lamm Gottes, unschuldig, BWV 656
(O Lamb of God, guiltless)
Nun danket alle Gott, BWV 657
Now thank we all our God)
Von Gott will ich nicht lassen, BWV 658
(From God I will not part)
Toccata, Adagio and Fugue in C Major, BWV 564
Johann Sebastian Bach was a member of a family that had for generations been occupied in music. His sons were to continue the tradition, providing the foundation of a new style of music that prevailed in the later part of the eighteenth century. Johann Sebastian Bach himself represented the end of an age, the culmination of the Baroque in a magnificent synthesis of Italian melodic invention, French rhythmic dance forms and German contrapuntal mastery.
Born in Eisenach in 1685, Bach was educated largely by his eldest brother, after the early death of his parents. At the age of eighteen he embarked on his career as a musician, serving first as a court musician at Weimar, before appointment as organist at Arnstadt. Four years later he moved to Mühlhausen as organist and the following year became organist and chamber musician to Duke Wilhelm Ernst of Weimar. Securing his release with difficulty, in 1717 he was appointed Kapellmeister to Prince Leopold of Anhalt-Cöthen and remained at Cöthen until 1723, when he moved to Leipzig as Cantor at the School of St. Thomas, with responsibility for the music of the five principal city churches. Bach was to remain in Leipzig until his death in 1750.
As a craftsman obliged to fulfil the terms of his employment, Bach provided music suited to his various appointments. It was natural that his earlier work as an organist and something of an expert on the construction of organs, should result in music for that instrument. At Cöthen, where the Pietist leanings of the court made church music unnecessary, he provided a quantity of instrumental music for the court orchestra and its players. In Leipzig he began by composing series of cantatas for the church year, later turning his attention to instrumental music for the Collegium musicum of the University, and to the collection and ordering of his own compositions.
The works collected and revised by Bach probably between 1744 and 1747 and included in the so-called Leipzig Autograph, the Leipziger Originalhandschrift, were largely composed between 1708 and 1717, the years spent in Weimar. The chorale, the congregational hymn of the German Protestant church, had its roots in pre-Reformation practices. Its importance in Lutheran church music may in some respects be compared with the importance in Catholic tradition of plainchant, itself a source for some chorale melodies. As in other fields of music, Bach's varied treatment of the chorale sums up and crowns a long tradition.
The Leipzig Autograph opens with a Fantasia on Komm, Heiliger Geist (Come, Holy Ghost), in organo pleno, il canto fermo nel pedale (for full organ, the chorale melody in the pedal part). The chorale itself is a German version of the antiphon Veni, Sancte Spiritus, devised by Martin Luther for congregational use. An imitative contrapuntal introduction, in which three upper voices enter in turn over a sustained pedal-note, leads to the chorale melody itself, in the lowest register, chorale phrases separated with passages of varying length for the manuals. A second treatment of the same chorale, for two manuals and pedals, is in triple metre, with a fugal subject derived from the chorale, the manuals preceding the pedal entry in each section. This extended composition ends with a particularly splendid coda.
An Wasserflüssen Babylon (By the waters of Babylon), for two manuals and pedals, uses a fifteenth century chorale melody from Strasburg. .Here the chorale melody is first heard in the top part, imitated in the tenor, which itself introduces the continuation of the chorale theme. This is followed by Schmücke, dich, o liebe Seele (Deck thyself, beloved soul), much admired by Schumann and based on a mid-seventeenth century chorale, first suggested in the alto part in a contrapuntal introduction, before appearing in the soprano in augmentation, its notes prolonged.
The Trio on Herr Jesu Christ, dich zu uns wend (Lord Jesus Christ, turn to us) is again based on a mid-seventeenth century chorale. Here the three contrapuntal parts interweave, the left hand entering in canonic imitation of the right over a pedal-part derived from the opening notes of the chorale. This opening figure brings, in conclusion, a pedal statement of the melody, accompanied by the continuing counterpoint of the two upper parts.
O Lamm Gottes, unschuldig (O Lamb of God, guiltless, slaughtered on the Cross) is based on a Lutheran version of the Agnus Dei, O Lam Gades unschüldig, by Nikolaus Decius, an early follower of Luther. This, one of the earliest chorales, is itself derived from plainchant. The three sections of the Agnus Dei allow three different treatments of the cantus firmus, which appears first in the top part, then in the middle part and finally in the pedals.
Nun danket alle Gott (Now thank we all our God) is based on a seventeenth century chorale. Counterpoint based on the melody precedes the entry of the chorale itself in the upper part, a procedure that is followed throughout, in the manner associated particularly with Bach's elder brother's teacher, Pachelbel. Von Gott will ich nicht lassen (From God I will not part) treats a sixteenth century chorale dating from 1572 in Erfurt. Here again each section of the melody, played on the pedals, is introduced by a preceding contrapuntal section derived from the hymn itself.
The C major Toccata, Adagio and Fugue, striking not least in the distinctive nature of the three sections into which it falls, in form the counterpart of the three movement Italian concerto of the period. The work opens with a brilliant improvisatory prelude, display on the manuals followed by a passage for pedal solo, before more elaborate counterpoint involving manuals and pedals. There follows an Adagio aria, slowing in a concluding recitative, before a capricious fugue subject, interrupted by abrupt rests, a characteristic that naturally recurs, as the four parts enter, in descending order.
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BACH, J.S.: Organ Chorales from the Leipzig Manusc...