BWV 679

All of Bach: a project by the Netherlands Bach Society

Fughetta super: Dies sind die heil'gen zehn Gebot

BWV 679 performed by Leo van Doeselaar
Walloon Church, Amsterdam

It's not just a jolly little fugue, Leo van Doeselaar says.

I will delight

How Bach takes a melodic problem by the horns and throws a party

“I will delight in your decrees”, go the words of Psalm 119 verse 16. These decrees are, of course, the Ten Commandments, and the catechism states that it is an obligation to follow them joyfully. So it comes as no surprise that after his serene, pastoral setting of Luther’s Dies sind die heil'gen zehn gebot, BWV 678, Bach wrote an extremely lively pendant in the same key, in order to emphasise the happiness behind the actually very serious theme. 
And talking about the theme, just listen to how a musically problematic melody – the first phrase is nearly all on the same note – is transformed into a dancy gigue and then into a neat four-part fugue. Once again Bach chooses instinctively for ten times the theme: four normal entries and four inverted ones, then a middle section that is completely dominated by the restless counter-theme and followed at the last moment by two more normal ones.
Why is there such a contrast between the two chorales on the same melody, included consecutively in the third part of Bach’s Clavier-Übung? First of all, Bach would not have been able to do otherwise (music without contrast is non-existent in the Baroque), but it is also interesting to note that the works in Clavier-Übung III were probably not created together, as was believed for a long time. Bach may have started on the chorales with pedal as early as 1735, and expanded the collection by six chorales without pedal (just manual), among other works, with a view to publication in 1739. So now we have twice Ten Commandments, tied up with a ribbon.

In Leipzig, between 1731 and 1741, Bach published four parts of Clavier-Übung, a title used previously by Johann Kuhnau, his predecessor as cantor at the Thomasschule, for similar collections of works for organ and harpsichord. The compositions are very varied in nature and, although the title suggests otherwise, were difficult to play. Bach addresses all the styles, genres and techniques for harpsichord and organ that were prevalent at the time, but then in the superior form to which only he had the patent. Clavier-Übung I (1731) contains the six partitas, BWV 825-830; Clavier-Übung II (1735) the Concerto nach italienischem Gusto, BWV 971 and the Ouverture nach französischer Art, BWV 831; and Clavier-Übung IV (1741) the Goldberg Variations, BWV 988. The largest part, Clavier-Übung III (1739), is the only one devoted to organ, containing mostly chorale arrangements, or organ preludes based on Lutheran hymns. Bach made two versions of each chorale: one for great organ and one for a smaller type of organ.


Fughetta super: Dies sind die heil'gen zehn Gebot

organ work

Clavier-Übung III



Cast & Crew

release date 27 March 2015
recording date 23 June 2013
LOCATION Walloon Church, Amsterdam
Organ Christian Müller, 1734
ORGANIST Leo van Doeselaar
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
interview Onno van Ameijde

Vocal Texts




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