Schmücke dich, o liebe Seele

Schmücke dich, o liebe Seele

BWV 654 performed by Ton Koopman
at the Stadtkirche St Wenzel, Naumburg

Behind the music

Extra videos
Extra videos

Restored hope

A chorale that offers the organist endless possibilities

The organ built by Zacharias Hildebrandt in Naumburg is the only big organ on which Bach had direct influence. Bach’s recommendation helped Hildebrandt get the commission, and later on the composer approved the organ himself when it was completed. Nowhere else do we find such a direct account of his ideas about how an organ should sound. The specific timbre possibilities offered by a particular organ are just the first step for an organist. How the musician uses these possibilities is always an individual decision. The choice of a combination of timbres is called registration, and it determines the sound of a piece to a large extent.

Schmücke dich, o liebe Seele (“adorn yourself, oh dear soul”) is one of Bach’s organ works that has been popular for almost two centuries. The richly ornamented chorale melody does exactly what is demanded by the words: it adorns itself. Bach wrote the piece in Weimar. When he reworked it later in Leipzig, the main change was the addition of even more ornamentation to the chorale melody.

After Bach’s death, Felix Mendelssohn became acquainted with the work around 1830, and one year later he found the perfect registration for the piece on the organ in St Peter’s Church, in Munich. For the accompanying parts, he chose an 8-foot flute and “a very soft 4-foot”, and “for the chorale there is a manual with nothing but reed stops and there I opt for a soft oboe, a clarion 4-foot, very soft, and a viola”. He told Robert Schumann later that “if life has taken away your faith and hope, then this single chorale will restore everything”.

In 1922, Arnold Schoenberg went one step further in choosing timbres for BWV 654, arranging the piece for orchestra. He hardly changed the notes at all, only giving instrumental colour to Bach’s composition, as organists always have to do. In Naumburg, Ton Koopman can choose from the possibilities provided by Bach himself (via Hildebrandt).

18 Choräle/Leipziger Choräle, BWV 651-668
In the last ten years of his life, Bach gathered together and completed a series of chorale arrangements, presumably planning to have them published, just like the third part of the Clavier-Übung in 1739. It concerns a selection of his compositions from much earlier years, when he was working as an organist in Weimar, Arnstadt and Mühlhausen. The collection became known as the 18 Choräle or Leipziger Choräle. Incidentally, 18 Choräle is a misleading title, as the set originally comprised 17 pieces. The eighteenth, Vor deinen Thron tret ich (BWV 668), was added to Bach’s manuscript later on.

Schmücke dich, o liebe Seele
organ works
18 Choräle (organ)
Special notes
There is an earlier, more sober version of this composition from the Weimar period: BWV 654a.

With support from

Andrew S. Lim

Extra videos

Organist Ton Koopman

“Bach thought Zacharias Hildebrandt was the best organ builder. This organ in Naumburg was approved and inaugurated by Bach.”

Vocal texts




  • Release date
    27 April 2023
  • Recording date
    15 April 2020
  • Location
    Stadtkirche St. Wenzel, Naumburg, Germany
  • Organist
    Ton Koopman
  • Organ
    Zacharias Hildebrandt, 1746
  • Director and editor
    Robin van Erven Dorens
  • Music recording
    Guido Tichelman, Bastiaan Kuijt
  • Music edit and mix
    Bastiaan Kuijt
  • Camera
    Onno van der Wal
  • Lights
    Ernst-Jan Thieme
  • Assisant music recording
    Marloes Biermans
  • Interview
    Robin van Erven Dorens, Marloes Biermans
  • Producer
    Jessie Verburgh
  • With support from
    Andrew S. Lim, in honor of Elena Y. and Terrence T. Lim

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