BWV 770

All of Bach: a project by the Netherlands Bach Society

Partite diverse sopra: Ach, was soll ich Sünder machen

BWV 770 performed by Elske te Lindert
Bovenkerk, Kampen

"Right until the eight partita, Bach sticks to the twelve bars of the chorale. In the ninth and tenth partita however, he wants to be more lavish."

Tribute to Böhm

Bach takes his hat off to his master.

“Oh what should I, a sinner, do? Oh where should I begin?” are the opening words of the chorale on which Bach based this series of partitas, or variations. Bach shows no sign of such doubts, in a musical sense at any rate. He begins with a relatively simple harmonisation of the chorale melody (partita 1), and he also knows how to continue. It is followed by a series of 9 variations (partitas 2 – 10).

This work probably originates from Bach’s time in Arnstadt, where he worked between 1703 and 1707. It bears a strong resemblance to the chorale partitas by Georg Böhm (1661-1733), who took up the post of organist in 1697 at St John’s Church in Lüneburg, the town where Bach studied between 1700 and 1703. It seems likely that Bach took music lessons with him in those years.

Not only is Bach’s partita based on the hymn Ach, was soll ich Sünder machen written in typical Böhm style, but in some details it also appears to be a direct response and tribute to Böhm. The beginning of the fifth variation seems to be a direct quote from the third of Böhm’s variations on the chorale Ach wie nichtig, ach wie flüchtig. Bach certainly did not develop in a vacuum, and here we hear how he takes his musical hat off to a great contemporary.

Chorale partitas, BWV 766-770
The chorale partita is a special form of chorale arrangement, as the chorale (or hymn) serves as the starting point for a series of variations. The art of variation was at its peak in the seventeenth century. Usually, a folk song was taken as the starting point for a series of variations that increased in difficulty and speed. The genre was not restricted to keyboard instruments. The blind Dutch recorder and carillon player Jacob van Eyck was also a master in the art, for example. The five compositions by Bach bearing the name of chorale partita do not come from a single source, nor are they dated, but it is supposed that they originated in his teens and may have been revised later on.


Partite diverse sopra: Ach, was soll ich Sünder machen

organ work (chorale partita)

before 1708


Cast & Crew

release date 30 December 2016
recording date 2 October 2015
LOCATION Bovenkerk, Kampen
ORGANIST Elske te Lindert
Organ Hintz orgel
DIRECTOR Jan Van den Bossche, Hanna Schreuders
CAMERA Maarten van Rossem, Gijs Besseling
Film edit and interview Gijs Besseling
Producer film Jessie Verbrugh

Vocal Texts




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