2012-09-30 Notes from the Bench

A commentary on this week’s music by Dr. James Gerber, Music Associate

Chorale Prelude “Wer nur den lieben Gott läasst walten” by Johann Sebastian Bach

Our gospel hymn today, “If thou but trust in God to guide thee” (Hymnal 1982, #635) is sung using the German choral melody, “Wer nur den lieben Gott läasst walten,” (meaning, “who allows God alone to rule him”) composed by Georg Neumark c.1641.  During the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, the chorale became the most important musical component of Lutheran worship services.  These melodies were also used as the basis for a variety of vocal and instrumental compositions.

This work is one of six chorale preludes known as the “Schübler Chorales,” which were engraved by publisher Johann Georg Schübler and are among the few of Bach’s compositions published during his lifetime.

Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750), one of the great musical geniuses of all time and whose work represents the pinnacle of the north-German baroque music tradition, held the prestigious position of Kantor (director of music) for the Thomaskirche and Thomasschule in Leipzig from 1723-1750.  Among his many responsibilities, Bach was required to provide a cantata for the Sunday church services.  Bach usually composed and performed his own works and wrote over 200 cantatas, many based on chorales; most of these cantatas written during his first three years in Leipzig.

This chorale prelude is a transcription, arranged for organ by Bach, of the fourth movement of his cantata based on this chorale (BWV 93).  In the original cantata, the movement is three-part fugue written as duet for soprano and alto with continuo accompaniment providing the third part while the violins and violas play the chorale melody as an obbligato.  In the organ setting, the melody of the chorale is in the pedal part with the fugal parts arranged for the manuals.

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