Kommst du nun, Jesu, vom Himmel herunter

Kommst du nun, Jesu, vom Himmel herunter

BWV 650 performed by Bart Jacobs
St-Bavo's church, Haarlem

Behind the music

Extra videos
Extra videos

Good and bad news

A jubilant song of praise gets a darker tone when arranged

In the story of the six Schübler Chorales, this closing chorale stands for Advent. In order to achieve this structure, Bach (or the anonymous arranger) had to perform a trick with the text, as the cantata from which he took this aria – and particularly the chorale he used, Lobe den Herren – have nothing to do with the birth of Jesus. The words of BWV 137 are jubilant in a more general way and were sung, moreover, in the middle of the ecclesiastical year. The Christmas accent is added by sticking an alternative chorale text onto the music, even if we have to imagine it ourselves in this purely instrumental setting.

The arrangement follows the original alto aria practically to the letter, with the high-flying violin solo in the right hand. When transposed to the organ, the solo loses something of its bravura, which suits the ‘new’ chorale well. Unlike the cantata, which speaks of comfort and protection, it urgently begs for salvation through the coming of Christ. There is doubt about how to play the other parts. Either the chorale goes to the left hand and the continuo to the pedal, or the other way around with the chorale played by the feet. If the player opts for the latter, as organist Bart Jacobs does here, then it is the only ornamented cantus firmus within Bach’s known oeuvre.

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.

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.

Kommst du nun, Jesu, vom Himmel herunter
organ works
Schübler-Choräle (organ)
Special notes
Arrangement for organ of the second aria from cantata BWV 137.

Extra videos

Organist Bart Jacobs

“Synchronising your hands and feet is in this piece a technical tour de force.”

Vocal texts




  • Release date
    17 November 2017
  • Recording date
    22 September 2016
  • Location
    St Bavo's Church, Haarlem
  • Organist
    Bart Jacobs
  • Organ
    Christian Müller, 1738
  • Director
    Jan Van den Bossche
  • 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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