All of Bach: a project by the Netherlands Bach Society
Das alte Jahr vergangen ist
How a New Year hymn provoked a protracted conflict.
A New Year hymn is relatively innocuous and cheerful, you would think. Yet here Bach made a fairly chromatic and melancholy arrangement of Das alte Jahr vergangen ist. He was undoubtedly aware of the fact that the hymn was not merely innocuous.
Bach wrote this piece during his years in Weimar between 1708 and 1717. Not far from Weimar lies Erfurt, which in those days belonged to the Catholic electorate of Mainz. Although the Lutherans had freedom of religion, conflicts always loomed on the horizon. And in 1712, a conflict flared up about the hymn Das alte Jahr vergangen ist. A group of schoolboys were singing it in the streets. Just as they passed the home of a Catholic, they got to the third strophe, with the words: ‘protect us, Lord, from Papal teaching and idolatry’ (Vor’s Papsts Lehr’ und Abgötterei bewahr uns, Herr). Was it coincidence or mischievous intent? Whatever the case, it went down badly and resulted in a long conflict about freedom of religion, insults and this hymn.
The situation was reversed in Haarlem in the eighteenth century, where the Protestants were in charge and the Catholics were tolerated provided they kept a low profile. The imposing organ in the Protestant St Bavo’s Church was a resounding symbol of acoustic dominance, especially when all the stops were pulled out. Fortunately, Bart Jacobs has opted for a more conciliatory sound.
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 Cöthen, 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.
- Das alte Jahr vergangen ist
- organ work
- ca. 1708-1717
- New Year Hymn
Cast & Crew
|Release date||29 December 2017|
|Recording date||22 September 2016|
|Location||St Bavo’s Church, Haarlem|
|Organ||Christian Müller, 1738|
|Camera||Bas Wielenga, Jeroen Simons|
|Music recording||Guido Tichelman, Bastiaan Kuijt|
|Lights||Gregoor van de Kamp|
|Interview||Onno van Ameijde|