BWV 599

All of Bach: a project by the Netherlands Bach Society

Nun komm der Heiden Heiland

BWV 599 performed by Dorien Schouten
Bovenkerk, Kampen

A majestic rhythm for a royal entrance.

A poetic start

Bach opens his Orgelbüchlein with a surprisingly delicate advent hymn.

Like leaves in the wind, the lower parts tumble gently to earth. This chorale prelude is full of wavering, beckoning motifs, as if each of the five parts continually wants to say ‘nun komm, nun komm’. In any case, in the Baroque period, the dotted (leaping) rhythm in the bass and descant were often symbolic of ‘life’, which of course is ideally suited to this advent hymn. At the same time, the rhythm resembles that of a French overture – music that was played for the entrance of the king – so also very apt. The descending lines also suggest the arrival of Jesus on earth, although the words of the chorale do not touch on that miracle.

 The question remains as to why Bach chose to hide away the melody in the opening piece of his famous Orgelbüchlein. It appears to be no more than a tenuous background idea for a complex interplay of lines that dominates the sound picture with subtle dissonances. The poetic, broken way in which the chords arise from the various parts may have been derived by Bach from the French keyboard school; for instance from Marchand or Couperin. And the broken chord in the opening calls to mind the toccatas of Frescobaldi, for example, as organist Dorien Schouten explains in the interview.

Orgelbüchlein, BWV 599-644
During his time as court organist at Weimar (1708-1714), Bach already started compiling his first collection of chorale arrangements of Lutheran hymns. According to the list of contents, it was supposed to have been a collection of 164 compositions, but in the end it did not exceed 46. The order, combined with the limited length of the pieces, indicates that Bach was planning to compile a complete cycle of chorale preludes for the church. Later, in his period at Köthen, he gave the collection a title page, which reads: Orgel-Büchlein, Worinne einem anfahenden Organisten Anleitung gegeben wird, auff allerhand Arth einen Choral durchzuführen… (Little organ book, in which a beginner organist is taught to arrange a chorale in all sorts of ways...). So at the time, he intended the collection just as a teaching manual, maybe to present on his application in 1722 for the post of cantor at the Thomasschule in Leipzig, which was an important teaching position. The pupils must have had a hard time of it, as the preludes contain the complete range of Baroque keyboard techniques in a nutshell. 


Nun komm der Heiden Heiland

organ work (chorale arrangement)


ca. 1708-1717


Cast & Crew

release date 25 November 2016
recording date 1 October 2015
LOCATION Bovenkerk, Kampen
ORGANIST Dorien Schouten
Organ Reil choir organ
director Jan Van den Bossche, Hanna Schreuders
CAMERA Maarten van Rossem, Gijs Besseling
Film editing and interview Gijs Besseling
Producer film Jessie Verbrugh

Vocal Texts




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