Nun komm der Heiden Heiland
BWV 599 performed by Dorien Schouten
Behind the music
A poetic start
Bach opens his Orgelbüchlein with a surprisingly delicate advent hymn.
Like leaves in the wind, the lower parts tumble gently to earth. This chorale prelude is full of wavering, beckoning motifs, as if each of the five parts continually wants to say ‘nun komm, nun komm’. In any case, in the Baroque period, the dotted (leaping) rhythm in the bass and descant were often symbolic of ‘life’, which of course is ideally suited to this advent hymn. At the same time, the rhythm resembles that of a French overture – music that was played for the entrance of the king – so also very apt. The descending lines also suggest the arrival of Jesus on earth, although the words of the chorale do not touch on that miracle.
The question remains as to why Bach chose to hide away the melody in the opening piece of his famous Orgelbüchlein. It appears to be no more than a tenuous background idea for a complex interplay of lines that dominates the sound picture with subtle dissonances. The poetic, broken way in which the chords arise from the various parts may have been derived by Bach from the French keyboard school; for instance from Marchand or Couperin. And the broken chord in the opening calls to mind the toccatas of Frescobaldi, for example, as organist Dorien Schouten explains in the interview.
Orgelbüchlein, BWV 599-644
During his time as court organist at Weimar (1708-1714), Bach already started compiling his first collection of chorale arrangements and chorale preludes (compositions based on Lutheran hymns). They were intended to be used in church services, and the preludes were an introduction to congregational singing. According to the list of contents in Bach’s manuscript, it was supposed to have been a collection of 164 compositions, but in the end it did not exceed 46 (BWV 599-644). The order, combined with the limited length of the pieces, indicates that Bach was planning to compile a complete cycle of chorale arrangements. Later, in his period at Köthen, he gave the collection a title page, which reads: ‘Orgel-Büchlein, Worinne einem anfahenden Organisten Anleitung gegeben wird, auff allerhand Arth einen Choral durchzuführen…’ (‘Little organ book, in which a beginner organist is taught to arrange a chorale in all sorts of ways...’). So at the time, he intended the collection just as a teaching manual, maybe to present on his application in 1722 for the post of cantor at the Thomasschule in Leipzig, which was an important teaching position. The pupils must have had a hard time of it, as the preludes contain the complete range of baroque keyboard techniques in a nutshell.
- Nun komm der Heiden Heiland
- organ works
- ca. 1708-1717
- Release date
- 25 November 2016
- Recording date
- 1 October 2015
- Bovenkerk, Kampen
- Dorien Schouten
- Reil choir organ
- Jan Van den Bossche, Hanna Schreuders
- Maarten van Rossem, Gijs Besseling
- Music production, editing and mix
- Guido Tichelman
- Film editing and interview
- Gijs Besseling
- Jessie Verbrugh
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