Ich ruf zu dir, Herr Jesu Christ

Ich ruf zu dir, Herr Jesu Christ

BWV 639 performed by Leo van Doeselaar
St. Catherine's Church, Hamburg

Behind the music

Extra videos
Extra videos

"Never before was Jesus called on so movingly"

The indecisiveness of mankind cloaked in deceptive simplicity

Still waters run deep. There is far more happening in this simple chorale prelude than would appear at first hearing. The slow, gentle melody of Agricola’s 16th-century hymn ‘Ich ruf zu dir, Herr Jesu Christ’ is supported by the pedal in a calmly progressing accompaniment. But appearances are deceptive, as the tenor writhes submissively in despair in the background. The words of the chorale sketch a picture of a doubting man who clings to Christ, while wondering whether he is equal to the task of living in accordance with Christ’s word. Bach combines the various ingredients of this trio – the only one in the Orgelbüchlein – into a three-dimensional whole. Never before was Jesus called on so movingly, thought the Dutch author Maarten ‘t Hart. And we can hardly argue with that.

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.

Ich ruf zu dir, Herr Jesu Christ
organ works
Special notes
A variation on this arrangement, BWV Anh. II 73, is not by Bach.

Extra videos

Organist Leo van Doeselaar

“It's really rubbed in: This is not your usual lament, it is thoroughly, thoroughly sad.”

Vocal texts




  • Release date
    3 July 2015
  • Recording date
    21 October 2014
  • Location
    St. Catherine's Church, Hamburg
  • Organist
    Leo van Doeselaar
  • Organ
    Various builders between the 15th and 19th century. Reconstruction: Flentrop 2013
  • Producer
    Frank van der Weij
  • Film director
    Jan Van den Bossche
  • Director of photography
    Sal Kroonenberg
  • Camera assistants
    Andreas Grotevent, Lucas Lütz
  • Music production, editing and mix
    Holger Schlegel
  • Film editor
    Jasper Verkaart
  • Production assistants
    Hanna Schreuders
  • Interview
    Onno van Ameijde
  • Acknowledgements
    Vadim Dukart, Andreas Fischer

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