Fughetta super: Dies sind die heil'gen zehn Gebot

Fughetta super: Dies sind die heil'gen zehn Gebot

BWV 679 performed by Leo van Doeselaar
Walloon Church, Amsterdam

Behind the music

Extra videos
Extra videos

I will delight

How Bach takes a melodic problem by the horns and throws a party

“I will delight in your decrees”, go the words of Psalm 119 verse 16. These decrees are, of course, the Ten Commandments, and the catechism states that it is an obligation to follow them joyfully. So it comes as no surprise that after his serene, pastoral setting of Luther’s Dies sind die heil'gen zehn gebot, BWV 678, Bach wrote an extremely lively pendant in the same key, in order to emphasise the happiness behind the actually very serious theme. 

And talking about the theme, just listen to how a musically problematic melody – the first phrase is nearly all on the same note – is transformed into a dancy gigue and then into a neat four-part fugue. Once again Bach chooses instinctively for ten times the theme: four normal entries and four inverted ones, then a middle section that is completely dominated by the restless counter-theme and followed at the last moment by two more normal ones.

Why is there such a contrast between the two chorales on the same melody, included consecutively in the third part of Bach’s Clavier-Übung? First of all, Bach would not have been able to do otherwise (music without contrast is non-existent in the Baroque), but it is also interesting to note that the works in Clavier-Übung III were probably not created together, as was believed for a long time. Bach may have started on the chorales with pedal as early as 1735, and expanded the collection by six chorales without pedal (just manual), among other works, with a view to publication in 1739. So now we have twice Ten Commandments, tied up with a ribbon.

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.

Fughetta super: Dies sind die heil'gen zehn Gebot
organ works
Clavier-Übung III

Extra videos

Organist Leo van Doeselaar

“It's not just a jolly little fugue, Leo van Doeselaar says.”

Vocal texts




  • Release date
    27 March 2015
  • Recording date
    24 June 2013
  • 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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