BWV 741

All of Bach: a project by the Netherlands Bach Society

Ach Gott, vom Himmel sieh darein

BWV 741 performed by Leo van Doeselaar
St. Catherine's Church, Hamburg

"You could call it a masterpiece by a child prodigy."

Militant and despondent

Bach takes a less optimistic view of this hymn.

“Oh Lord, have mercy. Your word is doubted everywhere and we, the faithful, are so few. So help us God!” This is the despondent message of one of the earliest hymns written in German by Luther, in 1523, and adapted from Psalm 12. He took the melody from a love song from the early fifteenth century, Begierlich in dem Herzen mein, which is equally dispirited in mood. A lover yearns silently for his loved one, who has no idea of his suffering. Although the lover does want his loved one to know, a solution to his dilemma does not present itself. The sad key of this song, the long disused Phrygian mode, was ideally suited to Luther’s text. He chose this melancholy mode for other similar hymns of humble penitence, such as Aus tiefer Not schrei ich zu dir, BWV 687.

But unlike the lover, in Luther’s text God does not leave at that. He gives his followers such encouragement that the hymn even becomes rather militant. This dualistic character of the hymn went on to inspire a whole series of composers. Schütz, Pachelbel, Sweelinck, Wilhelm Friedemann Bach, Mendelssohn and even Mozart (in his Zauberflöte) arranged the melody in a wide range of compositions. Bach himself used the melody in the cantatas BWV 2, 77 and 153. But it is his chorale arrangement that has the most sombre impact. Bach fills in the work with an abundance of sounds from the deepest regions of the organ. From this disquieting composition emerges a Bach who does not feel too optimistic about the happy ending.


Ach Gott, vom Himmel sieh darein

organ work (chorale arrangement)

early work


probably the second Sunday after Trinity

Special notes
Bach made more arrangements of this chorale later on: BWV 632, 655, 726 and 749. 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 19 August 2016
Recording Date 21 October 2014
LOCATION St. Catherine's Church, Hamburg
ORGANIST Leo van Doeselaar
Organ Various builders between the 15th and 19th century. Reconstruction: Flentrop 2013.
PRODUCER Frank van der Weij
FILM DIRECTOR Jan Van den Bossche
DIRECTORS OF PHOTOGRAPHY Sal Kroonenberg, Ruben van den Broeke
CAMERA ASSISTANTS Andreas Grotevent, Lucas Lütz
FILM EDITOR Bas Wielenga
ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS Vadim Dukart, Andreas Fischer

Vocal Texts




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