BWV 637

All of Bach: a project by the Netherlands Bach Society

Durch Adams Fall ist ganz verderbt

BWV 637 performed by Leo van Doeselaar
St. Martin's Church, Groningen

"Bach used a so-called 'saltus duriusculus', a rhetorical figure, a leap of a downward seventh."

A Serpent lying in wait

Gnawing uncertainty about the fate of mankind almost beats unshakeable hope.

Through Adam’s sin, all men are cursed to the depths of their soul, wrote lyricist Lazarus Spengler in 1524. Only those who believe in the Redeemer can count on God’s mercy. Bach set two of the more hopeful verses of the song to music in cantatas BWV 18 and 109, but in this revolutionary little organ work he seems to be describing doom instead, and bringing the heavy artillery to bear, no less. Teeming semiquavers form a long continuous serpent, wavering almost slyly between major and minor with little semitone steps. This compositional technique is called passus. The Fall of man is heard in the pedal with descending sevenths, which in the Baroque was an uncomfortably big, ominous leap (saltus) that often sounds rather dissonant here as well. In this way, Bach builds up the harmonic tension to a redeeming final chord - which turns out to be major!

Orgelbüchlein, BWV 599-644
During his time as court organist at Weimar (1708-1714), Bach already started compiling his first collection of chorale arrangements and chorale preludes (compositions based on Lutheran hymns). They were intended to be used in church services, and the preludes were an introduction to congregational singing. According to the list of contents in Bach’s manuscript, it was supposed to have been a collection of 164 compositions, but in the end it did not exceed 46 (BWV 599-644). The order, combined with the limited length of the pieces, indicates that Bach was planning to compile a complete cycle of chorale arrangements. 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. 


Durch Adams Fall ist ganz verderbt

organ work (chorale arrangement)


ca. 1708-1717


Cast & Crew

release date 5 September 2014
recording date 8 October 2013
LOCATION St. Martin's Church, Groningen
ORGANIST Leo van Doeselaar
organ Arp Schnitger, 1692
PRODUCTION Frank van der Weij
FILM DIRECTORS Jan Van den Bossche, Frank van der Weij
DIRECTORS OF PHOTOGRAPHY Jorrit Garretsen, Sal Kroonenberg
FILM EDITOR Dylan Glyn Jones
Colorist Jef Grosfeld
PRODUCTION ASSISTANTS Marco Meijdam, Zoë de Wilde

Vocal Texts




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