It is frequently the task of musicologists and
serious-minded performers, when dealing with so
extensive a musical output as J. S. Bach's, to sort
through all the many versions of a given piece that
exist and to try, at the end of all this digging, to
come up with what might reasonably be called the
"authentic" version of that piece.
Very often in the case of Bach and other high-profile
composers, the task is impossible, but sometimes the
evidence in favor of one version or another is strong
enough for the myriad individually-minded scholars to
reach a consensus and the catalog of works to be
altered to reflect the new agreement. This is more or
less what has happened over the years regarding Bach's
organ chorale prelude on "Nun freut euch, lieben
Christen gemein." The prelude, thought to have been
composed sometime during Bach's years as court organist
in Weimar (1708-1717), survives in two versions,
sometimes cataloged as BWV 734 and BWV 734a. In the one
version of the piece, the original Lutheran chorale
melody (the cantus firmus, it is called) on which
Bach's elaboration is based is played by the hands on
the organ manuals; in the other version the cantus
firmus is found in the organ pedals, with a few minor
but, when dealing with so important a part of the
repertoire as Bach, vital changes to the music of the
Neither version survives in a truly authoritative
source, but over time and for a variety of reasons, the
version with the cantus firmus in the pedals has fallen
somewhat into scholarly disfavor and more often than
not been labeled "inauthentic," leaving the manual-only
version of "Nun freut euch, lieben Christen gemein" as
the sole heir to the heading BWV 734.
The melody of "Nun freut euch, lieben Christen gemein"
is one of the earliest Lutheran hymn tunes, having been
derived by Martin Luther himself in 1524 (the tune was
also associated, from 1682 on, with the text "Es ist
gewisslich an der Zeit," and one will occasionally find
BWV 734 under that title).
Bach puts this cantus firmus in the tenor voice, to be
played by the inner fingers of the left hand while the
bass moves along in steady eighth notes and the right
hand indulges in a florid sixteenth-note obbligato
whose opening tones subtly foreshadow, in outline, the
first five or six notes of the tenor's cantus firmus
melody. As in the original hymn, the first pair of
phrases are repeated; the final three phrases make for
one long push towards the final G major cadence, richly
extended (in Bach's usual plagal/subdominant way) by
the running bass and treble obbligato under the
umbrella of the tenor's sustained G pedal tone.
When I listened to this piece on YouTube
(http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-CVGX4I9IhI) I should
have heard a powerful organ organ work but, I didn't. I
heard a rythmic and romantic harp solo that when
slowed-down, became this arrangement.
Although originally written for Pipe Organ, I arranged
this piece for Concert (Pedal) Harp.