J. S. Bach’s Organ Music and Lutheran Theology

July 3, 2019

Michael Radulescu, born in Bucharest, Romania, studied organ and conducting in Vienna at the Academy (now University) of Music and Performing Arts where he taught as professor of organ from 1968 to 2008. His career encompasses work as a composer, organist, and conductor. Since his debut in 1959 he has presented concerts throughout Europe, North America, Australia, South Korea, and Japan. He regularly gives guest lectures and masterclasses in Europe and overseas, focusing mainly on the interpretation and elucidation of Bach’s organ and major choral works.

As a composer, Radulescu has written sacred music, works for organ, voice and organ, choral and chamber music, and orchestral works. He is also in demand as a jury member in international organ and composition competitions and as an editor of early and ancient organ music. Radulescu conducts international vocal and instrumental ensembles in performances of major vocal works. As an organist, he has recorded among other things Bach’s complete works for organ, without any technical manipulation.

For his musical and pedagogical contributions Radulescu was awarded the Goldene Verdienstzeichen des Landes Wien in 2005. In 2007 he received Würdigungspreis für Musik from the Austrian Ministry of Education and Art. In December 2013 Michael Radulescu’s book on J. S. Bach’s spiritual musical language, Bey einer andächtig Musiq . . .,
focusing on the two Passions and the B Minor Mass was published.

When approaching Baroque music in general and spiritual music in particular, it is of greatest importance to take into consideration the fundamental difference between the function and the aims of music in the Roman Catholic rite and the Lutheran conception of music. While Roman Catholic music mainly embellishes and adorns the liturgy, Lutheran music wants to preach, to impress, to move, to convince every single listener. Whereas the mystery of the Canon is at the center of the Roman Catholic Mass, the announcing and the elucidation of the Word of God, spoken by the minister and sung or performed by the church musician, stand at the core of the Lutheran Divine Service.

From this dichotomy results the overwhelming importance of rhetoric, of the musical speech (Klangrede) in Lutheran music. Both the ancient rules of rhetoric and the use of the rhetorical-musical figures determine respectively the overall formal concept of a work as well as the invention of characteristic “speaking motifs.”

In the case of J. S. Bach’s music, however, there also seems to be a more subtle, profound, and hidden means of communicating a message, an interpretation of a text. This happens through the ample use of symbols such as allegories, certain characteristic motifs and specific numerical ratios between different sections of the overall formal concept of a piece, and also, most controversial of all, as numerological entities. The latter aspect has been both heartily emphasized and strongly questioned and even ruled out by scholars and practical performers in recent decades. Nevertheless, a surprising hint at the possibility of Bach’s interest in the use of the “numeric alphabet” seems to be, among others, the theoretical work called Cabbalologia by Johannes Henningius (Johann Henning), published in Leipzig in 1683. This publication is said to have been found also in the famous private library of Bach’s neighbor and colleague Johann Heinrich Ernesti, former rector of Saint Thomas Church in Leipzig.

I

Bach published the Third Part of his Clavier-Übung for the feast of Saint Michael at the end of September 1739 on the occasion of the bicentenary of the Lutheran Reformation in Leipzig. This collection of keyboard compositions is generally known under the titles “The Organ Mass” or “The Dogma Chorales,” neither of which can suggest the complex meaning and the message of the entire opus.

It should be remembered that when Luther introduced his Reformation in Leipzig in 1539 he preached on Pentecost Monday in the Leipzig Pleissenburg Castle on two most crucial themes: the Mystery of the Trinity in the Lutheran Mass and the Lutheran Catechism. Most significantly, Bach takes both these theological categories into consideration and, obviously referring to Luther’s sermon of 1539, treats them consistently in his Third Part of the Clavier-Übung. Of the total of twenty-one chorale settings in the collection, the first nine deal with the Lutheran Missa brevis (which includes only the “Kyrie-Christe-Kyrie” and the “Gloria”), while the remaining twelve chorales follow exactly, chapter by chapter, Luther’s Catechism of 1529.

Seen as a whole, the entire Clavier-Übung III seems to suggest a most striking resemblance to Bach’s own organ improvisations as described by his first biographer, J. N. Forkel, in 1802:

a) a great prelude and fugue in Organo Pleno as an opening;

b) a long series of different kinds of chorale settings with a varying number of parts;

c) a great fugue in Organo Pleno at the end.

In Bach’s Clavier-Übung III, these correspond to the following sections:

a) the E-flat Preludium in Organo Pleno also containing the two fugal sections;

b) the 21 chorale settings in 3, 4, 5, or 6 parts, as well as four duettos;

c) the E-flat Fugue in Organo Pleno.

Two further allusions to the Trinity are most interesting in the overall plan of the entire collection. These are manifest already in the title, “Third Part of the Clavier-Übung,” and also in the use of the majestic key of E-flat major, with its three flats in the signature, for both the opening Prelude and the closing Fugue. Also striking is the fact that both the Prelude and the Fugue appear to be determined by the number 3 (three main musical ideas in the prelude and three themes in the triple fugue).

Another obvious hint at the Trinity is the fact that the first 9 chorales dealing with the Lutheran Mass are organized in 3 groups of 3 each: 3 “great” settings for Kyrie-Christe-Kyrie, 3 “small” alio modo settings for the same cantus firmi Kyrie-Christe-Kyrie, and 3 settings for the German Gloria, “Allein Gott in der Höh’ sei Ehr.”

The remaining 12 chorales, which follow Luther’s Catechism, are arranged by 3 + 3 groups of 2 each, the first group dealing with the 3 main chapters of the Catechism (The Law of the Lord = The Ten Commandments, The Creed, and The Prayer of the Lord = The “Our Father”), and the second with the 3 chapters concerning the Sacraments and the Penitence respectively (Baptism, Penitence as continual renewal of Baptism, and the Communion). Each of these cantus firmi is treated twice, in a “great” version with pedal and in a “small” version without pedal, mostly in another key.

It has often been suggested that these two contrasting versions may allude to Luther’s “Great Catechism” versus its reduced form, the “Small Catechism” for younger and “more modest people.” This double treatment of the “catechism settings,” however, seems also to allude to the double form of liturgy: as the great, official one “in churches,” versus its “small,” intimate, personal form “at home,” within each Christian family. Interestingly enough, this dualism appears also in the original subtitle of the Clavier-Übung III dedicated to both amateurs (Liebhaber) and connoisseurs (Kenner).

II

The opening Praeludium pro Organo pleno, Bach’s largest organ prelude, suggests, in spite of the original slurring of the dotted rhythms of its beginning, the pattern of a French overture:

a) majestic homophonic section with dotted rhythm, measures 1 to 70;

b) Fugato section, measures 71 to 97;

c) majestic homophonic section with dotted rhythm, measures 98 to 129;

d) Fugato section, measures 130 to 173;

e) majestic homophonic section with dotted rhythm, measures 174 to the end.

The three different musical ideas used by Bach seem to illustrate in a marvelous way the three Persons of the Trinity:

1. majestic five-part homophonic section for God the Father (Example 1);

2. transition passage with staccato notes suggesting drops of tears (as in the Passions and in several cantatas) and a plaintive theme in the right hand, full of suspensions and chromaticisms and going to the “extreme” keys B-flat minor and E-flat minor, respectively (musical-rhetorical figure of parrhesia), suggesting the human sufferings, the Passion and Death of God, the Son (Examples 2 and 3);

3. The fugal sections using the most spiritual writing, the fugue, and a theme which by its shape (musical-rhetorical figure of hypotyposis) suggests the movement and the shape of the flames, the fire of God, the Holy Spirit (Example 4).

III

Considering the 9 chorale settings of the Missa brevis, the great “Kyrie-Christe-Kyrie,” the small “Kyrie-Christe-Kyrie,” and the 3 “Allein Gott” settings, one notes the following characteristics:

• The first three settings of the great “Kyrie-Christe-Kyrie” are written in the ancient vocal, a cappella style, the stylus gravis, using the so called white notation (breves, whole notes, half notes, quarter and, more rarely, eighth notes as note values). According to Bach’s cousin
J. G. Walther the stylus gravis is “majestic, serious . . . and best appropriate to elevate the human soul to God.”

• The respective cantus firmus descends within this first triad from the soprano in Kyrie, Gott Vater in Ewigkeit (highest part ~ God Father as the Highest) into the tenor in Christe aller Welt Trost (middle part ~ God the Son as the Mediator) and finally into the pedal-bass in Kyrie, Gott, heiliger Geist (bass part ~ God, the Holy Spirit as the universal Basis). This katabasis, i.e., “descending movement,” suggests the descending of God’s mercy upon us and depicts the “eleison” (“have mercy”).

• The tenor cantus firmus in Christe aller Welt Trost stresses the idea of Christ as the Mediator between God and Man, as strongly emphasized by Luther.

• The bass cantus firmus in Kyrie, Gott, heiliger Geist, on the other hand, represents the fundamental Lutheran idea of Justification through the power of Faith; the text of the chorale also prays for “the reinforcement of our Faith.” The final section of this setting, “eleison,” is excruciatingly dissonant, once again stressing human misery awaiting God’s mercy.

• The total number of measures of all three large chorale-settings is a primary, indivisible number:

Kyrie (42 measures) + Christe (61 measures) + Kyrie (60 measures) = 163 ~ indivisibility of the Holy Trinity!

• The three small settings of “Kyrie-Christe-Kyrie” strongly contrast with the preceding three works. The cantus firmus is only hinted at by quotation of its first phrase. Their writing is manualiter, without pedal, and in a soft “cantabile clavier style.” This might suggest love and the soft breath of the Holy Spirit by its “cantability.”

• All three small settings end modally on an E-major chord.

• The time signatures of all these 3 chorales also allude to the Trinity, being “progressions” of the number 3: 3/4; 6/8; 9/8 (= 1 x 3/4; 2 x 3/8; 3 x 3/8).

• The three Allein Gott in der Höh’ sei Ehr settings fulfill a wonderful anabasis (ascending movement) by the sequence of their keys: following the small “Kyrie-Christe-Kyrie” settings ending all on E major, they rise up to F major, G major, and finally to A major, thus obviously alluding to Gloria in excelsis (Allein Gott in der Höh’/“Glory to the Lord in the Highest”).

• All three settings are trios and written in an “instrumental keyboard style,” the first and the last in a brilliant, light style, the second à 2 Claviers et Pedale imitating violins or flutes accompanied by a basso continuo in the pedal.

• The G-major trio on “Allein Gott” seems to stress Jesus’s role as Lamb of God, alluding to the third stanza of the chorale, “Lamb of God, holy Lord and God, accept the prayer of our misery,” by citing these two verses in canon, a most simple symbol for “one part following another part:” first between the right hand and pedal in measures 78 to 83, and in measures 87 to 92 between the left hand and pedal, and thus alluding to the Gospel of John, 1:29–30: “The next day John seeth Jesus coming unto him, and saith, Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world. / This is he of whom I said, After me cometh a man which is preferred before me: for he was before me” (Example 5).

IV

The density and complexity of Bach’s dealing with the theological message through music is most impressively revealed in the settings of chorales treating the main chapters of Luther’s Catechism: the Ten Commandments, the Creed, and the Lord’s Prayer.

The large setting of Dies sind die heil’gen zehn Gebot is written in five parts distributed on two manuals and pedal. The cantus firmus is carried out as a canon between the two tenor parts played by the left hand while the right hand plays the two free upper parts. Surprisingly, these free parts never imitate or cite the cantus firmus.

Most interesting is the fact that in Bach’s treatments of this cantus firmus (Orgelbüchlein, the cantata BWV 77 Du sollst Gott, deinen Herrn, lieben, and the two settings in the Clavier-Übung), he uses the same key, Mixolydian on G, the “pure” key without accidentals in its signature. Never does this cantus firmus appear transposed: this obviously suggests the “immutability of the Divine Law.” Most consistently, the treatment of the cantus firmus as a canon also evokes the “severity of God’s Law.”

A further symbolic meaning of the musical texture is the setting of the canonic cantus firmus in the two middle parts, which clearly refers to Luther’s commentary in his Catechism, regarding the way to keep the Divine Law through “Christ’s the Mediator’s Intercession.”

The beginning of the chorale is most serene, diatonic, and calm, and takes place over an organ point in the pedal. After four measures of “complete harmony” the character changes in the fifth measure: the alto plays a “harsh” descending chromatic figure (the figure of parrhaesia) while the soprano plays three times a “sighing figure” consisting of a sixteenth rest followed by three sixteenth notes, and followed by two groups of stepwise descending eighth notes (Example 6).

This seems to be a strong allusion to the Book of Genesis describing the Garden of Eden (= full harmony~4 measures) and Adam’s Fall in the fifth measure (Adam in Hebrew meaning man and being symbolized, according to Andreas Werckmeister, by the number 5 for man’s 5 senses, 5 fingers and toes, and also hinting at Jesus’s 5 wounds on the Cross).

Interestingly enough, this “sighing” figura suspirans is played by the two upper parts during the whole piece exactly 33 times, reminding of the 33 years of Jesus’s earthly life.

From measure 6 on this figure appears also “transformed” into another figure called kyklosis or circulatio and suggesting a “turning around,” an “insecurity” or, as in our case, a great joy.

This “transformation” of suffering (“sighing figure”) into joy (“turning around in joy”) perfectly matches Luther’s commentary about the Commandments, stressing that those who keep the Law apparently suffer in this earthly world, but that through Christ they shall live in joy.

Luther also considers the First Commandment as being the most important of the Decalogue. It is this very commandment that is cited in the second stanza of the cantus firmus, the stanza to which the great chorale setting seems to allude the most: “I alone am your God and Lord. Thou shalt not have other gods; thou shalt love me from the bottom of your heart. Kyrieleis.”

It is when the cantus firmus expounds the phrase “Thou shalt not have other gods” that the pedal plays a “huge” and “exaggerated” interval of two octaves,
C – c′ (the figure of hyperbole = exaggeration) and obviously referring to God’s immensity (Example 7).

Astonishing is the fact that the motif of measures 47 and 48 appears altered in measures 51 and 52, transformed insofar as it is now divided between the two upper parts: one part continuing the other, and thus suggesting the idea of “two parts becoming one” (the figure called heterolepsis = meaning this continuity, the unification of two parts, i.e., love, as described by J. G. Walther). It is striking to note how often Bach makes use of this figure when alluding to love, to unification in and through love. Not surprisingly, this figure appears in our chorale setting only two times, exactly where each of the two canonic cantus firmus parts play the notes for lieben mich (love me); as one can easily see in the “transformed” version, the motive is played by two “unified” parts according to the text line “Thou shall love me” (Example 8).

If we take a look at the pedal part we note that it is divided into several sections either by rests or by the recurring long organ point on A in measure 29. A most intriguing and striking speculation presents itself in this context when considering the number of notes of each of these sections:

a) measure 1 to 10 = 37 notes

b) measure 10 to 20 = 60 notes

c) measure 21 to 28 = 47 notes

d) measure 29 to 55 = 147 notes

e) measure 56 = 5 notes

f) measure 57 = 5 notes

g) measure 58 to 60 = 14 notes

 

a) Could 37 represent the monogram JCHR for Jesus Christ? (the number alphabet with the correspondence between the letters of the alphabet and the natural numerical order: A = 1, B = 2, C = 3, . . ., Z = 24, with I = J and U = V as in old Latin: J (9) + C (3) + H (8) + R (17) = 37);

b) Could 60 allude to the Old Testament, to the 6 Days of God’s Creation, and also to the 10 Commandments = 60?

NB! Bach occasionally uses the number 6 as allegory for the Creation, for the Entire World (also Orgelbüchlein: Christum wir sollen loben schon, measure 6, where the whole range of the organ is encompassed by the lowest C in the pedal and the highest C in the treble part).

NB! Luther always sees and treats the Old Testament considering the New Testament and vice versa.

c) Could 47 recall the 47th Psalm, mentioned by Luther in his Great Catechism: “O, clap your hands, all ye people; shout unto God with the voice of triumph. / For the Lord most high is terrible; He is a great King over all the earth”?

NB! This third section of the pedal starts in measure 21 where the cantus firmus plays the phrase “Thou shalt not have other gods.” Also, it is here where the pedal plays the enormous, exaggerated interval of the double octave, which also perfectly matches the second verse of Psalm 47.

d) Could 147 recall the 11th verse of the 147th Psalm: “The Lord taketh pleasure in them that fear Him, in those that hope in His mercy”?

NB! Luther himself quotes Ps. 147, 11 in his Catechism, in the chapter dedicated to the Ten Commandments. This could make the assumption mentioned above quite plausible!

e) & f) Could the number 5 possibly allude in this context to mankind (five senses; the five wounds on Jesus’s crucified body) as “the Old” vs. “the New Man”?

g) 14 might well suggest Bach’s own name (B [2] + A [1] + C [3] + H [8] = 14) as his personal commitment as a believer, as the pro me (= “for me”), a central point in Luther’s theology.

Another interesting symbolic connotation is suggested by the general form of the chorale setting. The total of 60 measures is clearly divided into two unequal sections considering the sort of “recapitulation” of the beginning, in measure 29:

28 measures (= 7 x 4) + 32 measures (= 8 x 4) = 60 measures, or 28 : 32 = 7 : 8.

Could 7 allude to the seven days of the week, of the 6 + 1 days of the Creation of the earthly world and 8 to the eighth day (the day of Messiah)? Could this overall form and its “articulation” transmit the message of Redemption?

The “small,” manualiter version of Dies sind die heiligen zehn Gebot seems to have a more obvious, more straightforward approach to the text. It is a fughetta using the theme in both normal and inverted position. The gigue-like theme is characterized by the strongly repeated notes at its beginning and by strong leaps followed by stepwise passages. It is most interesting to note some aspects of this piece:

1) the title in the original print from 1739 is Dies sind die heiligen zehen Gebot consisting of exactly 10 syllables (Ten Commandments?)

2) the repeated G in the theme appears 14 times (BACH’s commitment? See above).

3) the theme appears 4 times in normal, 4 times in inverted, and again 2 times in its normal forms, i.e., 4 + 4 + 2 = 10 times (see above).

4) there is quite a long interlude without the theme between measures 18 and 31, lasting 14 measures (see above).

V

The large chorale setting dealing with the Creed, Wir gläuben all’an einen Gott (Schöpfer) is striking because of its dynamism, abundant syncopations, “modern” 2/4 time signature, constant movement in sixteenth notes, and lack of organ points in the pedal, by the six times of the pedal ostinato, and the flamboyant movement of the manual parts. The theme treated in the manual is rooted in the first phrase of the cantus firmus, and it is this very phrase that appears literally quoted in the tenor in the last 12 measures of the piece. The overall flamboyant, dynamic character of this setting might be surprising, but it seems in perfect coherence with Luther’s idea of a willful, powerful, and passionate personal commitment of each believer aiming to attain personal justification.

Some characteristics of this composition might elucidate its possible further message:

a) the total of exactly 100 measures of the piece might suggest the idea of the totality of the Creation (Gott Schöpfer = God, the Creator);

b) the 6-fold appearance of the pedal ostinato might hint at the 6 “working” days of God’s Creation (see above);

c) the quotation of the first cantus firmus phrase in the tenor, starting in measure 89 might allude to Christ as the Mediator;

d) the last pedal entry is longer than its other entries and has exactly 43 notes; this may well mean: (C [3] + R [17] + E [5] + D [4] + O [14] = 43: CREDO) “I believe.”

NB! Interestingly enough, the score of the first Credo chorus in the B Minor Mass shows the word “Credo” written 43 times and heard 41 times, i.e., J-S-B-A-C-H’s creed.

The small version of the same chorale is written as a short manualiter fughetta in the style of a brilliant French overture. This surprising setting can be seen as an introduction to the large version of The Lord’s Prayer, Vater unser im Himmelreich, written in the same key of E Dorian. More likely, however, it also seems to have the function of dividing the whole set of 21 chorales into 12 + 9. One should remember that, on the other hand, the 21 chorales are also divided into 9, dealing with the Lutheran Mass, and 12, treating Luther’s Catechism and the Sacraments. A very beautiful parallel, indeed!

VI

The large version of Vater unser im Himmelreich is possibly Bach’s most difficult and intricate organ work. It is written in 5 parts distributed once again among the two manuals and the pedal, with the cantus firmus in canon. Unlike the Ten Commandments however, each hand here plays a free voice and a canonic cantus firmus part.

Some characteristics may help understand and elucidate the enormous complexity of this composition:

a) the slow, majestic tempo in the 3/4 time signature suggests the austere character of a slow sarabande;

b) the pedal is treated as a basso continuo without quoting the cantus firmus;

c) the cantus firmus is treated in canon suggesting our intimately repeating the prayer spoken by Jesus according to Saint Mark and Saint Matthew;

d) the alternating order of the canonic parts at each new entry seems to suggest a still dialogue between the believer and Jesus;

e) the free manual parts are based on a theme quoting the richly embellished first phrase of the cantus firmus (Example 9);

f) each hand expounds this theme 3 times, alluding probably once more to the Trinity;

g) the two free manual parts display an enormous rhythmical richness with frequent use of the “plaintive” Lombard rhythms and the staccato triplets (Example 10);

h) this “plaintive” Lombardian rhythm and the overall rhythmical complexity seem to depict Luther’s comment on The Lord’s Prayer expressing the “multitude of human miseries;”

i) the staccato triplets obviously describe Saint Matthew 7:7: “Ask and it shall be given to you; seek and ye shall find; knock and it shall be opened unto you.” As a matter of fact, this very verse appears quoted in practically all older Lutheran hymn books on the page where the chorale Vater unser im Himmelreich is printed. The staccato triplets may also allude to drops of tears;

j) there is only one spot where the pedal quotes the “plaintive” Lombardian rhythm and this happens in measure 41 (J [9] + S [18] + B [2] + A [1] + C [3] + H [8] = J. S. BACH), alluding to the composer’s personal commitment.

After this extraordinary piece, the alio modo manualiter version of the same cantus firmus is a simple, quiet meditation on the Prayer, devoid of all further speculative symbols.

VII

Following Luther’s Large Catechism exactly, Bach now treats the Sacraments of Baptism in Christ, unser Herr zum Jordan kam, Penitence in Aus tiefer Not schrei ich zu dir, the latter considered by Luther as the continuation and constant renewal of baptism, and finally the Sacrament of Communion in Jesus Christus, unser Heiland.

The large version of Christ unser Herr zum Jordan kam treats Jesus’s baptism as described in Saint John, Chapter 1. The piece is set for two manuals and pedal with the cantus firmus in the latter, the bass in the left hand and the two upper parts in the right hand. This setting is quite full of important symbolic meanings:

a) the tenor cantus firmus in the pedal suggests, as the middle part of the setting, Christ’s role as Mediator between God Father and mankind;

b) the almost constant movement in sixteenth notes in the left hand bass part seems to allude to the flow of the waters of the Jordan River;

c) the two upper parts of the right hand can be seen as a symbol for the Holy Spirit floating above the scene of Christ’s Baptism by Saint John the Baptist. The beginning four notes in each of the two upper parts seem to depict, as a hypotyposis, a cross motif. Also, the most intricate imitations between the small motives of the two upper parts can be seen as a hint to the Holy Spirit proceeding from the consubstantiality of God Father and God Son, as mentioned in the Nicene Creed (Example 11).

d) NB: the final note of the fifth chorale phrase in the pedal d° seems to generate a “wrong” 6/4-chord d° - g° - b′: This is to be seen as a hint to avoid the wrong harmony by the use of a 4′ reed in the pedal if the left hand were based on 8′, or a 16′ basis for the left hand, should the pedal be played only on an 8′ basis!

e) The total number of measures, 81, equals 3 x 3 x 3 x 3 as a most impressive symbol for the Trinity.

The small manualiter version of the same chorale is quite a short fughetta based on the first phrase of the chorale, combined with an “obbligato” counter-subject, both treated in normal and inverted position. Could the theme itself represent Christ and its inverted form Christ’s descent on Earth? Could the countersubject stand for Saint John the Baptist? Interesting enough is the fact that this fughetta consists of 27 measures (3 x 3 x 3) with exactly 81 quarter notes (see above).

The large version of Aus tiefer Not schrei ich zu dir, the German version of Psalm 130, “De profundis,” is an exceptional work, as it is written in the old, solemn, majestic vocal stylus gravis or motet style, which, according to Johann Gottfried Walther’s Musicalisches Lexicon of 1732, is able to “elevate the soul to God.” This setting marks a pinnacle in Bach’s entire organ music insofar as it is written in six parts, four in the manual and two in the pedal, with the augmented cantus firmus of Luther’s chorale melody in the right foot’s part. This obviously seems to be an allusion to the significance of the upper bass part as the voice of the Old Testament psalmist. Most impressive is also the fact that at the beginning of the last verse of the chorale Wer kann, Herr, vor dir bleiben? (Who can, Lord, stand before Thee?) in the seventh to last measure, the upper bass part playing the cantus firmus is the highest part in the whole texture (Example 12).

• The registration should be the Organo pleno, i.e., an 8′ based Plenum  in the (coupled) manual(s) and 16′ Plenum in the pedal, without mixtures but with reeds 16′, 8′, and 4′.

• This setting is obviously inspired by the great pleno settings in five parts, with double pedal, in Matthias Weckmann’s great chorale settings with the cantus firmus in the upper pedal part.

NB! In one of the Lüneburg tablatures containing Weckmann’s majestic hymn on O lux, beata Trinitas the opening first movement in five parts with double pedal and the cantus firmus in the upper bass bears the indication that the cantus firmus of the upper bass could be played in the pedal by the right foot, or on the manual by the left hand, or also by both the pedal and the left hand together. This comment seems to confirm the registration mentioned above, with the result that the left foot bass is playing in the reeds-pleno, the manual parts in the mixture-pleno and the cantus firmus in both the reeds- and the mixture-pleno, and thus strengthening the cantus firmus.

The following alio modo manualiter version of the same chorale is written in four parts. Learned contrapuntal imitations in the three lower parts—in normal and inverted form—of each phrase of the chorale, anticipate each phrase of the augmented cantus firmus expounded each time by the treble part.

• Each section of the piece begins with five contrapuntal measures in intricate counterpoint between the three lower parts, followed by eight bars expounding the respective phrase of the chorale in the treble and one supplementary bar concluding each section.

• The overall organization of the piece is quite extraordinary:

Sections a), b), c) & d): 5 + 8 + 1 bars; section e): 5 + 8 + 5

• But 5 + 8 + 1 = 14  [= B-A-C-H = 2 + 1 + 3 + 8] and 8 : 5 stands for the golden ratio.

The large version of Jesus Christus, unser Heiland, der von uns den Zorn Gottes wandt is a trio for the two manuals and pedal with the cantus firmus in the latter. It seems quite interesting that the pedal oscillates between playing the tenor and bass parts. Could this hint at Jesus’s double nature, as God and Man?

• The two manual parts seem to actually symbolize the “Wrath of God” by their extremely virtuosic, agitated, and aggressive movements in sixteenth notes and eighth notes.

• The main theme in the manuals starting with big and then diminishing intervals (tenth-octave-sixth) could possibly hint at Man’s approach to God, whereas, on the other hand, these leaps sometimes occur also in the opposite direction, from smaller to larger (sixth-octave-tenth). The message of these patterns seems to be the “struggle” between God and sinful mankind expecting redemption through communion, Luther’s second sacrament.

The following alio modo version of the same chorale is a very complex fugue in F minor, using as a main theme the first phrase of the cantus firmus. The extremely rich counterpoint and the surprisingly daring new motives seem to recall the big, learned fugues of the Well-Tempered Clavier, Book II.

• The augmented entry of the main-theme in the tenor part in measure 57 might be another symbol for the praise of Christ the Lord, as the mediator between God and Man.

• NB! In order to emphasize this augmented theme in the tenor it should be helpful to use a registration of foundations (principals) 8′ and 4′ and a trumpet 8′.

VIII

Most intriguing and surprising part of the work are the following four duettos preceding the final Fugue in E-flat Major. Some speculations might help justify their presence:

a) Luther adds a “Short Admonition of Confession” after the chapter about Communion. In this short appendix he quotes the various ways of confessing: 1. to the priest/pastor; 2. as an open and common confession in front of the congregation; 3. to the neighbor; and 4. to God;

b) in the first part of his Large Catechism Luther quotes the four elements of the world: 1. Fire; 2. Air; 3. Water; 4. Earth;

c) in his Neu vermehrtes Hamburgisches Gesangbuch (New Hymn Book) from 1739, Vopelius inserts after the Catechism Hymns other hymns for: 1. the morning; 2. the evening; 3. before meals; 4. after meals;

d) taking into consideration the Baroque Theory of Affects one can easily imagine a certain parallel with the four temperaments: 1. choleric; 2. sanguine; 3. phlegmatic; and 4. melancholic temperament;

e) the duettos form a tight unity: their tonal progression ascending from E to F, to G, and finally to A corresponds strikingly to the sequence of keys in the “Trinity chorales” 4 to 9, and thus leading to the first note, B-flat, starting the following fugue;

f) two of the duettos are in a major (II and III) and two in a minor key (I and IV);

g) two are in a ternary (I: 3/8 and III: 12/8) and two in a binary (II: 2/4 and IV: 2/2) time signature.

h) two start with the right hand (I and II) and two with the left hand (II and IV).

It also seems quite remarkable how well the duettos match—by their astonishing variety and by their individual character—both the conception of the four elements (mentioned by Luther in his Great Catechism) and that of the four temperaments and even maybe of the four archangels (Michael, Gabriel, Raphael, and Uriel) as well as the four Evangelists (?).

Duetto I: E-minor key; 3/8 time signature; right hand starts, left hand follows; 73 measures; perfectly symmetrical form based upon the golden ratio (28 measures + 17 measures + 28 measures = 73 measures // 28:17 = ~ 1.64; 45 (= 28 + 17) : 28 = ~ 1.7; 73 (= 28 + 17 + 28) : 45 = ~ 1.62); flamboyant themes and countersubjects suggesting flames of fire; Archangel Michael (with attributes: fire, sword, perfect balance); choleric temperament (?); element Fire (?).

Duetto II: F-major key; 2/4 time signature; right hand starts, left hand follows; 149 measures; perfectly symmetrical form of: 37 + 31 + 13 + 31 + 37 measures. NB! 37 could stand for Christ’s monogram in the Greek alphabet [ChRistos]: X ~ CH (= 20) + P ~ R (= 17); 31 may stand for the Latin “In Nomine Jesu” (In Jesus’s Name): [I (= 9) + N (= 13) + I (= 9) = 31]; 13 could allude to Jesus and his Twelve Apostles at the Last Supper. NB! This section of 13 measures from measures 69 to 78 is the center, the middle of the whole piece in which the measures 74 to 78 are the exact “inversion” of measures 69 to 73; could that maybe hint to Jesus’s death?; element Air (?) (Example 13).

The overall form of the piece is quite complex, insofar as the first section and its da capo recapitulation (both 37 measures) are in major and in a serene, joyous mood, whereas the second and penultimate sections (both 31 measures) are in minor and written as canons; might this “discrepancy” remind one of the sanguine temperament (?); Air; could the three references to Jesus Christ (see above) suggest a link to the Archangel Gabriel, Jesus’s messenger (with the attributes: lily and fish); could the perfect formal symmetry represent the symmetrical beauty of a lily?; could the inversion, the crossing of the parts in measures 69–78 hint at a symbol for Christ’s Cross and Death?

Duetto III: G-major key; 12/8 time signature; left hand starts, right hand follows; 39 measures:

15 + 8 + 15 + 1 = 39 measures; 15 (= 3 x 5) + 24 (= 3 x 8) = 39 (= 3 x 13) = golden ratio (cf. Fibonacci); melancholic temperament (?); could the very serene character of the piece remind of the Archangel Raphael (with attribute: fish)? element Water?

Duetto IV: A-minor key; 2/2 (Alla breve) time signature; left hand starts, right hand follows; two themes are used (a and b); 108 measures arranged as 8 (a) + 8 (a) + 16 (b) + 8 (a) + 8 (a) + 8 (b) + 13 (b) + 8 (a) + 8 (b) + 10 (b) + 13(a); NB! The grouping of measures and themes reveals the scheme of: 9 x 8 (= 72 measures) + 2 x 13 (= 26 measures) + 2 x 5 (= 10 measures), an order once more based upon the progression 5, 8, and 13 as quantities of the Fibonacci progression hinting at the “golden ratio;” the quite robust character of the music seems to allude to the strong phlegmatic temperament, while the very intricate formal scheme of the piece might possibly be a hint to the archangel Uriel (with attribute: fire); element Earth?

IX

The concluding Fuga à 5 Pro Organo pleno in E-flat major perfectly continues the ascending keys movement of the duettos (E-F-G-A) by its starting with a B-flat in the tenor.

The main theme suggests by its shape the form of a cross: connecting on paper the first note with the fourth and the second with the third, respectively the second with the fifth and the third with the fourth, respectively the third with the sixth and the fourth with the fifth, respectively the fourth with the seventh and the fifth with the sixth, one obtains three times (Trinity again!) the Greek letter X = Chi used as a symbol of the Cross, for crossing: cf. also Bach’s original title Da Jesus an dem X stund’ and the English No X-ing or Merry X-mas (Example 14).

This majestic theme dominates the whole first section of the fugue written in the ancient stylus gravis (see above, chorales 1 to 3). The second section of the fugue is in 6/4 meter and based on a strongly contrasting theme characterized by its constant movement representing a lengthy kyklosis (“turning around-figure”), with the main notes E-flat—F—G and thus quoting the first phrase of the first large chorale Kyrie, Gott Vater in Ewigkeit (Example 15).

Exactly in the middle of this second section, the majestic first theme reappears, rhythmically strengthened by its syncopations, and dividing the whole fugue into two equal parts of 36 + 22½ : 22½ + 36 (Example 16).

Finally, the third and last section of the fugue written in 12/8 time signature, expounds a third theme that will later be combined with the first and with a varied form of the second theme. This third theme seems to use a bass cadence formula of C–F, and B-flat–E-flat (Example 17).

Most impressive is the perfect formal symmetry of the whole fugue organized in: (20 + 16 =) 36 measures + (22½ + 22½ =) 45 measures + (16 + 20 =) 36 measures.

Considering the fugue as a whole and the most natural tempo relationship of its three time signatures (half note = dotted half note = dotted quarter note), one can conclude the following:

a) the first and the third sections of the fugue are equal in length lasting 36 measures each, divided into 20 + 16, respectively, into 16 + 20;

b) applying the tempo relationship “half note = dotted half note = dotted quarter note” and taking as a common unity of measurement the smaller quantity, i.e., the measure length of the second fugue (which has only two beats per measure vs. the four beats of the first and the third sections respectively), one obtains the following measurements for the three sections:

72 (= 36 x 2) half-measures; 45 measures and again 72 (= 36 x 2) half-measures

c) all these numbers being multiples of 9, these ratios can be reduced to:

72 (= 8 x 9); 45 (= 5 x 9); 72 (= 8 x 9), or just 8 + 5 (= 13) + 8 = 21

d) this series of numbers 8, 5, 13, 21 belongs to the famous “Fibonacci progression” starting by 1:1:2:3:5:8:13:21 and reaching the golden ratio or divine proportion (= “proportio divina”) in the infinite.

e) NB! according to the Italian Renaissance mathematician Luca Pacioli the golden ratio might symbolize the Holy Trinity:

A (the greater quantity/God Father) : B (the smaller quantity/God the consubstantial Son) = (A + B) : A, or, theologically speaking:

A (God Father) engenders B (the consubstantial Son) and, out of these two, proceeds A + B (the Holy Spirit);

f) could this majestic, astonishingly built fugue thus represent once more the ultimate Symbol of the Holy Trinity?

g) its perfectly symmetrical construction is most impressive:

First section (40 half measures—cadence—32 half measures),

Second section (22½—22½ measures)

Third section (32 half measures—cadence—40 half measures), or, more simply:

40 – 32 – 22½ – 22½ – 32 – 40 measure lengths of the second section.

X

Taking a more attentive, new look at the Third Part of Bach’s Clavier-Übung, one discovers some interesting facts concerning the overall compositional plan, a plan corresponding also to Bach’s work, the B Minor Mass:

a) both cycles contain a total of 27 movements each.

b) these 27 movements are divided into two groups of: 6 “free” works without a cantus firmus (prelude in E-flat, the four Duettos, and the final fugue) and the 21 chorales; NB! the “Missa” and the “Symbolum Nicenum” in the
B Minor Mass have together 12 + 9 = 21 movements and the last section of the B Minor Mass (“Sanctus,” “Osanna,” “Benedictus,” “Osanna,” “Agnus Dei,” and “Dona nobis pacem”) also contains 6 movements.

c) the 21 chorales in the Clavier-Übung are divided twice into: 9 for the Lutheran Mass (“Kyrie-Christe-Kyrie – Gloria:” Trinity) and 12 dealing with Luther’s Catechism plus Sacraments.

d) The 21 chorales are also divided (“musically”) into 12 and 9 chorales by the 13th chorale written as a French overture and thus opening the rest of 9 chorales.

[NB! All these numbers are multiples of 3 (Trinity again!).]

e) could the total number of 27 pieces possibly recall in both the Clavier-Übung and the B Minor Mass the 27 books of the New Testament?

f) could the number of 21 pieces allude to the “Teaching Books” of the New Testament, the 21 Epistles, and the 6 “free works” to the four Gospels, the Acts of the Apostles, and the prophetic Apocalypse of John?

g) could one not consider the overall architecture of Bach’s most impressive cycles, Clavier-Übung III and the B Minor Mass, as huge symbols for the New Testament and thereby also for Martin Luther’s Theology?

Related Content

July 03, 2019
When approaching Baroque music in general and spiritual music in particular, it is of greatest importance to take into consideration the fundamental…
May 31, 2019
The city of Erfurt was, by the middle of the seventeenth century, the most important city in the central German heartland of Thuringia (Figure 1).…
April 30, 2019
Elements of old and new make for fertile ground in organ composition; Klaus Huber (1924–2017) built his organ works on this ground. Although even the…