J. S. Bach’s « Orgelbüchlein » , 45 Chorale-Preludes BWV 599-644

arranged for SATB Saxophone Quartet by Paul Wehage

In 1614 during his period at Weimar, J. S. Bach started a project which was projected to be settings of 161 Protestant Chorales. Out of this number, Bach completed 45 (a 46th setting was left incomplete and is not included in this collection), of which 33 follow the Liturgical Year, including four chorales for Advent, thirteen for Christmas and New Year, thirteen for Holy Week and Easter and the following 12 illustrate aspects of Christian Life. When Bach accepted the post of Court musician at Cöthen, a Calvinist town where organ was not used in Church Services, Bach abandoned the project, although he did dedicate the imcomplete work to the Prince Leopold of Anhalt-Cöthen, his new employer.

A key to understanding Bach’s intentions in producing this work is found in the introduction in the autograph manuscript : « wherein the beginning organist may learn to perform chorales of every sort and also acquire facility in the use of the pedal which, in the chorales found herein, is handled entirely obbligato. ». This work was clearly intended to provide examples of Bach’s manner of approaching these liturgical compositions in order to provide models for other organists to imitate. The work uses all forms of choral settings, including Canonic imitation (in eight of the 45 settings), ornamentation in the soprano voice, and other contrepunctal forms. Most of the works are written in four voices, with the soprano voice playing the choral theme.

There are two instances of five voice writing where the Alto or Tenor voices play two voices at the same time. I have used my arrangements of the Violin Sonatas and Partitas as models in realizing what clearly must be an illusion. Great care should be taken in allowing the two voices to sound, especially regarding sensitivity to the acoustic in which the work is performed.

Bach’s main preoccupation in writing this work was the musical illustration of the texts according to the idea of the « doctrine of affactations. A famous example of this is the falling pedal lines in no. 38 «Durch Adams Fall» which represent the fall of Adam, but there are examples of « sound painting » in all of these settings. I have not indicated tempi, nor dynamics, since this should be part of the musical research of each ensemble performing these arrangements. Generally, clarity of articulation and presentation of the Chorale theme should be priorities. I have taken the liberty of realizing the ornaments, which may be modified according to the tempi chosen. It is important however that all ornaments remain mesured. I have also indicated breath marks in the chorale themes, in order that the themes be properly phrased. The other instruments should generally not follow this phrasing, as the voices are generally indépendant.

Finally, quoting from Bach’s dedication to this work, the idea of performing « for the sole Honor of the Supreme God and for the instruction of others » (regardless of one’s personal beliefs) is perhaps the greatest guide in finding the key to these works. I hope that these arrangements will allow saxophonists everywhere to have access to these works.

Paul Wehage

Lagny-sur-Marne, France

January 28, 2006


Available directly from Musik Fabrik


Orgelbuchlein (the Little Organ Book), BWV 599-644 45 Chorale-Preludes by J. S. Bach, arranged for SATB Saxophone Quartet by Paul Wehage/Le Petit Livre d'Orgue, BWV 599-644 45 Choral-Préludes de J. S. Bach, arrangé pour Quatuor de Saxophone par Paul Wehage Score and Parts 49€95

Index of contents

No. 1 « Nun komm’ der Heiden Heiland (Advent/Avent/Advent)

No 2. Gott durch deine Güte oder Gottes Sohn ist kommen (Wiehmachten/Nativity/Navité)

No 3. Herr Christ, der einig' Gott's Sohn (Wiehmachten/Nativity/Navité)

No. 4. Lob se dem allmächtigen Gott (Wiehmachten/Nativity/Navité)

No. 5. Puer natus in Bethlehem (Wiehmachten/Nativity/Navité)

No. 6 Gelobet sei'st du, Jesu Christ (Wiehmachten/Nativity/Navité)

No. 7 Der Tag, der ist so freudenreich (Wiehmachten/Nativity/Navité)

No. 8 Vom Himmel hoch, da komm' ich her (Wiehmachten/Nativity/Navité)

No. 9 Vom Himmel kam der Engel Schaar (Wiehmachten/Nativity/Navité)

No. 10 In dulci Jubilo (Wiehmachten/Nativity/Navité)

No. 11 Lobt Gott, ihr Christen allzugleich (Wiehmachten/Nativity/Navité)

No. 12 Jesu, meine Freude (Wiehmachten/Nativity/Navité)

No. 13 Christum wir sollen loben schon (Wiehmachten/Nativity/Navité)

No. 14 Wir Christenleut' (Wiehmachten/Nativity/Navité)

No. 15 Helft mir Gottes Güte preisen (Neujahr/Jour de L’an/New Year’s Day)

No. 16 Das alte Jahr vergangen ist (Neujahr/Jour de L’an/New Year’s Day)

No. 17 In dir ist Freude (Neujahr/Jour de L’an/New Year’s Day)

No. 18 Mit Fried' und Freud' ich fahr' dahin (Mariä Reinzung/Purification de la Vierge/Purification of the Virgin)

No. 19 Herr Gott, nun schleuss den Himmel auf (Mariä Reinzung/Purification de la Vierge/Purification of the Virgin)

No. 20 O Lamm Gottes, unschuldig (Passionzeit/Passion/Passion)

No. 21 Christe, du Lamm Gottes (Passionzeit/Passion/Passion)

No. 22 Christus, der uns selig macht (Passionzeit/Passion/Passion)

No. 23 Da Jesu an dem Kreuze stund (Karfreitag/Vendredi Saint/Good Friday)

No. 24 O Mensch, bewein' dein' Sünde gross (Karfreitag/Vendredi Saint/Good Friday)

No. 25 Wir danken dir, Herr Jesu Christ (Passionzeit/Passion/Passion)

No. 26 Hilf Gott, dass mir's gelinge (Passionzeit/Passion/Passion)

No. 27 Christ lag in Todesbanden (Ostern/Pacques/Easter)

No. 28 Jesus Christus unser Heiland (Ostern/Pacques/Easter)

No. 29 Christ ist erstanden (Ostern/Pacques/Easter)

No. 30 Erstanden ist der heil'ge Christ (Ostern/Pacques/Easter)

No. 31 Erschienen ist der herrliche Tag (Ostern/Pacques/Easter)

No. 32 Heut' triumphieret Gottes Sohn (Ostern/Pacques/Easter)

No. 33 Komm Gott, Schöpfer, heiliger Geist (Pfingsten/Pentecôte/Pentecost)

No. 34 Herr Jesu Christ, dich zu uns wend'

No. 35 Liebster Jesu, wir sind hier

No. 36 Dies sind die heil'gen zehn Gebot’

No. 37 Vater unser im Himmelreich

No. 38 Durch Adams Fall ist ganz verderbt

No. 39 Es ist das Heil, uns kommen her

No. 40 Ich ruf' zu dir, Herr Jesu Christ

No. 41 In dich hab' ich gehoffet

No. 42 Wenn wir in höchstein Nöten sein

No. 43 Wer nur den lieben Gott lässt walten

No. 44 Alle Menshen müssen sterben

No. 45 Ach wie nichttig, ach wie flüchtig