Kyrie, Gott heiliger Geist

Kyrie, Gott heiliger Geist

BWV 671 performed by Leo van Doeselaar
Freiberger Dom Sankt Marien, Freiberg, Germany

Behind the music

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Heart-rending chromaticism

Bach brings together centuries of music in this monumental work for organ

In his third Clavier-Übung, Bach included two settings (arrangements) of Luther’s Kyrie. As the Kyrie itself consists of three parts, that gave rise to a total of six separate chorale arrangements. BWV 671 is the third part of the first setting: after God the Father (BWV 669) and Christ (BWV 670), now the Holy Spirit is called upon.

Luther wrote his Kyrie between 1525 and 1537. The melody is an adaptation of a much older Gregorian melody. It is in the Phrygian mode (an ecclesiastical mode beginning on E), the most heart-rending of all the ecclesiastical keys – which befits the words of the piece: Kyrie eleison (Lord, have mercy). From the seventeenth century onward, organists started to arrange this melody, as they did with other Lutheran hymns as well. As in the rest of the Clavier-Übung, Bach follows this tradition here, too.

The mediaeval melody of the hymn can be heard in long note values in the pedal. Above that, both hands of the organist weave a four-part fugue. This fugue is clear and lively in general – a strong contrast to the dark melody of the original. It is only towards the ending, as the final cadence approaches, that the music becomes darker. Maybe Bach wanted to express the eleison (have mercy on us) musically through this heart-rending chromaticism.

An age-old melody, a seventeenth-century organ tradition and an eighteenth-century music idiom – Bach combines them all effortlessly in this monumental work.

In Leipzig, between 1731 and 1741, Bach published four parts of Clavier-Übung, a title used previously by Johann Kuhnau, his predecessor as cantor at the Thomasschule, for similar collections of works for organ and harpsichord. The compositions are very varied in nature and, although the title suggests otherwise, were difficult to play. Bach addresses all the styles, genres and techniques for harpsichord and organ that were prevalent at the time, but then in the superior form to which only he had the patent.

Clavier-Übung I (1731) contains the six partitas, BWV 825-830; Clavier-Übung II (1735) the Concerto nach italienischen Gusto, BWV 971 and the Ouverture nach französischer Art, BWV 831; and Clavier-Übung IV (1741) the Goldberg Variations, BWV 988. The largest part, Clavier-Übung III (1739), is the only one devoted to organ, containing mostly chorale arrangements, or organ preludes based on Lutheran hymns. Bach made two versions of each chorale: one for great organ and one for a smaller type of organ. Most of the chorales refer to the six parts of the catechism. It is unclear whether Bach also played them during the services, or whether he developed his musical ideas in them for his own use, with no intention of performing them in public.

Kyrie, Gott heiliger Geist
organ works
Clavier-Übung III

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Extra videos

Organist Leo van Doeselaar

“This organ in the Freiberger Dom is seen as Gottfried Silbermann's masterpiece. It was the first organ which he built entirely by himself, and it was to become famous.”

Vocal texts




  • Release date
    29 February 2024
  • Recording date
    18 September 2020
  • Location
    Freiberger Dom Sankt Marien, Freiberg, Germany
  • Organist
    Leo van Doeselaar
  • Organ
    Gottfried Silbermann, 1711-1714
  • Director and editor
    Robin van Erven Dorens
  • Music recording
    Guido Tichelman, Bastiaan Kuijt
  • Music edit and mix
    Guido Tichelman
  • Camera
    Robin van Erven Dorens, Onno van der Wal
  • Lights
    Ernst-Jan Thieme
  • Assistant music recording
    Marloes Biermans
  • Interview
    Robin van Erven Dorens, Marloes Biermans
  • Producer
    Jessie Verbrugh
  • With support from

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