Pastorella in F major

Pastorella in F major

BWV 590 performed by Reitze Smits
Jacobikerk, Uithuizen

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Behind the music

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A bit Italian, a bit Christmassy, a bit…

Four separate parts form a loosely but beautiful whole

Even if the corn is still waving in the fields, when you hear the first part of BWV 590 it immediately puts you in a Christmas mood. It would be clear even without the heading “pastorale” or “pastorella”: a calmly rocking 12/8 time and simple melodic gestures are heard above long, static notes in the pedal. This places the music in a long tradition of stylised – mainly Italian – ‘shepherds’ music’ (the long notes in the pedal refer to the continuously resounding drone of the bagpipes). And shepherds belong – in the church, at least – to Christmas.

As we said, besides suggesting Christmas, the pastorale also refers to Italy. One famous example in Bach’s day was the pastorale in Arcangelo Corelli’s concerto grosso opus 6 no. 8. And the third part of BWV 590 is also completely in line with the Italian sound. We hear a rather wistful solo voice above simple chords in the left hand, with no clear bass line. The similarities to some of the slow sections from Italian solo concertos that Bach knew are immediately apparent. A violin concerto by Vivaldi that Bach arranged himself for organ, for example, has a middle section with precisely the same features.

It is not clear whether Bach added the three parts that follow the pastorale himself, or whether later musicians combined the four into a single set. But it is precisely because of this merging that the Christmas idea imposes itself on the entire four-movement set. After the Italian pastorale, part two features a musette: bagpipe music again, but this time in the French style. In part three, as mentioned, we are back in Italy, but Christmas seems to have disappeared. Until the opening bars of the exuberant three-part invention at the end: these seem to be a reference to the Christmas hymn Resonet in laudibus. In short: a bit of Italy, a bit of France, and a good dash of Christmas.

Pastorella in F major
organ works
after 1730

Extra videos

Organists on the Schnitger organ

“Schnitger is the Stradivarius of organ building.”

Vocal texts




  • Release date
    11 January 2024
  • Recording date
    18 July 2019
  • Location
    Jacobikerk, Uithuizen
  • Organist
    Reitze Smits
  • Organ
    Arp Schnitger, ca. 1700
  • Director and editor
    Robin van Erven Dorens
  • Music recording
    Guido Tichelman, Bastiaan Kuijt
  • Music edit and mix
    Guido Tichelman
  • Camera
    Onno van der Wal
  • Lights
    Gregoor van de Kamp
  • Data handling
    Stefan Ebels
  • Interview
    Robin van Erven Dorens, Marloes Biermans
  • Producer
    Jessie Verbrugh

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