BWV 733

All of Bach: a project by the Netherlands Bach Society

Fuga sopra il Magnificat

BWV 733 performed by Matthias Havinga
St Bavo's Church, Haarlem

Matthias Havinga explains how Bach adds colour to a simple melody.

A difficult melody

Bach fools his listener with a quasi-fugue.

In view of the title Fuga sopra il Magnificat, you would expect a more prominent function for the melody in this compact organ prelude. But the Gregorian Magnificat melody that Bach uses here is persistent. It evidently comes from a different musical era, which was still dominated by the old church modes.

We can even question whether or not this actually a fugue. What is certain, however, is that the ‘sopra’ in the title is to be taken literally. Here, it means ‘on top of’ or even ‘in between’, rather than its usual definition of ‘based on’. Bach cuts the melody of the Magnificat in two and then deliberately restricts himself to statements of the first half. Only at the last moment does he end the phrase in the pedal that suddenly springs into action. The fact is that the second half of the melody has a harmonic challenge: five times the same note, for which Bach has to find a creative solution in the upper parts.
Practical as ever, he juxtaposes a wealth of little motifs with the simple melody. For instance, throughout the piece we hear the recurring run from bar 2, just like the jumpy notes from bar 3, which can be inverted, extended, halved and doubled, etc. But little motifs do not make a fugue, or at least not a real one. Here, themes do not behave as they ought, and once the fugal box of tricks is opened it is more for the effect than to follow the rules of the art. And yet we fall for this ‘fugue’ with eyes wide open. Not bad for a young composer!


Fuga sopra il Magnificat

organ work (chorale arrangement)



Special Notes
This chorale arrangement has also been handed down as a work by Johann Ludwig Krebs.

Cast & Crew

release date 12 January 2018
recording date 21 September 2016
Location St Bavo's Church, Haarlem
Organist Matthias Havinga
Organ Christian Müller, 1738
Director Bas Wielenga
Music recording, edit and mix Guido Tichelman, Bastiaan Kuijt
music edit and mix Guido Tichelman
camera Bas Wielenga, Jeroen Simons
lights Gregoor van de Kamp
Producer Jessie Verbrugh
Interview Onno van Ameijde

Vocal Texts




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