The Kennedy Center

4 Chorales: arr. Teie for 12 Celli

About the Work

J.S. Bach Composer: J.S. Bach
© Richard E. Rodda

The chorale is the musical heart of Lutheran worship. Essentially a strophic, unharmonized tune with several verses of German text, the chorale provided an endless source of musical inspiration for composers from the time of Luther, himself author of the great hymn A Mighty Fortress Is Our God . The chorale courses through all of Bach's music for the church, from simple harmonizations for congregational participation to elaborate chorale-based preludes, fugues, fantasias and variations for both choir and organ.

The melody of Herzlich tut mich verlangen (? My Heart Is Ever Yearning ?) was originally the secular tune Mein G'müth ist mir verwirret (1601, ? My Soul Is Perplexed ?) by Dresden Kapellmeister Hans Leo Hassler, which was converted to sacred purpose when Christoph Knoll added his new text in 1605. Bach took the chorale as a sort of motto for his St. Matthew Passion (1727), where it appears in five different harmonizations.

The melody of Jesu, meine Freude (? Jesu, My Joy ?) is by Johann Crüger, Kantor of the Nicolaikirche in Berlin, who included it in his collection of chorales published in 1644; the text is by Johann Franck. Bach made Jesu, meine Freude the basis of a splendid, eleven-movement motet for unaccompanied chorus in 1723.

Wolfgang Dachstein composed An Wasserflüssen Babylon (? By the Waters of Babylon ?) in 1525, soon after he became organist at the Strasbourg Minster. When Bach applied for the organist's post at Hamburg's Catharinenkirche in November 1720, he extemporized for a half-hour on An Wasserflüssen Babylon out of regard for the 97-year-old Jan Adams Reinken, one of the judges, who had based one of his most famous compositions on the chorale. Bach did not get the job but he did win the admiration of Reinken, who told him, ?I thought this art [of improvisation] was dead, but I see it still lives in you.?

Georg Christian Schmelli was born in Herzberg in 1676 and sang as a boy in the court Kapelle at nearby Dresden. He was trained for a musical career at the Thomasschule in Leipzig between 1695 and 1700, and then worked at Treuenbrietzen, near Potsdam, from 1707 until being appointed Kantor at Zeitz, 25 miles south of Leipzig, in 1727. He served at Zeitz until his retirement in 1758; he died there four years later. Schmelli's only known publication is a Musicalisches Gesangbuch that he issued at Leipzig in 1736, which contains the texts for 954 hymns; 69 are given with the melody and a figured bass. In the volume's preface, Bach is credited with the 69 harmonizations and is thought to have composed three of the melodies as well: Dir, dir, Jehova (? Thee, Jehovah ,? BWV 452), Komm, süsser Tod (? Come, Sweet Death ,? BWV 478) and Vergiss mein nicht (? Forget Me Not ,? BWV 505). Bach's deeply expressive Komm, süsser Tod sets an anonymous text that begins Come, sweet death, come, blessed rest.