Hilf Gott, dass mir's gelinge

Hilf Gott, dass mir's gelinge

BWV 624 performed by Bart Jacobs
St Bavo's Church, Haarlem

Behind the music

Extra videos
Extra videos

Prison hymn

Why Bach probably created a deliberately awkward whole

The words of the hymn arranged here by Bach were written in a sixteenth-century prison by Heinrich Müller, who was otherwise virtually unknown. His name appears at two places in the text. The first letters of the thirteen verses form his name (“HEINRICH MÜLER”) and the last strophe concludes with the announcement: “hat Heinrich Müller gesungen, in dem Gefängnis sein” (thus sang Heinrich Müller, during his imprisonment). This Heinrich from Nuremberg was imprisoned by the Duke of Saxony around 1526 because of his Lutheran sympathies, and he was only released in 1539.

Müller’s hymn – maybe due to its genesis – was very successful. In 1545, Luther himself included it in a hymn book and it was published in a Dutch translation just a few years later. In Bach’s day, it was one of the better known church hymns.

Bach’s organ version, as organist Bart Jacobs remarks, was probably a deliberately rather awkward harmonic and canonic whole, with a left hand that searches around capriciously from high to low. Maybe Bach also thought it might not be so easy to keep constant faith if you were imprisoned for your religious beliefs for over ten years.

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.

This recording was made on the famous Müller organ in the Great or St. Bavo Church, in Haarlem. It is a very special instrument from 1738. Both Georg Friedrich Händel and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart travelled to Haarlem to play this organ! Händel was particularly delighted by the unusual Vox Humana register. The organ has over 5000 pipes, divided over 64 registers, with three manuals and a pedal.

Hilf Gott, dass mir's gelinge
organ works
ca. 1708-1717

Extra videos

Organist Bart Jacobs

“The piece fascinates me. I have always felt that something is not right about it.”

Vocal texts




  • Release date
    20 October 2017
  • Recording date
    22 September 2016
  • Location
    St Bavo's Church, Haarlem
  • Organist
    Bart Jacobs
  • Organ
    Christian Müller, 1738
  • Director
    Bas Wielenga
  • Music recording
    Guido Tichelman, Bastiaan Kuijt
  • Music edit and mix
    Guido Tichelman
  • Camera
    Bas Wielenga, Jeroen Simons
  • Lights
    Gregoor van de Kamp
  • Interview
    Onno van Ameijde, Marloes Biermans
  • Producer
    Jessie Verbrugh

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