Johann Sebastian Bach lived his entire life, 1685 to 1750, in Germany. For most of his career he was a church musician-- an organist and choirmaster. While today we know him primarily as a composer, his contemporaries knew him as the best organist of his time.
During his church music career, Bach wrote countless pieces of music for worship, including literally hundreds of cantatas, oratorios, passions, and the like. He used the four-part chorale as a change of pace from the highly ornamented contrapuntal and fugal sections that dominated the larger works of the time. Almost always, such chorales were harmonizations of hymn tunes of the day.
While we recognize Bach as a significant figure in music history today, he probably did not share the same view. Like lesser composers, he left bits and pieces of compostitions and arrangements in dwellings and work places in the various cities in which he lived. He made no attempt to catalog his work, and much of it has since been lost.
It fell to one of his sons, C. P. E. Bach, to catalog and publish his father's four-part chorales. From 1784 to 1787, C. P. E. Bach published four volumes totalling 371 chorales (though there were a few duplicates). He lifted the vast majority intact out of the larger works of which they were part, and did not publish lyrics with any of these chorales. Music majors and conservatory students through the years have analyzed these chorales and wondered at the genius of the master.
The six chorales presented here are decended from that source. They represent the range and genius of J. S. Bach, from major to minor, from 3/4 to 4/4, from light to dark themes. The six chorales are:
To God Let All the Human Race (#164: "Old Hundredth" by Louis Bourgeois) (this tune is commonly used as a doxology)
All Mankind Fell in Adam's Fall (#100: "Durch Adams Fall ist Ganz Verderbt" by Anonymous)
How Brightly Shines the Morning Star (#278: "Wie Schoenen Leuchtet der Morgenstern" by Philipp Nicolai)
O Sacred Head Now Wounded (#74: "O Haupt Voll Blut und Wunden" by Hans Leo Hassler)
Today the Lord in Triumph Reigns (#79: "Heut Triumphieret Gottes Sohn" by Bartholomaeus Gesius)
Jesu, Priceless Treasure (#263: "Jesu, Meine Freude" by Johann Crueger)
These chorales are complete and faithful to the original so far as we can determine. Only one stanza of lyric is included, so some research in old hymnals might be in order if choral performance is your goal. Or you could write your own lyrics. These chorales would also work nicely with brass or string quartet, or with a keyboard instrument. Whether used to teach music theory or keyboard, or for performance, we hope these chorales will bring you to the feet of Jesus, where Bach orignally laid these works.
MP3 sound sample: all six chorales in sequence listed above (synthesizer/midi).
SIX CHORALES OF J. S. BACH comes in a PDF file of approximately 1656K, including twelves pages of music and a license page, thirteen pages in all.
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Last update: 5 December 2018