Fuga super: Jesus Christus, unser Heiland

Fuga super: Jesus Christus, unser Heiland

BWV 689 performed by Leo van Doeselaar
St. Catherine's Church, Hamburg

Behind the music

Extra videos
Extra videos

A kaleidoscopic chorale

Bach turns solid counterpoint into a feast for the ears

This chorale arrangement shows Bach at the pinnacle of his talent. It was not by chance that the work was created more or less at the same time as the second part of Das Wohltemperirte Clavier. The piece does not really make for easy listening, being too chromatic and maybe also too complex in structure. It is, however, clearly a technical tour de force, as if Bach wanted to show once again in the collection how to construct a fugue (or ricerare - watch the interview) from a chorale.

The ingenuity lies in the rhythm of the entrances. Sometimes the answer comes after 6 beats, then after 4, or even unexpectedly after 1 or 5 beats (as an upbeat!), while the theme itself is much longer. So the parts are continually interrupting one another – a device called stretto, which is normally used much later in a fugue, after everyone has politely waited their turn. By varying the answer rhythms, Bach creates different harmonies under each entrance, which he then links together in refined, rather tortuous ways.

For the ending, Bach permits himself another technique, called augmentation. While the soprano part gives the flowing counter-theme, the tenor enters with the theme at the same time as the alto, but at half speed. This accentuates the foundation of the whole piece once again, as a sort of recapitulation... a farewell?

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.

Fuga super: Jesus Christus, unser Heiland
organ works
Clavier-Übung III

Extra videos

Organist Leo van Doeselaar

“It all sounds very natural but when you analyse it, things happen that don't agree with your standard Bach fugue.”

Vocal texts




  • Release date
    11 September 2015
  • Recording date
    21 October 2014
  • Location
    St. Catherine's Church, Hamburg
  • Organist
    Leo van Doeselaar
  • Organ
    Various builders between the 15th and 19th century. Restoration: Flentrop 2013
  • Producer
    Frank van der Weij
  • Film director
    Jan Van den Bossche
  • Director of photography
    Sal Kroonenberg
  • Camera assistants
    Andreas Grotevent, Lucas Lütz
  • Music production, editing and mix
    Holger Schlegel
  • Film editor
    Onno van Ameijde
  • Interview
    Onno van Ameijde
  • Acknowledgements
    Vadim Dukart, Andreas Fischer

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