Allabreve in D major

Allabreve in D major

BWV 589 performed by Ton Koopman
Stadtkirche St Wenzel, Naumburg, Germany

Behind the music

Extra videos
Extra videos

Something old, something new

An organ work in which Bach shows that he moves with the times

This work has not survived in a manuscript by Bach himself, but in the most important source it is called: “Allabreve con pedale pro organo pleno”. The second and third elements of this description are clear: ‘con pedale’, i.e. with pedal, and ‘pro organo’, i.e. for organ. Even ‘allabreve’ is not complicated in itself: it is a tempo indication meaning that the whole note is the beat unit (the unit that you intuitively tap with your foot). But here ‘allabreve’ also seems to indicate a style: stile antico

In Bach’s day there were, to put it simply, two theoretical composition models. The modern style was what we now associate mainly with Baroque music: quick runs, harmonic twists, sudden dissonants and contrasts in tempo and dynamics. Stile antico was the old style, which followed the composition rules that were the norm in the sixteenth century. From the beginning of the seventeenth century, this continued to exist alongside the new style. Stile antico was characterised by lines that ran calmly and gradually, usually with few harmonic extravagances. In Bach’s day, stile antico was associated with church music, stateliness and solemnity.

Bach had a thorough command of both styles – old and new – and could use them as he wished. And that is just what he does in BWV 589. Rhythmically, everything remains ‘antico’, and the initial theme keeps returning throughout the piece in all the parts, according to the rules of this style. But harmonically, it becomes gradually more adventurous. Bach begins to deviate further from the starting key, and chromatic passages creep in now and again a little further on. Shortly before the ending, just before the pedal comes to rest on the long, low closing note, he keeps the listener alert for a moment with a clearly ‘modern’ harmonic twist. Yes, definitely stile antico, but then in a modern guise.

Allabreve in D major
organ works
Special notes
Bach borrowed the theme from a concerto for oboe and strings by Johann David Heinichen

With support from

Professor Howard Fee

Extra videos

Organist Ton Koopman

“Bach thought Zacharias Hildebrandt was the best organ builder. This organ in Naumburg was approved and inaugurated by Bach.”

Vocal texts




  • Release date
    26 October 2023
  • Recording date
    13 September 2020
  • Location
    Stadtkirche St Wenzel, Naumburg, Germany
  • Organist
    Ton Koopman
  • Organ
    Zacharias Hildebrandt, 1746
  • Director and editor
    Robin van Erven Dorens
  • Music recording
    Guido Tichelman, Bastiaan Kuijt
  • Music edit and mix
    Guido Tichelman
  • Camera
    Robin van Erven Dorens, Onno van der Wal
  • Lights
    Ernst-Jan Thieme
  • Assistant music recording
    Marloes Biermans
  • Interview
    Robin van Erven Dorens, Marloes Biermans
  • Producer
    Jessie Verbrugh
  • With support from
    Professor Howard Fee

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