Prelude and fugue in E minor

Prelude and fugue in E minor

BWV 533 performed by Dorien Schouten
Bovenkerk, Kampen

  • 1. Prelude
  • 2. Fugue

Behind the music

Extra videos
Extra videos

Strange notes

An excellent piece for testing an organ, but maybe a touch too modern for the Arnstadt church council

This piece originates from the time when Bach was still in his twenties. He had just got his first real job in Arnstadt. This position as a highly paid organist had fallen into his lap in 1703, after a brilliant performance when testing the new organ. But a couple of years later, it was actually criticism of his organ playing that was given as one of the reasons for letting him go. He was supposed to have used too many curious variationes and strange notes in his chorale preludes. The church council believed that this confused the congregation.

In this concise Prelude and fugue, we hear both sides of the coin. In the prelude, there are short pedal solos, shaking tremolos for both hands, and series of full chords for keyboard and pedal simultaneously – all exciting musical elements which can also be used, if necessary, to test an organ’s sound and speed of response.

These elements return in the fugue, which opens with a moving theme – first modestly and almost hesitantly, but later with increasing assurance. Towards the end, there is a passage where Bach makes the left hand stand out rather dissonantly against the right hand, in opposition to the rules of composition. This is precisely the sort of “frembde Thone” (strange notes) to which people later objected in Arnstadt. Here, we see a youthful and rather impetuous Bach. On the one hand, an excellent job application, and on the other a reason for dismissal.

Prelude and fugue in E minor
organ works
ca. 1704-1709
Special notes
There is an even earlier version: BWV 533a.

Extra videos

Organist Dorien Schouten

“The Prelude is written in the 'stylus fantasticus' - it's improvisational in origin and the composition is free, not linked to the chorale melody or another melody.”

Vocal texts




  • Release date
    29 April 2016
  • Recording date
    1 October 2015
  • Location
    Bovenkerk, Kampen
  • Organist
    Dorien Schouten
  • Organ
    Reil choir organ
  • Film directors
    Jan Van den Bossche, Hanna Schreuders
  • Camera
    Maarten van Rossem, Gijs Besseling
  • Music production, editing and mix
    Guido Tichelman
  • Film editor and interview
    Gijs Besseling
  • Sound interview
    Kasper Koudenburg
  • Producer
    Jessie Verbrugh

Help us to complete All of Bach

There are still many recordings to be made before the whole of Bach’s oeuvre is online. And we can’t complete the task without the financial support of our patrons. Please help us to complete the musical heritage of Bach, by supporting us with a donation!