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WORKSHOP #12: "Nun komm' der Heiden Heiland" (BWV 659)

I have good news and bad news. First, the good news.

I continue to browse Russell Stinson's "J.S. Bach's Great Eighteen Organ Chorales" during odd moments. Most recently his references to "Nun komm' der Heiden Heiland" ("Come Now, Savior of the Heathen"), BWV 659, captured my imagination:

" of his [Bach's] most popular organ works, period...."

"Harvey Grace singled out the piece unequivocally as, the composer's [Bach's] 'most beautiful organ chorale of all.'"

"...the work also projects a deep sense of mysticism quite in keeping with the theme of Christ's Incarnation."

" a recitalist Schweitzer actually preferred the Great Eighteen chorales, particularly...'Nun komm'....Clearly, what Schweitzer found appealing about these works was their meditative, mystical ambience...."

"Stokowski...valued Bach's organ chorales -- and [Nun komm] in particular -- for their 'mystical beauty' and 'concentrated essence of deep musical emotion."

I normally focus on playing Bach's free works but I had to find out what all the buzz was about. So I pulled out "Nun komm" and gave it a play. Sure enough, it was both beautiful and mysterious. It draws you in immediately with the opening pedal notes. That's the good news.

The bad news is that the left hand is in Alto Clef. Wait! Don't run away. Bear with me for just one minute. Once I discovered that the left hand was in Alto Clef I had a good chuckle over this Stinson comment:

"What self-respecting church organist here or abroad has not played the first setting of "Nun komm" during Advent...." Really? With the left hand in Alto Clef? Well, I'm no self-respecting organist but I hate to be left out of things. Much as I enjoy playing from Alto Clef, though, I know that every minute of practice time counts which brings me to the best news of all!

I've created a version of "Nun komm" free of Alto Clef. The left hand part begins in bass clef and then in bar 12 switches to treble clef for the rest of the piece. I have posted a PDF of the piece for FREE downloading to the Composition Free Exchange page. Feel free to email it to your friends or print out as many copies as you like.

I realize that Easter is imminent and "Nun komm" is for Advent but making the left hand more readable doesn't necessarily make it easier to play. You'll still need a little time to work it up, maybe a good project for over the summer.

I'll leave you with a final tidbit from Stinson:

"[Nun komm] represents the only instance of a true 'walking-bass' pedal in any of Bach's organ chorales." Things that make you go, "Hmmm...."

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Related Link
A Guest Workshop by Victor Frost sheds some light on the uses and benefits of the Alto Clef.
Click here for WORKSHOP #4: "Taming the Dreaded Alto Clef"

Books of Interest
cover J. S. Bach's Great Eighteen Organ Chorales by Russell Stinson
This book has 20 sample pages. Click here to see all pages.
Book Description
On the 250th anniversary of the composer's death, this volume offers an in-depth look at the "Great Eighteen" organ chorales, among the most celebrated works for organ, and a milestone in the history of the chorale. Addressed to organists, scholars, and general listeners alike, this lucid and engaging book examines the music from a wide spectrum of historical and analytical perspectives. Stinson examines the models used by Bach in conceiving the original pieces, his subsequent compilation of these works into a collection, and his compositional process as preserved by the autograph manuscript. Himself an accomplished organist, Stinson also considers various issues of performance practice and concludes with a discussion of the music's reception--its dissemination in manuscript and printed form, its performance history, and its influence on later composers. Completely up-to-date and presenting a wealth of new material, much of it translated into English for the first time, this study will open up fresh perspectives on some of the composer's greatest creations.

cover Bach: The Orgelbuchlein by Russell Stinson
Book Description
This is the first book-length study of the Orgelbuchlein, the masterful collection of organ chorales by Johann Sebastian Bach. This 'Little Organ Book' is regarded by Bach scholars as one of the composer's most important achievements and by organ scholars as a milestone in the development of the chorale. In this lucid and absorbing book Russell Stinson, himself an organist, examines the collection from a range of historical and analytical perspectives in a way that will resonate with not only organists and scholars but the average concert-goer or CD-buyer with an interest in the instrument and its music.

cover 371 Harmonized Chorales & 69 Chorale Melodies With Figured Bass by J.S. Bach

cover The Lutheran Chorales in the Organ Works of J.S. Bach by Mark S. Bighley

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