Johann Sebastian Bach

Nun komm der Heiden Heiland (II), chorale prelude for organ (Achtzehn Choräle No. 8), BWV 659 (BC K82)

    Description by Blair Johnston

    The venerable Lutheran chorale Nun komm der Heiden Heiland was crafted into five different organ chorale preludes by J .S. Bach: BWV 699 is a very early attempt; BWV 599 is part of the famous Orgelbüchlein; and the other three are part of the seventeen (formerly eighteen) "Leipzig" chorales originally composed during Bach's Weimar years (1708 - 1717) and revised in Leipzig during the mid/late 1740s. The three "Leipzig" settings of Nun komm der Heiden Heiland are a veritable textbook of chorale prelude possibilities: BWV 661 is a classic bass cantus firmus chorale, BWV 660 a full-figured trio chorale, and BWV 659, perhaps the most famous of the three, a magnificent example of an ornamented chorale prelude.

    Nun komm der Heiden Heiland first appeared in 1524. It is one of the shorter chorales, having four brief phrases of nearly identical length (each is two bars long, and each has eight notes, except the third, which has nine). In BWV 659, Bach sets this framework in G minor and expands it considerably -- the prelude lasts thirty-four bars, and the phrases are five, six, six, and seven bars long, respectively. More significantly, he fills all the rhythmic spaces of the cantus firmus melody with an astounding amount of motion: the nine notes of the third phrase have by Bach's hand given birth to no fewer than 103 separately articulated notes, more still if we count the trill indication in the final bar of the phrase! This lovely filigree of the soprano voice cantus firmus is supported by two lower manual voices (counterpoint, which might, under other circumstances, itself seem highly decorated but which, compared to the soprano melody, is as plain as bread) and a steady pedal bass that moves mostly in eighth notes.

    As mentioned, the "Leipzig" chorale preludes represent revisions of works composed many years earlier in Weimar. These alternate versions all survive, that of BWV 659 being known as BWV 659a.

    Appears On

    Year Title Label Catalog #
    2016 Brilliant Classics 95310BR
    2016 Decca B002457802
    2016 Decca B002434601
    2016 Alpha ALPHA 316
    2016 Globe GLO 5262
    2016 Alpha 890
    2016 Brilliant Classics 95166BR
    2015 DG Deutsche Grammophon
    2015 DG Deutsche Grammophon
    2015 DG Deutsche Grammophon
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    2015 Genuin GEN 15375
    2015 Melodiya MELCD 1002397
    2015 Brilliant Classics 94981BR
    2015 Capriccio Records C 5243
    2015 Coro COR 16132
    2015 Prestare ZWF 3331567
    2015 Zig Zag Territoires ZZT 364
    2014 Cobra Records CBA 38
    2014 Lawo Classics LAWSACD 1056
    2014 Acis Productions APL 58180
    2014 Naïve V 5362
    2014 Syrius SYR 141458
    2013 Maguelone MAG 111104
    2013 La Dolce Volta LDV 04
    2013 Gall (formerly Gallo) / Gallo CD 1405
    2013 Augustiner / Preiser Records STA 6613
    2013 Camerata Records CMCD 28244
    2013 Skarbo DSK 1124
    2013 Brilliant Classics 94456
    2013 Lifescapes Music 61029
    2013 TYX Art TXA 12015
    2012 Challenge Classics CC 72534
    2012 Naxos 8572740
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    2012 ECM / ECM New Series
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    2012 Pro Organo CD 7248
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    2012 Passion for Pipes Productions
    2011 Kevin Clarke
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    2011 Stradivarius DB 072010
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    1987 Philips 420832
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    Erato
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    DG Archiv 463722
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