Valet will ich dir geben

Valet will ich dir geben

BWV 736 performed by Wolfgang Zerer
St. Catherine's Church, Hamburg

Behind the music

Extra videos
Extra videos

A lesson in positive thinking

Bach’s tribute to a man who was more or less on his own during a plague epidemic

Bach must have been particularly moved by the hymn on which this chorale arrangement is based. Valet will ich dir geben is a ‘Sterbelied’, inspired by heartrending events. The lyricist Valerius Herberger was a clergyman in his hometown; the German Protestant enclave of Fraustadt, in Silesia, Poland, where there was an outbreak of the plague in 1613. A large proportion of the population fell victim to the illness and many fled the town. Herberger remained, however, and in the end he was often the only person, along with the gravedigger, who interred the corpses. His faith must have been an immense support to him and must have propelled him to great heights – his grievous yet hopeful prayer to God at the height of the misery is the only one he ever wrote.

The hymn was published a year later, accompanied by a melody written by the local cantor Melchior Teschner. The extensive subtitle reads: “A reverent prayer with which in the autumn of the year 1613 the reformed citizens of Fraustadt softened the heart of the Lord God, so that he mercifully laid down his ruthless whip, whose strokes had caused two thousand men and women to pass away. It is also a hymn of comfort, in which a devout heart bids this world farewell”.

The melody Teschner wrote for the hymn does not really match the emotional charge of the words, as was common in the seventeenth century. How differently Bach sets to work, after citing the first two lines of the melody for form’s sake. He wrote an overwhelming composition full of the forceful power of conviction. Here, someone is holding tight to the prospect of a good outcome, not with the courage of desperation, but with all the powers invested in him. It is a lesson in positive thinking that certainly does not come amiss in our day too.

Valet will ich dir geben
organ works
Unknown, probably an early work.
Special notes
In various sources, a numbered setting of the chorale has been added after the chorale arrangement. This is probably not by Bach.

Extra videos

Organist Wolfgang Zerer

“You'd think it should be a sad chorale, but Bach sets the 'Sterbelied' Valet will ich dir geben to music in a joyful vein.”

Vocal texts




  • Release date
    15 January 2016
  • Recording date
    20 October 2014
  • Location
    St. Catherine's Church, Hamburg
  • Organist
    Wolfgang Zerer
  • Organ
    Various builders between the 15th and 19th century. Reconstruction: 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
    Jasper Verkaart
  • Production assistants
    Hanna Schreuders
  • Interview
    Onno van Ameijde
  • Acknowledgements
    Vadim Dukart, Andreas Fischer

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