BWV 736

All of Bach: a project by the Netherlands Bach Society

Valet will ich dir geben

BWV 736 performed by Wolfgang Zerer
St. Catherine's Church, Hamburg

"You'd think it should be a sad chorale, but Bach sets the 'Sterbelied' "Valet will ich dir geben" to music in a joyful vein".

A lesson in positive thinking

Bach’s tribute to a man who was more or less on his own during a plague epidemic

Bach must have been particularly moved by the hymn on which this chorale arrangement is based. Valet will ich dir geben is a ‘Sterbelied’, inspired by heartrending events. The lyricist Valerius Herberger was a clergyman in his hometown; the German Protestant enclave of Fraustadt, in Silesia, Poland, where there was an outbreak of the plague in 1613. A large proportion of the population fell victim to the illness and many fled the town. Herberger remained, however, and in the end he was often the only person, along with the gravedigger, who interred the corpses. His faith must have been an immense support to him and must have propelled him to great heights – his grievous yet hopeful prayer to God at the height of the misery is the only one he ever wrote.

The hymn was published a year later, accompanied by a melody written by the local cantor Melchior Teschner. The extensive subtitle reads: “A reverent prayer with which in the autumn of the year 1613 the reformed citizens of Fraustadt softened the heart of the Lord God, so that he mercifully laid down his ruthless whip, whose strokes had caused two thousand men and women to pass away. It is also a hymn of comfort, in which a devout heart bids this world farewell”.

The melody Teschner wrote for the hymn does not really match the emotional charge of the words, as was common in the seventeenth century. How differently Bach sets to work, after citing the first two lines of the melody for form’s sake. He wrote an overwhelming composition full of the forceful power of conviction. Here, someone is holding tight to the prospect of a good outcome, not with the courage of desperation, but with all the powers invested in him. It is a lesson in positive thinking that certainly does not come amiss in our day too.


BWV
736

Title
Valet will ich dir geben

genre
organ work (chorale arrangement)

Year
Unknown, probably an early work.

City
Weimar?

special notes
In various sources, a numbered setting of the chorale has been added after the chorale arrangement. This is probably not by Bach.

Cast & Crew

release date 15 January 2016
recording date 21 October 2014
LOCATION St. Catherine's Church, Hamburg
Organ Various builders between the 15th and 19th century. Reconstruction: Flentrop 2013.
ORGANIST Wolfgang Zerer
PRODUCER Frank van der Weij
FILM DIRECTOR Jan Van den Bossche
DIRECTOR OF PHOTOGRAPHY Sal Kroonenberg
CAMERA ASSISTANTS Andreas Grotevent, Lucas Lütz
MUSIC PRODUCTION, EDITING AND MIX Holger Schlegel
FILM EDITOR Jasper Verkaart
PRODUCTION ASSISTANTS Hanna Schreuders
interview Onno van Ameijde
ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS Vadim Dukart, Andreas Fischer

Vocal Texts

Original

Translation

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