KBWV 672-674 performed by Reitze Smits
St Jacob's Church, Leeuwarden

  • Menu
  • BWV 672: Kyrie, Gott Vater
  • BWV 673: Christe, aller Welt Trost
  • BWV 674: Kyrie, Gott heiliger Geist

Behind the music

Extra videos
Extra videos

A resounding trinity

Bach conjures up an airy Kyrie from a complex Gregorian melody

The music in Bach’s third Clavier-Übung illustrates in sound the two most important Sunday services in Leipzig: the Mass based on the abridged Lutheran liturgy with Kyrie and Gloria, and the service in which the Catechism is preached. The collection was undoubtedly as much an act of faith by a devout composer as it was a practical collection of pieces for extremely talented colleagues. The number three recurs throughout the collection, as in this trio of pieces, which could be described as a ‘small Kyrie’.

The first clear indication that these three fughettas without pedal belong together is their time signatures. They ascend from 3 to 6 to 9 beats in the bar, which gives an increasingly lively and full effect. Here, it is even more pronounced because of the registration. Moreover, all three pieces open in a major key and close in a minor one. And then a minor key coloured by Phrygian, an ancient ecclesiastical mode. This mode characterises the long Gregorian Kyrie that provides the material for nearly every musical gesture. In Christe, aller Welt Trost and the second Kyrie, the melody appears mainly with decoration. In the first Kyrie, the first entrance and the counter-theme are a direct quote. And the last linking element (which anyone fluent in ecclesiastical modes probably picked up on) is the way Bach cleverly avoids the contrapuntal restrictions of the Phrygian mode by choosing three times for another dominant – the main ‘counter key’ and mood-setter in a work.

Aside from all the technical observations – and there is much to remark on in this piece – the trio exudes a light, friendly atmosphere. It does so, for example, through the very pleasant parallel thirds and sixths with the melody, and through a very subtle style built on flowing themes and slightly provocative dissonants. It is a great contrast to the three other big Kyrie-Christe-Kyrie settings from Clavier-Übung III.

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.

672, 673 and 674
Kyrie, Gott Vater in Ewigkeit, Christe, aller Welt Trost, Kyrie, Gott heiliger Geist
organ works
Clavier-Übung III

Extra videos

Organist Reitze Smits

“These arrangements are definitely not simple, says Reitze Smits. “Sometimes, it’s suggested that they were written for village organists, but they are really complicated.”

Vocal texts




  • Release date
    7 August 2015
  • Recording date
    15 September 2014
  • Location
    St Jacob's Church, Leeuwarden
  • Organist
    Reitze Smits
  • Organ registration
    Mayuko Banno
  • Organ
    Christian Müller, 1727
  • Producer
    Frank van der Weij
  • Film director
    Jan Van den Bossche
  • Directors of photography
    Diderik Evers, Ruben van den Broeke
  • Music production, editing and mix
    Holger Schlegel
  • Film editor
    Dylan Glyn Jones
  • Colorist
    Jef Grosfeld
  • Production assistant
    Hanna Schreuders
  • Interview
    Onno van Ameijde
  • Acknowledgements
    Rob Tigchelaar

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