BWV 598

All of Bach: a project by the Netherlands Bach Society

Pedal-Exercitium

BWV 598 performed by Matthias Havinga
St-Bavokerk, Haarlem

"In this piece, Bach invites the organist to finish with his own improvisation."

Footwork

Winged feet penetrate the ears of the listeners like a bolt of lightning.

The “miracle of Leipzig” (Lipsiae miraculum), was the name bestowed on the organist Johann Sebastian Bach by Constantin Bellermann. Bellermann was the headmaster of a provincial school and had heard Bach testing a renovated organ in Kassel – probably in 1732. He was clearly very impressed, saying “If this man so chooses, he can use only his feet (solo pedum ministerio), while his fingers do nothing or do something else, to produce miraculous, quick and exciting harmonies on the church organ, such as those you see others produce with their fingers”.

This pedal fragment notated by Bach’s son Carl Philipp Emanuel, above which one of Johann Sebastian’s pupils wrote Pedal Exercitium and ‘Bach’ in the 1730’s, fits Bellermann’s description of Bach’s pedal technique perfectly. It is a showpiece of quick broken chords, big leaps and unexpected chromatic notes. Eyewitness accounts like Bellermann’s also make it clear that father Bach really could play this sort of passage as quick as lightning.

For example, Bellermann writes about Bach’s visit to Kassel that he “ran over the pedals so quickly that his feet appeared winged, with a thundering fullness of sound, and penetrated the ears of the listeners like a bolt of lightning”, and that he “was admired in amazement” by Prince Frederick van Hessen. The prince removed a jewelled ring from his hand on the spot and gave it to Bach. If he had earned that just with the speed of his feet, wondered Bellermann, what would the prince have given him if Bach had used his hands as well?

We do not know exactly why Bach wrote this fragment of 33 bars. As it has survived in the hand of his son Carl Philipp Emanuel, it could well be that it was an exercise devised by father Bach for his son.


BWV
598

Title
Pedal-Exercitium

Genre
organ work

Year
after 1725

City
Leipzig

Special notes
This piece is unfinished.

Cast & Crew

release date 21 July 2017
recording date 21 September 2016
Location St-Bavokerk, Haarlem
Organist Matthias Havinga
Organ Müllerorgel
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
Producer Jessie Verbrugh
Interview Onno van Ameijde

Vocal Texts

Original

Translation

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