BWV 660

All of Bach: a project by the Netherlands Bach Society

Trio super: Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland

BWV 660 performed by Leo van Doeselaar
Walloon Church, Amsterdam

Leo van Doeselaar on the two battling basses in this chorale arrangement.

Crosses in Advent

How a distinctive chorale arrangement links the birth and Passion of Jesus.

Many a preacher remarks at Christmas time how the Passion – the Christian promise of redemption – could never have come about without the birth of Jesus. The two poles are closely connected, and Luther refers to this in Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland with the contrast between light and dark. In his turn, Bach also leaves us in no doubt about it in BWV 660. The whole sombre work is pervaded with symbols of the cross.
In any case, this compact work leaves room for interpretation. The two well-matched bass parts are probably arrangements of viola da gamba and cello parts (the big chords at the end of each phrase are typical of gamba music), but at the same time they could symbolise God as the foundation, or even a duet between God and Jesus – equal yet different. In the curious ending, some people hear how God leaves his son, while others interpret the difficult harmonies as representing Jesus’ descent into hell, foretold in the Advent chorale, and the fulfilling of God’s commandment.
But it is the cross motifs that are easiest to hear. They begin in the bass lines, which in this performance are almost identical and therefore continually in one another’s register. Reading along in the score, you also discover the refined way in which Bach begins the melody – not in one part, but divided over both. And by slightly raising the third note of the melody (on the word ‘der’), the interval to ‘Heiden’ becomes smaller and dissonant. It is no coincidence that this is the same interval as in Lass’ Ihn kreuzigen and Komm süsses Kreuz in the St Matthew Passion.

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.


Trio super: Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland

organ work (chorale arrangement)

18 Choräle/Leipziger Choräle

first version 1711-13, manuscript 1739-42


Special notes
This chorale arrangement exists in three versions: BWV 660, 660a and 660b. BWV 660a is an earlier version with a less embellished upper part and more indications that it may be a transcription of a cantata movement that has now been lost. BWV 660b was probably not transcribed by Bach himself. It has the bass parts in the left and right hand, and the chorale (without ornaments) in the pedal.

Cast & Crew

release date 9 January 2015
recording date 23 June 2013
LOCATION Walloon Church, Amsterdam
ORGANIST Leo van Doeselaar
Organ Christian Müller, 1734
PRODUCER Frank van der Weij
FILM DIRECTOR Jan Van den Bossche
DIRECTORS OF PHOTOGRAPHY Sal Kroonenberg, Ruben van den Broeke
Grip Antoine Petiet
FILM EDITOR Dylan Glyn Jones
COLORIST Jef Grosfeld
PRODUCTION ASSISTANTS Marco Meijdam, Zoë de Wilde

Vocal Texts




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