The Orgelbüchlein ("Little Organ Book") BWV 599-644 is
a collection of 46 chorale preludes for organ written
by Johann Sebastian Bach. All but three of them were
composed during the period 1708–1717, while Bach was
court organist at the ducal court in Weimar. The
remaining three, along with a short two-bar fragment,
were added in 1726 or later, after Bach's appointment
as cantor at the Thomasschule in Leipzig.
The collection was originally planned as a set of 164
chorale preludes spanning the whole liturgical year.
The chorale preludes form the first of Bach's
masterpieces for organ with a mature compositional
style in marked contrast to his previous compositions
for the instrument. Although each of them takes a known
Lutheran chorale and adds a motivic accompaniment, Bach
explored a wide diversity of forms in the
Orgelbüchlein. Many of the chorale preludes are short
and in four parts, requiring only a single keyboard and
pedal, with an unadorned cantus firmus. Others involve
two keyboards and pedal: these include several canons,
four ornamental four-part preludes, with elaborately
decorated chorale lines, and a single chorale prelude
in trio sonata form. The Orgelbüchlein has a four-fold
purpose: it is a collection of organ music for church
services, a treatise on composition, a religious
statement, and an organ-playing manual.
Though this is a tiny piece of organ music, its
expressive power is undiminished. In this chorale
arrangement, Bach aptly illustrated the text from the
1713 Geistreiches Gesangbuch from Weimar: ‘I have
suffered and fought, but now my life is at an end and I
can die in peace’. These are the words of the aged
Simeon, who has seen his Saviour, as God had promised
him. The legato yet persistent melody is played on the
upper keyboard, while the left hand represents the
restless feet anxious to enter the next world.
Meanwhile, the pedal knocks steadily at the gates of
heaven, in the firm conviction that the reward for
earthly labours is close at hand.
Although originally created for Organ, I created this
Interpretation of Choral Prelude (BWV 617) "Herr Gott,
nun schleuß den Himmel auf" (Lord God, now unlock
Heaven) for Classical Guitar Duet.