"Wo Gott der Herr nicht bei uns hält" is a chorale
fantasia for organ composed by Johann Sebastian Bach in
the early 18th century. A copy of the chorale fantasia
resurfaced on 15 March 2008 at an auction of items from
the collection of the 19th-century Bach scholar Wilhelm
Rust. The piece, until then known as BWV Anh. 71, could
by this discovery be authenticated as Bach's and was
reassigned the number BWV 1128.
The performance specifications and range indicate that
Bach wrote the piece for the organ in Mühlhausen, where
he was organist from 1707 to 1708. The organ was
remodelled according to his design, and Bach revisited
Mühlhausen to supervise the execution of his plan,
which was completed in 1709.
Bach's composition consisting of 85 bars of organ music
is based on the Wittenberg melody used for Justus
Jonas' 1524 eight-verse hymn "Wo Gott der Herr nicht
bei uns hält". The large-scale fantasia is of moderate
difficulty in four contrapuntal voices, and is scored
for Rückpositiv, Oberwerk and Pedal.
After an introductory section, the ornamented chorale
appears in the right hand beginning with bar 12,
proceeding verse by verse with interludes, chromaticism
and echo sections. It concludes with a coda in a flurry
typical of stylus phantasticus.
The first public record of the composition is in the
1845 estate auction of Johann Nicolaus Julius Kötschau
who had been organist at St. Mary's in Halle. According
to the auction record the manuscript was once owned by
Wilhelm Friedemann Bach, Johann Sebastian's eldest son,
and predecessor of Kötschau as organist in Halle. When
Wilhelm Friedemann died in 1784 he left it along with
other manuscripts, which included his Clavier-Büchlein,
to his distant relative and student Johann Christian.
When this Johann Christian died in 1814 Kötschau
acquired these pieces from the estate auction. Kötschau
later loaned the manuscript to Felix Mendelssohn, and
then to the Leipzig publisher C. F. Peters.
In the 1845 auction of Kötschau's estate, the
manuscript, along with other Bach works, was acquired
by Friedrich August Gotthold (de). In 1852, to preserve
his collection, Gotthold donated it to the Königsberg
Library, where, 25 years later, Joseph Müller listed it
in a catalogue describing "24 books of organ
compositions by J. S. Bach," which contained as
fascicle No. 5 "Fantasia Sopra il Corale Wo Gott der
Herr nicht bey uns hält pro Organo à 2 Clav. e
Learning about the piece Wilhelm Rust had the
manuscript sent on a library loan to Berlin, where he
copied it in 1877. Rust, who had edited more than half
of the volumes of the Bach Gesamtausgabe (BGA),
resigned from the BGA project over conflicts,
particularly with Philipp Spitta. Rust shared his
knowledge about the piece with Spitta's rival Bach
biographer Carl Hermann Bitter, who listed "141. Wo
Gott der Herr nicht bei uns hält. Fantasia sopra il
Chorale. G-moll. (Königsberger Bibliothek.)" as a
chorale prelude by Bach in Vol. IV of his second
edition of J. S. Bach (Dresden 1880 / Berlin 1881).
After Rust’s death in 1892, a large part of his
collection went to a student of his, Erich Prieger.
Prieger’s collection, in turn, was put up for auction
after World War I in three sections, one of which, with
18th- and 19th-century Bachiana, went in 1924 to the
Cologne book dealer M. Lempertz.
The manuscript owned by Kötschau went lost in the
Second World War. According to Hans-Joachim Schulze
(de) there is some hope it may have survived in a
Russian library. As the chorale fantasia did not get
included in the BGA, Wolfgang Schmieder listed it as a
doubtful work in the second Appendix (Anhang) of the
1950 first edition of the Bach-Werke-Verzeichnis (BWV
Anh. II 71), where it remained in subsequent versions
of the catalogue that were printed in the 20th
Parts of Krieger's collection, including some
compositions by Rust and his copy of BWV Anh. II 71,
went up for auction on 15 March 2008. The Rust items
were acquired by the University and State Library of
Halle, and finally the chorale fantasia was
authenticated by Stephan Blaut and Michael Pacholke of
Halle University, and got the BWV number 1128.
Although originally written for Pipe Organ, I created
this Interpretation of the Chorale Fantasia (BWV 1128)
"Wo Gott der Herr nicht bei uns hält" (Where God the
Lord stands with us not) for String Quartet (2 Violins,
Viola & Cello).