Orgelmesse – III. Teil der „Clavier-Übung“
Hansjörg Albrecht, Orgel & musikalische Leitung
Hansjörg Albrecht’s recording of the Goldberg Variations
was an “arrangement” for organ, but the third part of
Bach’s “Clavier-Übung” found here is an original
work for the organ. The series of chorale arrangements
corresponds to the order of the Lutheran mass.
It opens with a prelude and closes with a fugue.
The chorales are sung by the Münchener Bach-
Chor, conducted by Hansjörg Albrecht, who was
appointed the ensemble’s artistic director as of the
Just like Hansjörg Albrecht’s previous organ recordings,
audiophiles will greatly appreciate this recording,
which was recorded with special techniques and
produced in SACD format.
J.S. Bach: Organ Mass
Third Part of the Clavier Übung consisting of
various preludes on the catechism and other
hymns for the organ” was the title of a new
Bach publication from 1739. The collection was
preceded by two other volumes of the Clavier
Übung. Part I had been published in 1731 (Six
Partitas) and Part II in 1735 (Italian Concerto
and French Overture); all compositions in Parts
I and II were written for two-manual harpsichord.
Together with Part IV (Goldberg Variations),
this group of works was the first of Bach’s
extensive oeuvre that he sent to be printed. One
can thus assume that he was particularly scrupulous,
both compositionally and during the final
editing process, especially because he intended
these collections (along with The Musical Offering
and The Art of the Fugue) to serve as compendia
for demonstrating the artistry possible
in so many different stylistic forms (concerto,
suite, chorale preludes, canons, fugues, variations).
And all of these works are unsurpassed
Based on the order of the Lutheran mass,
Part III of the Clavier Übung opens with a prelude
and closes with the related fugue. The core
of the work consists of twenty-one chorale settings:
the KYRIE and GLORIA from the liturgy
of the Lutheran Mass as well as the six catechism
chorales by Martin Luther. Bach carefully selected
the catechism chorales that were familiar to
him from his schooldays as well as the prescribed
morning songs for the respective days. Of course,
these are also chorales that were used in church
services. And just as Luther presented two versions
of the catechism – a greater and a lesser –
Bach also presented each chorale in two forms.
However, the widely used designation of Part III
as an “Orgelmesse” (often translated in English
as “German Organ Mass”) is misleading because
– in contrast to true organ masses – Bach did not
plan this work for cyclical use in a church service.
From close examinations of the original prints,
we now know that this collection only gradually
developed. The Prelude and Fugue in E-flat Major
as well as the “lesser” settings of the catechism
chorales were later added to the work. The four
duets were the last to be included.
Most of this stylistically extremely varied
work was composed specifically for this collection.
Each of the chorale preludes is highly individual;
many of the formal principles used here
can be found neither in Bach’s own works nor in
any works by his predecessors. In addition, the
work’s sacred character is also expressed by its 27
movements (prelude, 21 chorale settings, 4 duets,
fugue), in analogy to the New Testament.
PRELUDE IN E-FLAT MAJOR
Pro organo pleno / to be played on full organ, the
Prelude and the Fugue (also known by English
organists as the “St. Anne Prelude and Fugue”)
frame the movements of the “organ mass”. As
far as we know, this Prelude is Bach’s last work
for organ solo. It consists of a number of sections
that already suggest the classical sonata
form and its built-in contrasts. The overturelike
opening – which can certainly be understood
as a symbiosis of three different national
styles (French, Italian and German) has three
flats (E-flat Major), three main sections and
three themes. This structure, of course, serves
as a symbolic representation of the Trinity. The
three themes are clearly presented: God the Father
as the King in the first theme (in French
overture tradition), his Son Jesus Christ in the
second theme (in Italian concerto style) and the
descent and gentle wafting of the Holy Ghost
in the third theme (in the Bach-German fugal
Kyrie; God the Father in eternity, great is Thy mercy,
Creator and Ruler of all things, Kyrie eleison.
Christe, consolation for all the world, Thou alone
Hast redeemed us of our sins. O Jesus, Son of God,
our advocate on high, we cry out to Thee in our
need: Christe eleison.
Kyrie, God the Holy Ghost, sustain and comfort us
in our faith so that in our last days we may happily
leave this life of misery, Kyrie eleison.
In the three “greater” settings in old style (stile
antico) of this Kyrie that Bach wrote for the major
religious festivals, the cantus firmus (chorale
melody) is heard in the soprano in the first part
(cornett) and in the tenor in the second part
(tierce en taille). In the third (mixture plenum),
the cantus firmus penetrates the thick web of
five-voice counterpoint from the bass voice. All
three of these “motets for organ” could not be
any more brilliant; Bach has additionally written
the cantus firmus in long note values.
The three “lesser” settings (no use of pedal)
use various fugal techniques. The registration
for these is in mirror image to the systematic descent
(soprano-tenor-bass) found in the “greater”
settings; here we find ascending “theological
organ registrations”: the low 16-foot register
represents the Father, the 8-foot middle register
represents the Son and the high 4-foot register
stands for the Holy Ghost.
Glory and honor be to God alone on high and
thanks be for His grace,
That now and in all eternity no evil shall oppress us.
God’s word declares good-will to men; on earth
peace shall now be restored again,
No more shall conflict reign.
We praise, exalt and honor Thee, we thank Thee
for Thy great glory,
For Thou, God the Father shall rule in eternity,
Thy power is endless, Thou speakest and the world
In Thee, O Lord, we rejoice.
Despite the varied forms and compositional
techniques found in the three chorale settings
of the Gloria, all of them trios, they also attest
to Bach’s systematic thinking. The first “lesser”
setting combines the modern Italian ritornello
form with cantus firmus developments. These
forms can also be found in the second setting,
the “greater” concertante chorale trio, which
also demonstrates the structure and modulation
plan of a sonata-form movement.
The third setting, a fughetta, proves to be
a true double fugue of only 20 measures that
gives a preview of the highly complex and minimalistic
compositional forms of the second Viennese
School. The ascent in tonality of these
three chorale settings (F Major, G Major and A
Major) is supported and embellished by increasingly
light, clear registrations.
THE TEN COMMANDMENTS
These are the holy Ten Commandments that the
Lord God gave us through Moses, His faithful servant,
high atop Mount Sinai, Kyrieleis.
The Commandments are given us all, so that
Thou, O son of man, may know and learn how
man should live in God’s sight, Kyrieleis.
The “greater” five-voice setting (2 manuals and
pedal) is characterized by the particular refinement
of the selected compositional form. The
cantus firmus appears as a canon between the alto
and tenor (trumpet and krummhorn); above, two
independent soprano voices range far afield (oboe
and nasard 2 2/3’) in the style known from concerto
movements in Bach’s cantatas. The strict canon
of the cantus firmus signifies the sacred laws (Ten
Commandments). The unyielding nature of these
laws is cemented by the massive 32’ pedal voice
heard throughout the movement.
In the “lesser” setting (performed with
reeds), the listener hears Moses chiseling the
Ten Commandments onto the stone tablets
with a hammer.
We all believe in One God, Creator of heaven and
The Father who accepted that we shall all be His
He will nourish us forever, provide for our bodies
He will lead us through all perils, no harm shall
He watches over us, protects and guards; He has
the power to do all.
In the “greater” settings (in the French form,
the organo pleno: grand jeux with all cornetts
and reeds), Bach does without any presentation
of the chorale melody. Instead, he composes a
fugue that begins with the first line of text and
accompanies the fugue subject with an ostinato
bass. The latter enters in the pedal at various
tonal levels and at increasing distances from the
previous entrance – very unusual for a fugue.
At the end, however, the last line of text, “Es
steht alles in seiner Macht” (“He has the power
to do all”) suddenly and surprisingly appears in
the tenor. In this manner, Bach summarizes the
entire chorale in the first and last line.
The “lesser” setting is the miniature version
of a French overture with written-out ornamentation.
As a counterpart to its “big sister”, it resounds
in a slightly toned down setting of the
THE LORD’S PRAYER
Our Father, Who art in Heaven, Who tellest us to
all be brothers and to call to Thee; Who wishes us
to pray to Thee, Grant that not only our mouths
may pray; help it come from the bottom of our
Amen, that is: let it be so. Strengthen our faith
now and evermore, so that we may never doubt the
subject of our prayer. We speak Amen to Thy word
and to Thy name.
The five-voice “greater” setting (for 2 manuals
and pedal) not only gives pause for a still, meditative
moment (flöten and streicher 8’), but is
also one of Bach’s most astonishing compositions
ever. The piece masterfully interlocks various
musical idioms: for one, the cantus firmus
is heard as a canon between soprano and alto
in the traditional fugal style. The other three
voices, however, form a complete trio-sonata
movement! Both the use of modern stylistic
techniques and musical clichés suggest the
galante style, making the work reminiscent of
contemporary flute sonatas.
In the following “lesser” setting (flöten
8+4’), Bach relies on compositional principles
that he had developed in much earlier works
like his Chorale partitas or Orgelbüchlein.
Christ, our Lord, came to the Jordan according to
His Father’s will.
He took His baptism from St. John to fulfill His
work and task.
He wanted to bathe us as well, to wash us from
And also drown that bitter death through His own
blood and wounds,
To grant new life to all.
In the “greater” chorale setting, the cantus firmus
in the tenor is heard above a continuous
stream of sixteenth notes in the bass that stand
for the floods of the Jordan River. In the last
verse of the song, this image comes to symbolize
the blood of Christ, which shall wash away all
sins. The figures in the upper voice (partly in
galante style) portray the cross and indicate the
connection between baptism and the cross.
The “lesser” setting is characterized by numerous
paraphrases in which the chorale melody
is artfully hidden, only appearing now and
again. In both settings, the flowing of water is
depicted by delicate registrations as well as the
use of all existing tremulants in order to make
the otherwise static organ tone glide and flow.
From greatest need I cry to Thee, Lord God please
hear my calls.
Bend down Thy gracious ear to me and open it to
If Thou willst see all sin and evil that has been
Who can, Lord, stand before Thee?
I thus place all my trust in God and not on my
I place my heart within His hands and trust in
His great mercy,
He giveth me His valued word; that is my comfort
and my trust,
I await His help eternally.
The “greater” six-voice organ movement is a
monumental organ ricercare in its most unsurpassed
form (played here with the great mixture
plenum of the Northern German Arp Schnittger
organ). Bach uses the building blocks of this
phrygian chorale to construct a cathedral of tremendous
size and austerity. This composition
in stile antico refers back to the tradition of the
Palestrina school – as did the third Kyrie.
The “lesser” chorale setting is no less strict,
uniform and unrelenting than the six-voice setting
– even though it does not make use of the
bass foundation (pedal), and its registration is
limited to the principal registers 8’/4’/2’.
Jesus Christ our Savior, Who turned God’s wrath
away from us,
Through His bitter suffering He helped us out of
That we never should forget, He gave us of his flesh
Hidden in bread so small, and to drink, his blood
Thou shallt praise God the Father, that He feedeth
thee so well
And given for thy sins his Son unto death.
The cantus firmus in the “greater” three-voice
chorale setting (trio) is heard in the tenor
(trumpets), where it stands like a rock amidst
powerfully surging, billowing waves of sound.
The degree of contrapuntal organization and
the rhythmic complications and independence
of the two “accompanying voices” goes far beyond
what Bach ever did in any other chorale
The “lesser” chorale setting concludes the
fugal pieces with an almost bizarre escalation of
contrapuntal technique: it is a four-voice fugue,
again, without pedal. The incredible character
of this work is underscored by the registration
with the buzzing vox humana. Shawm sounds
from old town wind bands come once again to
After the last chorale setting, Bach later added
four duets. The special contrapuntal techniques
that appear in these pieces could possibly be interpreted
as Bach’s desire to demonstrate such
technical highlights in the most abstract manner
possible (i.e. without any connection to
specific chorale material and limited to only
two voices). As learned “intellectual games”,
they thus have a similar function to the canons
in the later collections The Musical Offering
and The Art of the Fugue. The sequence of
keys of the four duets rises (E Minor / F Major
/ G Major / A Minor). The increasing brilliance
and transparency of the individual registrations
likewise takes this into consideration. But Bach
would not be Bach, were he to remain on this
seemingly simple path. After the third duet, the
joyfulness unexpectedly ebbs away. A deep sense
of peacefulness returns to the fourth duet, reminding
the listener – as in The Lord’s Prayer
– to ponder the past. This is the place in the
Lutheran Mass where before the blessing, the
following prayer is heard: “Give us Thy blessed
peace, Lord God, in our day”.
FUGUE IN E-FLAT MAJOR
The concluding fugue, also called the “St. Anne
Fugue”, is the counterpart to the introductory
prelude. Each of the fugue’s three sections has
its own theme, but the second and third sections
also use the first theme in counterpoint
with their own musical ideas. Analog to the
prelude, the fugue also has three flats, three
main sections and three themes, underscoring
its symbolic significance. The great impetus of
the third part in a dance-like, jubilant 12/8 once
again presents the organ in its full splendor as
the true queen of the instruments.
Translation: Elizabeth Gahbler