O Lamm Gottes unschuldig

O Lamm Gottes unschuldig

BWV 656 performed by Wolfgang Zerer
St. Catherine's Church, Hamburg

Behind the music

Extra videos
Extra videos

Toying with expectations

Using lots of repetition, Bach creates a false sense of security

This organ arrangement is a game of repetition and disruption, for which the structure of the chorale itself is excellently suited. O Lamm Gottes, unschuldig is a German paraphrase of the Agnus Dei, the final section of the Latin Mass. In three strophes, the words tell how Christ died on the cross for our sins.

But in fact the first strophe is simply repeated twice, with the last line changing in the final repetition. Instead of a plea for compassion (‘Erbarm dich unser, o Jesu’), there is an appeal for peace (‘Gib deinen Frieden, o Jesu’). Moreover, the melody of the third and fourth lines is the same as that of the first and second – so even more repetition!

Following a couple of bars’ introduction, Bach’s arrangement does actually give the complete melody three times in figured long notes: first in the upper part, then in the middle part and finally in the pedal. In the first two strophes, assisted by this pattern of repetition, Bach creates a false sense of musical security. And when it seems as if the end is almost in sight, in the third strophe, he overturns all our expectations in every possible way. All of a sudden, the pedal is used and the rhythm changes, and when the words tell (for the third time) of how mankind would despair without Christ, the tempo changes yet again on the word ‘despair’ (‘verzagen’) in an intensely chromatic passage. This heightens the effect of serenity when Bach returns to the opening rhythm for the last line, in which the appeal for peace is made.

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.

O Lamm Gottes, unschuldig
organ works
18 Choräle (organ)
Special notes
Part of a manuscript containing 17 chorale arrangements, BWV 651-667, which Bach collected in the 1740s, and of which the earliest versions sometimes originated in his Weimar period.

Extra videos

Organist Wolfgang Zerer

“Organist Wolfgang Zerer feels this is one of Bach's most expressivepieces.”

Vocal texts




  • Release date
    25 March 2016
  • Recording date
    20 October 2014
  • Location
    St. Catherine's Church, Hamburg
  • Organist
    Wolfgang Zerer
  • Organ
    Various builders between the 15th and 19th century. Restoration: 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
  • Interview
    Onno van Ameijde
  • Acknowledgements
    Vadim Dukart, Andreas Fischer