Allein Gott in der Höh sei Ehr

Allein Gott in der Höh sei Ehr

BWV 663 performed by Reitze Smits
Lutheran church, The Hague

Behind the music

Extra videos
Extra videos

Full of symbolism

Bach paints a clear picture of Jesus’ sacrifice, without saying a word

In three connected yet very different movements in the Leipziger Choräle, Bach portrays the Trinity. His central arrangement of the Gloria melody, which was sung every week, portrays the Son, following the Father (BWV 662) and preceding the Holy Ghost (BWV 664).

In this remarkably long, well-balanced work, the chorale melody is not in the upper part, but in the tenor, which is the traditional place of Jesus between heaven and earth. It is written in 3/2 time, just as many chorales in the Orgelbüchlein that concern the Passion and, for example, the Crucifixus in the Mass in B minor. Just before the repeat in the middle, the cantus firmus (the chorale melody) rises above the upper parts for a moment, where the words refer to Jesus’ heavenly dominion. Near the end, after a florid solo, the music almost comes to a stop on the word ‘Not’ (need) and then proceeds in a straight line to the radiant ending ‘erbarm dich unser aller’, where the chorale melody is suddenly accompanied by an extra figured part. Probably the most beautiful symbolism is provided by the refined ornamentation of the melody, sometimes buoyantly virtuoso and sometimes tormentedly chromatic - symbolic of Jesus’ life and suffering?

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.

Allein Gott in der Höh sei Ehr
organ works
18 Choräle (organ)
Special notes
BWV 663a is an earlier version of this chorale arrangement.

Extra videos

Organist Reitze Smits

“As a musician you seldom see Bach being quite so obvious about the character of the piece.”

Vocal texts




  • Release date
    10 October 2014
  • Recording date
    28 November 2013
  • Location
    Lutheran Church, The Hague
  • Organist
    Reitze Smits
  • Organ registration
    Arjan de Vos
  • Organ
    Johann Heinrich Hartmann Bätz, 1762
  • Producer
    Frank van der Weij
  • Film director
    Jan Van den Bossche
  • Directors of photography
    Jorrit Garretsen, Sal Kroonenberg
  • Music production, editing and mix
    Holger Schlegel
  • Film editor
    Dylan Glyn Jones
  • Colorist
    Jef Grosfeld
  • Production assistants
    Imke Deters, Zoë de Wilde
  • Interview
    Onno van Ameijde

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