J. S. Bach (1685-1750)
The greatest of them all

"Who's your favorite composer?" is as tired a question as "Whomever I'm listening to at the moment" is an answer. If pressed, however, and with apologies to Ludwig, Wolfgang, Pyotr, and all the other greats, I would give the nod to Bach. His supreme blending of beauty, logic, and inventiveness has never been surpassed, and much of my avocational music-making is devoted to listening, learning, and making synthesized realizations of his music.

Orgelbüchlein, by J. S. Bach

The Orgelbüchlein ("Little Organ Book") is a set of 46 organ chorales composed by Bach while he was working in Weimar, around 1714. Unlike the lengthy chorales found in the Clavierübung III or the Eighteen, these are small-scale works that present the chorale melody without intervening episodes. Originally, Bach planned a much larger set of some 165 pieces, but only completed about a third of them. They generally trace the church year form Advent to Pentecost, with a few miscellaneous chorales at the end.

The links below take you to a Flash player to listen to the work. Also included with each piece is a narrative including the origin of the hymn, the cantus firmus (being aware that in numerous cases Bach varies the rhythm and occasionally the notes), its current usage in the Episcopal hymnal (if any), a translation of the first verse, and remarks on Bach's treatment of the chorale. Since there are fewer than 46 links below, this collection is obviously a work in progress.

Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland, BWV 5991:10
Gottes Sohn ist Kommen, BWV 6001:09
Herr Christ, der einge Gottes-Sohn, BWV 6011:22
Lob sei dem Allmächtigen Gott, BWV 6020:57
Puer natus in Bethlehem, BWV 6031:16
Gelobet seist du, Jesu Christ, BWV 6041:29
Der Tag, der ist so freudenreich, BWV 6051:42
Vom Himmel hoch, da komm ich her, BWV 6060:32
Vom Himmel kam der Engel Schar, BWV 6071:08
Wir Christenleut, BWV 6122:10
Herr Gott, nun schleuss den Himmel auf, BWV 6172:48
Heut triumphieret Gottes Sohn, BWV 6301:13
Herr Jesu Christ, dich zu uns wend, BWV 6320:56
Vater unser im Himmelreich, BWV 6361:22