Jesus Christus, unser Heiland

Jesus Christus, unser Heiland

BWV 666 performed by Leo van Doeselaar
Walloon Church, Amsterdam

Behind the music

Extra videos
Extra videos

Free association

In this chorale arrangement, Bach almost seems to be improvising

Unlike Bach’s other organ arrangement of Jesus Christus, unser Heiland (BWV 665), this version is sometimes almost improvisational in character. There is little overt interpretation of the words of this Communion hymn about the salutary effect of the body and blood of Christ. Maybe Bach’s main concern here was the development of musical ideas. For instance, the series of fast notes that introduces the second line of the chorale melody with a flourish becomes a continually streaming cascade in the third and fourth lines. As Bach’s own interpretation of the text is less clear in this arrangement, BWV 666 allows more scope for personal and place-related associations, both in Bach’s day and today.
At the end, for example, there is an upward spiral movement that descends again towards the close, harmonically grating against a sustained low note in the pedal. It appears to be a musical decoration, like a pen flourish at the end of an eighteenth-century letter. Or could it be an expression of the conviction that God will release us from the ‘torments of hell’, as the words of the first stanza tell us? Or maybe on hearing this big musical arc at the end of the piece, the listeners in the church in Weimar instinctively thought of Lucas Cranach’s striking altarpiece there. A similar arc on the painting depicts a spurt of blood from Christ’s side landing on the head of the painter’s self-portrait.

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.

Jesus Christus, unser Heiland
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 Leo van Doeselaar

“Above this arrangement, Bach wrote alio modo; ‘in a different way’. It is different to BWV 665, the larger version of the piece. “It’s not a sort of variation. It’s really totally different”, says Leo van Doeselaar.”

Vocal texts




  • Release date
    31 July 2015
  • Recording date
    24 June 2014
  • 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
  • Interview
    Onno van Ameijde

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