BWV 650

All of Bach: a project by the Netherlands Bach Society

Kommst du nun, Jesu, von Himmel herunter

BWV 650 performed by Bart Jacobs
St-Bavo's church, Haarlem

"Synchronising your hands and feet is in this piece a technical tour de force."

Good and bad news

A jubilant song of praise gets a darker tone when arranged.

In the story of the six Schübler Chorales, this closing chorale stands for Advent. In order to achieve this structure, Bach (or the anonymous arranger) had to perform a trick with the text, as the cantata from which he took this aria – and particularly the chorale he used, Lobe den Herren – have nothing to do with the birth of Jesus. The words of BWV 137 are jubilant in a more general way and were sung, moreover, in the middle of the ecclesiastical year. The Christmas accent is added by sticking an alternative chorale text onto the music, even if we have to imagine it ourselves in this purely instrumental setting.

The arrangement follows the original alto aria practically to the letter, with the high-flying violin solo in the right hand. When transposed to the organ, the solo loses something of its bravura, which suits the ‘new’ chorale well. Unlike the cantata, which speaks of comfort and protection, it urgently begs for salvation through the coming of Christ. There is doubt about how to play the other parts. Either the chorale goes to the left hand and the continuo to the pedal, or the other way around with the chorale played by the feet. If the player opts for the latter, as organist Bart Jacobs does here, then it is the only ornamented cantus firmus within Bach’s known oeuvre.

Schübler Chorales, BWV 645-650

They may have a number and an epithet, but that does not necessarily mean that Bach wrote the six enchanting Schübler Chorales himself. Five of them are arrangements of known cantata movements – and the sixth may well be an arrangement too, from a lost work. Whereas some people do not doubt the hand of the master and identify a well-considered construction in it, other specialists see a big gap between Bach’s own refined transcriptions and these works that have often been transferred rather literally to the organ. Did the master give this task to his son Wilhelm Friedemann, for example? Did he want to give opportunities to players of more popular music in Clavier-Übung III, as well as to the most virtuoso organists? Were these hits also bestsellers when arranged? Although we do not know the answers, it is a fact that Bach himself owned a copy of Schübler’s publication, which is very interesting for its abundance of improvements and changes by a composer in the latter years of his life.


BWV
650

Title
Kommst du nun, Jesu, von Himmel herunter

Genre
organ work

Year
1748-49

City
Leipzig

Special notes
Arrangement for organ of the second aria from cantata BWV 137.

Cast & Crew

Release date 17 November 2017
Recording date 22 September 2016
Location St Bavo's Church, Haarlem
Organist Bart Jacobs
Organ Christian Müller, 1738
Director Jan Van den Bossche
Music recording 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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