The Kennedy Center

Chorale Prelude, Christ ist erstanden, BWV 627 (from Orgelbüchlein)

About the Work

J.S. Bach Composer: J.S. Bach
© Peter Laki

The organ works of Johann Sebastian Bach are not only the alpha and omega of the performing repertoire but have also inspired composers directly for almost 300 years now. The first segment of the recital juxtaposes Bach's music with some creative responses to it from the 19th and the 21st centuries.

The Bach selections are taken from the Orgelbüchlein, that practical compilation of short chorale preludes for the entire church year that Bach worked on (without completing it) during his tenure at Weimar (1708-1717). In the chorale preludes, the traditional Lutheran hymns are subjected to various types of polyphonic treatment, with different types of countersubjects and imitative devices. The two pieces chosen by Mr. Escaich show two different compositional approaches: in the New Year chorale In dir ist Friede ("In You is Peace"), the melody is heard in close four-part imitation, elaborating on the very first two measures of the tune in particular. The Easter hymn Christ ist erstanden ("Christ Has Risen"), by contrast, is given in three variations; what is remarkable is that not only the countersubjects change from one variation to the next but the melody itself undergoes slight modifications. However, the chorale melody doesn't wander from voice to voice but stays in the treble all the way through.