Johann Sebastian Bach

Vom himmel hoch, da komm ich her (I), canonic variations on the Christmas hymn for organ, BWV 769

    Description by Joseph Stevenson

    A canon is a composition based on a tune that starts in one voice and then is picked up in turn by other voices; a simple example is "Row, Row, Row your Boat." The simple melody "Vom Himmel hoch" (From Heaven on High) is an Advent hymn in the Lutheran church calendar. In representation of God's manifestation of Himself on earth, the tune mostly descends by simple steps down the scale. Bach first presents the tune in its original form, and it makes an elegant canon. Then he sets to work spinning out several minutes of exquisite variations on it, each time setting the variations canonically; hence the "canonic variations" title. The simplicity of the tune makes Bach's complex counterpoint unusually transparent, and the combination of counterpoint and variation makes for an attractive mix of intellect and decorative display. This work, unusually ingenious even for Bach, dated from the last years of his life. It was written for a composers' society that Bach joined briefly, and was probably intended as a virtuoso demonstration of the possibilities of the canonic procedure. It is of a piece with the other towering intellectual achievements of Bach's final years, the Art of Fugue and the Musical Offering. Igor Stravinsky made a sparkling setting of this work for small chorus and instrumental ensemble. Without adding or subtracting a note, merely by the placement of new instruments and accents, Stravinsky imposed a delicious overlay of his own rhythmic style in this tribute paid to one great composer by another.

    Parts/Movements

    1. Variation 1
    2. Variation 2
    3. Variation 3
    4. Variation 4
    5. Variation 5

    Appears On

    Year Title Label Catalog #
    2018 Decca
    2018 Brilliant Classics 95853
    2018 Danacord DACOCD 793794
    2017 Continuo Classics 111
    2015 Sony Classical 88875026162
    2015 BIS BIS 2111
    2014 Passacaille PAS 1000
    2014 Lawo Classics LAWSACD 1056
    2013 Decca
    2013 Classical Communications / The Gift of Music CCLCDG 1268
    2012 Deutsche Grammophon
    2012 Deutsche Grammophon 48068005
    2012 Bella Musica / Zebralution
    2012 Sony Classical 5463882
    2011 Denon Records
    2011 Antes Edition / Zebralution
    2010 Denon Records
    2010 Denon Records
    2010 Denon Records
    2010 Decca 4782358
    2010 Universal Classics & Jazz
    2010 Brilliant Classics 94050
    2010 Deutsche Grammophon 4778628
    2010 Deutsche Grammophon 477 862-8
    2010 Organ Historical Society / Raven 8
    2010 EtCetera Records 1400
    2009 Centaur Records 3015
    2009 Bella Musica / Zebralution
    2008 Challenge Classics 72175
    2008 Laserlight / Zebralution
    2008 Deutsche Grammophon 4694202
    2007 Musical Concepts 191
    2007 BIS 1527/28
    2007 Analekta 24022-43
    2007 Sony Classical Essential Classics 103112
    2007 Cascade Records 2100
    2007 Erato 4699028
    2006 Brilliant Classics 99697
    2006 Brilliant Classics 93102
    2006 Aeolus Music 10241
    2005 Deutsche Grammophon 000506802
    2005 Deutsche Grammophon 477 5759GOM2
    2004 Tall Poppies 166
    2004 Archiv Produktion 000185602
    2004 Decca
    2004 Laserlight 14599
    2004 Capriccio Records 49231
    2004 Priory Records 753
    2003 Art & Music 1539/58
    2003 Universal Distribution 000106202
    2003 Hungaroton 32222
    2003 Ricercar 212
    2003 Edel Records 0152868
    2002 Gothic Records 49202
    2002 Hyperion 44121/36
    2001 Laserlight 35890/35608
    2000 Supraphon 3439
    2000 EMI Music Distribution 73878
    2000 Archiv Produktion 463712
    1999 Harmonia Mundi 295717
    1999 Harmonia Mundi 290772
    1999 Valois 4425
    1999 Decca 4489982
    1999 Delta Distribution / Laserlight 35890
    1999 Nimbus 5606
    1999 Archiv Produktion 419904
    1997 Deutsche Grammophon 453 064-2GTA2
    1997 Sony Music Distribution 63185
    1995 London 444410
    1995 Capriccio Records 10040
    1995 Gallo 720
    1994 Erato 96358
    1994 Erato 96723
    1994 Naxos 550927
    1994 BIS 439
    1993 Titanic 171
    1993 Disques Pierre Verany 793011
    1992 Hyperion CDA66455
    1991 Harmonia Mundi 190717
    1990 London/Decca Jubilee / London 421103
    1990 Delta Distribution / Laserlight 15272
    Newport Classic 60072
    Brilliant 93102-VOL6
    Brilliant 99706
    Brilliant 93102/151
    Brilliant 99706/13
    Harmonic Records 8828
    Arkay Records 6161
    Analekta 4042
    Deutsche Grammophon 471734
    Supraphon 110626
    Hyperion 44134
    Fleurs de Lys 3066
    Ligia 104081
    EMI Music Distribution
    Ligia 104077/80
    Archiv Produktion 463721
    Accord 149514
    Delta 24831
    Capriccio Records 492320
    Solstice Records SO 131
    Cascade Records 2137
    Berlin Classics 0093632BC