Allein Gott in der Höh sei Ehr

Allein Gott in der Höh sei Ehr

BWV 664 performed by Reitze Smits
Lutheran church, The Hague

Behind the music

Extra videos
Extra videos

Heavenly joy

Bach gives an Italian touch to the radiant finale of his Gloria trilogy

On a first hearing, this piece might only just count as a chorale arrangement, as we have to wait until almost the end to gain a recognisable glimpse of the popular melody Allein Gott in der Höh sei Ehr, a German adaptation of the Gloria. But just as in BWV 662 and 663, the theme is actually everywhere (the virtuoso runs skirt or ornament the melody), only now Bach is hiding it behind an exuberant dancy piece pervaded by Italian elegance.
The reason for so much cheerfulness is not only a musical one, although Bach has clearly enjoyed himself in the clear, virtuoso sonata style from across the Alps. He even gives two imitations of the arpeggios or broken chords heard so often in Venetian violin music. But Bach goes further and imbues the piece with strong Trinity symbolism that is deeply rooted in Luther’s sermons. If we regard BWV 662 as a rendition of the Father and 663 as the Son, then this chorale arrangement is unmistakeably a reflection of the Holy Ghost, the Giver of Life, whom Luther always portrayed as the source of joy and comfort in his Whitsun sermons. The Holy Ghost promises that mankind can share in the lightness of the angels. So nothing could be more natural than two (heavenly?) voices tumbling over one another above a simple baroque bass line. And when the original melody does surface suddenly amidst their revelry, that is where you hear Bach’s genius. In order to emphasise his devotion, he also signed the work with S.D.G.: ‘Soli Deo Gloria’.

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
There are three known sources: a draft and an early version from Weimar (664b and a) and the Leipzig version (664).

Extra videos

Organist Reitze Smits

“It's a joyous piece like a trio sonata for two violins and a bass part.”

Vocal texts




  • Release date
    24 October 2014
  • Recording date
    29 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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