Chorale fantasia

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Chorale fantasia is a type of large composition based on a chorale melody, both works for organ, and vocal settings, for example the opening movements of Bach's chorale cantatas, with the chorale melody as a cantus firmus.


Chorale fantasias first appeared in the 17th century in the works of North German composers such as Heinrich Scheidemann and Franz Tunder (who, however, rarely used the term). Their works would treat each phrase of a chorale differently, thus becoming large, sectional compositions with elaborate development of the chorale melody. By mid-18th century this type of organ composition was practically non-existent.

Johann Sebastian Bach used the term first to designate a whole variety of different organ chorale types (during his period in Weimar), and then limited its use to large compositions with the chorale melody presented in the bass. Bach also wrote movements which have been described as chorale fantasias scored for various combinations of singers and instruments, for example the opening choruses of his chorale cantatas and the closing movement of Part I of the St Matthew Passion. In the vocal pieces the chorale cantus firmus is often given to an upper voice.

In the 19th century the chorale fantasia was revived by Max Reger, who applied the term to monumental pieces based on chorale melodies.

Selected examples[edit]

North German tradition[edit]

  • Heinrich ScheidemannAllein zu dir, Herr Jesu Christ
  • Heinrich Scheidemann – Ein feste Burg
  • Heinrich Scheidemann – In dich hab ich gehoffet, Herr (I)
  • Heinrich Scheidemann – Jesus Christus unser Heiland (I)
  • Heinrich Scheidemann – Vater unser (II)
  • Franz TunderAuf meinen lieben Gott
  • Franz Tunder – Christ lag in Todesbanden
  • Franz Tunder – Herr Gott, dich loben wir
  • Franz Tunder – In dich hab ich gehoffet, Herr
  • Franz Tunder – Komm, Heiliger Geist, Herre Gott
  • Franz Tunder – Was kann uns kommen an für Not (2 versions)
  • Johann BahrO lux beata Trinitas (1655)
  • Johann Adam ReinckenAn Wasserflüssen Babylon
  • Johann Adam Reincken – Was kann uns kommen an für Not
  • Dieterich BuxtehudeGelobet seist du, Jesu Christ, BuxWV 188
  • Dieterich Buxtehude – Ich dank dir, lieber Herre, BuxWV 194
  • Dieterich Buxtehude – Ich dank dir schon durch deinen Sohn, BuxWV 195
  • Dieterich Buxtehude – Ich ruf zu dir, Herr Jesu Christ , BuxWV 196
  • Dieterich Buxtehude – Magnificat Primi Toni, BuxWV 203
  • Dieterich Buxtehude – Magnificat Primi Toni, BuxWV 204
  • Dieterich Buxtehude – Nun freut euch, lieben Christen g'mein, BuxWV 210
  • Dieterich Buxtehude – Nun lob, mein Seel, den Herren, BuxWV 212, on Johann Gramann's hymn
  • Dieterich Buxtehude – Te Deum laudamus, BuxWV 218
  • Dieterich Buxtehude – Wie schön leuchtet der Morgenstern, BuxWV 223
  • Nicolaus BruhnsNun komm, der Heiden Heiland
  • Vincent LübeckIch ruf zu dir, Herr Jesu Christ
  • Vincent Lübeck – Nun lasst uns Gott, den Herrn

Later examples[edit]