BWV 688

All of Bach: a project by the Netherlands Bach Society

Jesus Christus, unser Heiland

Jesus Christus, unser Heiland performed by Reitze Smits
St Jacob's Church, Leeuwarden

“It’s not quite the pain of hell, but enough to make you sweat” - Reitze Smits on the difficult leaps in BWV 688.

Leaps and runs

The last of the six catechism chorales receives unusual treatment

Unlike Calvin and his Dutch followers, Martin Luther recognised a very clear role for music in the church. “Do not rely on the young folk to remember and learn from the sermon alone”, he notes in the preface to his Deutsche Messe (1526), in which he also proposes folk songs as a way of remembering theological concepts. In the same publication, Luther links the chorale Jesus Christus, unser Heiland to the sacrament of Communion. The melody became one of the six songs of the catechism, thus ending up in Clavier-Übung III.

The setting is simple in structure, yet full of symbolism. The unusually large leaps of the theme are seen by some people as two lines – God and mankind – who keep approaching and losing one another again, whereas others interpret them as a cross motif or even a representation of the Greek letters chi and rho, for Jesus Christ. Such symbolism on paper is difficult to hear, and it is likely that Bach simply wanted to experiment on a purely musical level with a perpetuum mobile of leaps and runs. It is only in the last bars, when the melody in the pedal is no longer heard, that the machine finally comes to a halt with one last dissonant twist.

Clavier-Übung
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 italienischen 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.


BWV
688

Title
Jesus Christus, unser Heiland

genre
organ work

series
Clavier-Übung III

year
1739

city
Leipzig

Cast & Crew

release date 24 April 2015
recording date 16 September 2014
LOCATION St Jacob's Church, Leeuwarden
ORGAN Christian Müller, 1727
ORGANIST Reitze Smits
ORGAN REGISTRATION Mayuko Banno
PRODUCER Frank van der Weij
FILM DIRECTOR Jan Van den Bossche
DIRECTORS OF PHOTOGRAPHY Diderik Evers, Ruben van den Broeke
MUSIC PRODUCTION, EDITING AND MIX Holger Schlegel
FILM EDITOR Dylan Glyn Jones
COLORIST Jef Grosfeld
PRODUCTION ASSISTANT Hanna Schreuders
interview Onno van Ameijde
ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS Rob Tigchelaar

Vocal Texts

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