Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland

Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland

BWV 659 performed by Leo van Doeselaar
Walloon Church, Amsterdam

Behind the music

Extra videos
Extra videos

In quiet expectation

The first of three Advent gems is thought-provoking

The  Leipziger Choräle include two ‘trilogies’: one based on Allein Gott in der Höh’ sei Ehr (BWV 662-664), and one on the Advent hymn Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland, of which BWV 659 forms the first section. (The individual works are most likely older, were not written together and are not the only ones to this melody, but the compilation Bach made in his later years is significant). Whereas Allein Gott concerns the Trinity, here it is all about Jesus, who has three roles in the catechism: sanctifier, redeemer and protector. Maybe Bach meant the first role here. Or maybe he was thinking mainly of the first verse of the hymn: ‘Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland / der Jungfrauen Kind erkannt / des sich wundert alle Welt / Gott solch Geburt ihm bestellt’.

Whatever the case, this chorale arrangement is full of mystical expectation, which is underlined by the ‘quiet’ recording of this performance. Although Bach borrowed the form from Buxtehude, in style BWV 659 would not be amiss as the middle movement of a concerto in Italian style. All the elements are present: a walking bass, a duet of middle voices (sometimes in canon and sometimes referring to the chorale melody) and a leading upper voice. In the arrangement of the melody in the upper voice, Bach goes much further than his predecessors. Each phrase grows out of the chorale into the most wonderful, spun-out coloratura. At the end of the third line of the verse, the world’s amazement is reinforced by a harmonic pause and an abrupt deceleration of the bass – everyone holding their breath – a trick often used by Bach when writing about the birth of Jesus.

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.

Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland
organ works
18 Choräle (organ)
Special notes
BWV 659a is an earlier version, only known from copies, with a subtle difference in the upper part.

Extra videos

Organist Leo van Doeselaar

“Bach uses many more notes than necessary and he uses the entire compass of the organ right up to the highest C, Leo van Doeselaar on this special chorale arrangement.”

Vocal texts




  • Release date
    2 January 2015
  • Recording date
    23 June 2013
  • Location
    Walloon Church, Amsterdam
  • Organist
    Leo van Doeselaar
  • Organ
    Christian Müller, 1734
  • Producer
    Frank van der Weij
  • Film director
    Jan Van den Bossche
  • Directors of photography
    Sal Kroonenberg, Ruben van den Broeke
  • Grip
    Antoine Petiet
  • Music production, editing and mix
    Holger Schlegel
  • Film editor
    Dylan Glyn Jones
  • Colorist
    Jef Grosfeld
  • Production assistants
    Marco Meijdam, Zoë de Wilde

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