Fuga sopra il Magnificat

Fuga sopra il Magnificat

BWV 733 performed by Matthias Havinga
St Bavo's Church, Haarlem

Behind the music

Extra videos
Extra videos

A difficult melody

Bach fools his listener with a quasi-fugue

In view of the title Fuga sopra il Magnificat, you would expect a more prominent function for the melody in this compact organ prelude. But the Gregorian Magnificat melody that Bach uses here is persistent. It evidently comes from a different musical era, which was still dominated by the old church modes.

We can even question whether or not this actually a fugue. What is certain, however, is that the ‘sopra’ in the title is to be taken literally. Here, it means ‘on top of’ or even ‘in between’, rather than its usual definition of ‘based on’. Bach cuts the melody of the Magnificat in two and then deliberately restricts himself to statements of the first half. Only at the last moment does he end the phrase in the pedal that suddenly springs into action. The fact is that the second half of the melody has a harmonic challenge: five times the same note, for which Bach has to find a creative solution in the upper parts.
Practical as ever, he juxtaposes a wealth of little motifs with the simple melody. For instance, throughout the piece we hear the recurring run from bar 2, just like the jumpy notes from bar 3, which can be inverted, extended, halved and doubled, etc. But little motifs do not make a fugue, or at least not a real one. Here, themes do not behave as they ought, and once the fugal box of tricks is opened it is more for the effect than to follow the rules of the art. And yet we fall for this ‘fugue’ with eyes wide open. Not bad for a young composer!

This recording was made on the famous Müller organ in the Great or St. Bavo Church, in Haarlem. It is a very special instrument from 1738. Both Georg Friedrich Händel and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart travelled to Haarlem to play this organ! Händel was particularly delighted by the unusual Vox Humana register. The organ has over 5000 pipes, divided over 64 registers, with three manuals and a pedal.

Fuga sopra il Magnificat
organ works
Special notes
This chorale arrangement has also been handed down as a work by Johann Ludwig Krebs.

Extra videos

Organist Matthias Havinga

“Matthias Havinga explains how Bach adds colour to a simple melody.”

Vocal texts




  • Release date
    12 January 2018
  • Recording date
    21 September 2016
  • Location
    St Bavo's Church, Haarlem
  • Organist
    Matthias Havinga
  • Organ
    Christian Müller, 1738
  • Director
    Bas Wielenga
  • Music recording, edit and mix
    Guido Tichelman, Bastiaan Kuijt
  • Music edit and mix
    Guido Tichelman
  • Camera
    Bas Wielenga, Jeroen Simons
  • Lights
    Gregoor van de Kamp
  • Interview
    Onno van Ameijde, Marloes Biermans
  • Producer
    Jessie Verbrugh

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