BWV 691

All of Bach: a project by the Netherlands Bach Society

Wer nur den lieben Gott lässt walten

BWV 691 performed by Dorien Schouten
Bovenkerk, Kampen

Simple faith

A popular chorale becomes an exercise in ornamentation.

‘Wer Gott, dem Allerhöchsten, traut, der hat auf keinen Sand gebaut’ is the closing line of Georg Neumark’s first verse of his popular chorale, published in 1641. It is a simple message, which is reflected equally simply in Bach’s musical arrangement. Although we do not know for certain (we know very little for certain about Bach’s organ works), there is probably a didactic plan concealed in this short work, as Wer nur den lieben Gott lässt walten appears not only in the Kirnbergerschen Sammlung from which it derives its catalogue number, but also prior to that in the ‘keyboard booklets’ for Wilhelm Friedemann (early 1720s) and Anna Magdalena (1725). The first source, in particular, is of interest with regard to this piece.

Soon after Bach’s son turned 9, his father started on a book that filled up with music over the years. It became a series of remarkable pieces that were not too difficult and which each focused on a specific element of keyboard playing. This chorale arrangement became an exercise in ornamentation, and it includes most of the ornaments listed in the table at the front of the book. This allows us to glimpse Bach’s many ways of bringing a melody to life – a tradition that we unfortunately apply only sparsely to his less explicitly ornamented music.

Continuing the example of French music, which was notated in very specific detail, Bach added sparkling ornamentation to the flamboyant melody. And so as not to distract the listener or the pupil, he kept the left-hand accompaniment simple. A manual performance (using only the hands and no pedal) on two keyboards would be a natural conclusion, although this piece is just as endearing on harpsichord, or even better on clavichord – the ideal home instrument of the Baroque.

Kirnbergerschen Sammlung, BWV 690-713
Bach cherished a great many of his compositions, ensuring that they were collected or recycled, and – if at all possible – published. But there are also pieces that missed the boat, such as the twenty-four early organ compositions now known as the Kirnbergerschen Sammlung. We owe the survival of these works to Bach’s pupil Johann Kirnberger, who collected twenty-four organ compositions, among other pieces, following the death of his master. The most striking thing about this collection is its lack of cohesion. The only similarity between the works is that they probably all date from the period before 1710.


Wer nur den lieben Gott lässt walten

organ work (chorale arrangement)

Kirnbergerschen Sammlung, Klavierbüchlein für Wilhelm Friedemann Bach, Notenbuch für Anna Magdalena Bach

before 1710?

Weimar, Köthen

Cast & Crew

release date 16 September 2016
recording date 1 October 2015
LOCATION Bovenkerk, Kampen
ORGANIST Dorien Schouten
Organ Reil choir organ
FILM DIRECTORS Jan Van den Bossche, Hanna Schreuders
CAMERA Maarten van Rossem, Gijs Besseling
Film editor and interview Gijs Besseling
Producer Jessie Verbrugh

Vocal Texts




You might also like these works