Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland (from the Orgelbüchlein), BWV 599
by Johann Sebastian Bach [playing time 1:10]  [Download the MP3]

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.

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Text - Martin Luther
Tune - Veni, redemptor (ca. 1120); adapt. Martin Luther, 1524
The Hymnal 1982 - #54

Savior of the gentiles, come,

recognized as the Son of the Virgin.

All the world marvels

that God ordained such a birth for Him.

This is the first of four Advent chorales in the Orgelbüchlein, based on a 16th century text by Martin Luther, and with the tune derived from a 12th century Gregorian chant, Veni, redemptor gentium. As with most of these chorales, Bach places the cantus firmus in the soprano, and throughout this piece (and the other Advent chorales), you will hear descending motives permeating the texture. This downward motion has been widely interpreted as symbolizing the descent of Christ from Heaven to Earth. This four-note motive enters at 0:03 and is an inversion of part of the first phrase of the chorale melody:

You'll hear it cascading downard throughout the piece.

The piece is in five voices throughout, except for one spot at 0:42, where Bach suddenly drops it to one voice in the bass for a single semiquaver, letting it then expand downward again to the five-voice texture. Sources describe this as the surprise, or amazement, mentioned in the verse.

Index > BWV 600

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