All of Bach: a project by the Netherlands Bach Society
An Wasserflüssen Babylon
A sombre Sarabande
Bach strengthens faith in desperate straits.
The chorale An Wasserflüssen Babylon describes the desperate situation of the Israelites in exile. Many composers in the seventeenth century made an arrangement of it, with the Hamburg organist Adam Reincken as the absolute champion. His chorale fantasy based on this text lasts for almost twenty minutes, which fact alone brought it great fame. Bach also knew the piece. As a fifteen-year-old, he copied it down and undoubtedly studied it well. But when he made his own arrangement of An Wasserflüssen Babylon around ten years later, in his time as court organist in Weimar, he did not follow Reincken’s example. Instead of an ingenious but somewhat frivolous fantasy, he chose to create a compact, sombre chorale prelude.
In Weimar, Bach even made two different versions. One of them, BWV 653b, has five voices, and the melody sounds ethereally in the upper voice, against a sombre double pedal part. In the other version, BWV 653a, the ornamented melody in the middle voice is wedged between two upper voices and pedal. This latter version was clearly Bach’s favourite, as he revised the material in his later years in Leipzig, by adding even more ornamentation to the melody and further accentuating the drawn-out rhythm as a slow sarabande. In this way, he emphasised the point of this chorale, which is expressed in the later verses of the text, where the Israelites are forced to sing a song of praise. But how are they to sing in such hopeless circumstances? That is precisely what Bach conveys in this chorale prelude. Although the oppressors have got the exiles right where they want them, the timid middle voice keeps going courageously, and with all the ornamentation displays faith in a good outcome.
18 Choräle/Leipziger Choräle, BWV 651-668
In the last ten years of his life, Bach gathered together and completed a series of eighteen chorale arrangements, presumably planning to have them published, just like the third part of the Clavier-Übung in 1739. It concerns a selection of his compositions from much earlier years, when he was working as an organist in Weimar, Arnstadt and Mühlhausen. The collection became known as the 18 Choräle or Leipziger Choräle.
- An Wasserflüssen Babylon
- organ work (chorale arrangement)
- 18 Choräle/Leipziger Choräle
- Special notes
- There are two earlier, more sober versions of this composition from the Weimar period: BWV 653a and BWV 653b.
Cast & Crew
|release date||8 August 2014|
|recording date||8 October 2013|
|LOCATION||St. Martin's Church, Groningen|
|ORGANIST||Leo van Doeselaar|
|orGAN REGISTRATION||Tim Knigge|
|organ||Arp Schnitger, 1692|
|Producer||Frank van der Weij|
|FILM DIRECTORS||Jan Van den Bossche, Frank van der Weij|
|DIRECTORS OF PHOTOGRAPHY||Jorrit Garretsen, Sal Kroonenberg|
|MUSIC PRODUCTION, EDITING AND MIX||Holger Schlegel|
|FILM EDITOR||Dylan Glyn Jones|
|Colorist||Martijn de Haas|
|PRODUCTION ASSISTANTS||Marco Meijdam, Zoë de Wilde|
|interview||Onno van Ameijde|