BWV 739

All of Bach: a project by the Netherlands Bach Society

Wie schön leucht uns der Morgenstern

BWV 739 performed by Theo Jellema
Stiftskirche St. Georg, Goslar-Grauhof

Theo Jellema explains the difference between a chorale fantasy and a chorale adaptation.

Youthful exuberance

Filled with optimism, Bach lets the organ rejoice in the higher regions.

‘Schön’, ‘süsse’, ‘lieblich’, ‘freundlich’, ‘herrlich’, ‘gross’, ‘ehrlich’, ‘reich’, ‘hoch’ and ‘prächtig’. These are the words sung about the morning star in the title of this chorale arrangement. This morning star usually refers to Venus, the planet that shines brightly in the sky just before dawn. Here, of course, the morning star is Jesus Christ.
The beautiful, optimistic words are excellently matched by the music, in which the organ rejoices in the higher regions from start to finish. It does so to such an extent that it is hard to spot the original melody, which first appears in long notes in the upper part and then in the pedal. At around five minutes, this arrangement is on the long side for a chorale prelude, which has led to much speculation about what it was intended for. In view of the various variation-like and independent decorations that follow one another, you could call this a ‘free’ chorale fantasy, in the style of Buxtehude and his contemporaries.
Paper analysis has shown that the piece must have been notated between 1703 and 1709. The score is the oldest surviving manuscript by Bach. It is easy to make the mental leap from this manuscript to Bach’s famous trip to Northern Germany in 1705 to hear the famous organist Dietrich Buxtehude. Maybe he wanted to show this piece to the great master, or maybe it is a composition expressing the inspiration found by the young Bach in Lübeck. It is clear that here, too, he surpassed all his examples. “The youthful exuberance”, writes Bach biographer Christoph Wolff, “borders on exaggeration here and there”. The voluptuous ‘coda’ in the final bars, in particular, would not have gone down well with many a listener. In any case, Bach was proud of this chorale fantasy, of which he always kept a neat copy.


Wie schön leucht uns der Morgenstern

organ work (chorale arrangement)

ca. 1705


Special notes
The arrangement is one of the group of a few dozen scattered organ chorales by Bach that cannot be traced back to a creation date or occasion.

Cast & Crew

release date 7 July 2017
recording date 24 August 2015
LOCATION Stiftskirche St. Georg, Goslar-Grauhof
organ Christoph Treutmann, 1731
ORGANIST Theo Jellema
FILM DIRECTOR and editor Onno van Ameijde
Camera Maarten van Rossem, Onno van Ameijde
interview Onno van Ameijde
Producer Jessie Verbrugh

Vocal Texts




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