Ach bleib bei uns, Herr Jesu Christ
BWV 649 performed by Peter Kofler
Behind the music
Bach shows his modern side in this piece.
An exercise for just one hand? A work that’s survived incomplete? Or maybe a strange fugue with a theme that’s far too long? If you were to come across BWV on its own, for the first 30 seconds you’d be wondering what sort of piece it was. But when the second part enters, the bits of the puzzle soon fall into place with the chorale melody Ach bleib bei uns, Herr Jesu Christ: it’s a chorale arrangement! Yet BWV 649 does not follow the typical pattern of this type of orchestral work, as the musical web is exceptionally light in its strict two-part texture.
Like the other chorale arrangements from the Schübler-Choräle, this one too is an arrangement of an earlier work with a completely different instrumentation. Originally, Bach wrote almost identical notes as an aria for violoncello piccolo and soprano, as part of cantata BWV 6. We don’t know why this aria, in particular, was included in the Schübler-Choräle, but what helped in any case was that Bach showed his modern ‘galante’ side in the aria. Rather than complex counterpoint and well-wrought harmonies, there is elegant, melodious simplicity. This sort of music was most in demand in the late 1740’s.
The printed Schübler-Choräle could be bought from Bach himself, and also from his sons Wilhelm Friedemann in Halle and Carl Philipp Emanuel in Berlin. Unfortunately, we don’t know who bought copies from them. But it may be the case that BWV 649 was performed at the time on one of the organs built by Arp Schnitger; for example, the one in Schloß Charlottenburg or in Hamburg. Although it took longer to be performed on his organ in Uithuizen, it was well worth the wait.
Schübler Chorales, BWV 645-650
They may have a number and an epithet, but that does not necessarily mean that Bach wrote the six enchanting Schübler Chorales himself. Five of them are arrangements of known cantata movements – and the sixth may well be an arrangement too, from a lost work. Whereas some people, as organist Wolfgang Zerer, do not doubt the hand of the master and identify a well-considered construction in it, other specialists see a big gap between Bach’s own refined transcriptions and these works that have often been transferred rather literally to the organ. Did the master give this task to his son Wilhelm Friedemann, for example? Did he want to give opportunities to players of more popular music in Clavier-Übung III, as well as to the most virtuoso organists? Were these hits also bestsellers when arranged? Although we do not know the answers, it is a fact that Bach himself owned a copy of Schübler’s publication, which is very interesting for its abundance of improvements and changes by a composer in the latter years of his life.
- Ach bleib bei uns, Herr Jesu Christ
- organ works
- Schübler-Choräle (organ)
- Special notes
- Organ version of the aria Ach bleib bei uns, Herr Jesu Christ from the cantata Bleib bei uns, denn es will Abend werden
- Release date
- 21 April 2022
- Recording date
- 18 July 2019
- Jacobikerk, Uithuizen
- Peter Kofler
- Arp Schnitger, ca. 1700
- Director and editor
- Robin van Erven Dorens
- Music recording
- Guido Tichelman, Bastiaan Kuijt
- Music edit and mix
- Guido Tichelman
- Onno van der Wal
- Gregoor van de Kamp
- Robin van Erven Dorens, Marloes Biermans
- Jessie Verbrugh, Stefan Ebels
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