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To Know Christ and to Make Him Known

Aug. 23, 2020: “Herr Christ, der einge Gottessohn” by Bach and “How Firm A Foundation” by Held

Music Message for August 23, 2020 from Danny
(If you do not see the music icons/links within this post, please click on the Aug. 23, 2020 title/link above.)

“Herr Christ, der einge Gottessohn” by J.S.Bach and “How Firm A Foundation” by Wilbur Held

For the next few weeks, I thought it might be fun to include a different piece by J.S. Bach each time.  You might think I often get to play Bach at my day job at Colonial Williamsburg, but that’s not often the case. Although he is widely performed today, he wasn’t in his own time.  It seems odd to us today, but not very many of Bach’s works were published while he was alive, and several of his sons were more widely known across Europe than he was.  Music of Johann Christian Bach, for example, even made it over to America in the eighteenth century, but it’s unlikely that music of his father did until later.  Another factor that you might not have thought about in terms of how the music was disseminated is that much of J.S. Bach’s organ music wouldn’t have been playable in the English-speaking world until the nineteenth century—because English organs at the time tended to not have pedals.

For this week, I picked a piece from J.S. Bach’s Orgelbuechlein (or “Little Organ Book”).  This collection is a book of forty-five short chorale preludes that correspond to different moments in the church year.   One thing I think is especially nice about the different books of music by Bach is that several of them have beautifully thoughtful inscriptions on the title pages.  Here’s a translation from the title page of the Orgelbuechlein:

“In which a beginning organist receives given instruction as to performing a chorale in a multitude of ways while achieving mastery in the study of the pedal, since in the chorales contained herein the pedal is treated entirely obbligato. In honor of our Lord alone that my fellow man his skill may hone.”

Probably the piece in this book that I’ve played the most is the chorale prelude on the tune “Herr Christ, der einge Gottessohn,” a hymn by Martin Luther.  Here is a recording of me playing this piece in my apartment:

Since “Herr Christ, der einge Gottessohn” is usually done at Christmas and Epiphany, I thought I’d also include this week something that fits a little better with our current moment in the lectionary.  Here then is a recording of me playing Wilbur Held’s organ arrangement of the nineteenth-century American tune “How Firm a Foundation” along with the words of the first stanza taken from our hymnal (#636).  These words I think go pretty well with our Gospel lesson for the week (Matthew 16:13-20). Thanks very much for listening, everybody! – Danny

1 How firm a foundation, you saints of the Lord,
is laid for your faith in his excellent Word!
What more can he say than to you he has said,
to you who for refuge to Jesus have fled?