Schübler Chorales

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Title page of the 1740s first edition of the Schübler Chorales

Sechs Chorale von verschiedener Art: auf einer Orgel mit 2 Clavieren und Pedal vorzuspielen (lit. 'six chorales of diverse kinds, to be played on an organ with two manuals and pedal'), commonly known as the Schübler Chorales (German: Schübler-Choräle), BWV 645–650, is a set of chorale preludes composed by Johann Sebastian Bach. Johann Georg Schübler, after whom the collection came to be named, published it in 1747 or before August 1748, in Zella St. Blasii. At least five preludes of the compilation are transcribed from movements in Bach's church cantatas, mostly chorale cantatas he had composed around two decades earlier.

The fact that Bach had gone to the trouble and expense of securing the services of a master engraver to produce a collection of note-for-note transcriptions of this kind indicates that he did not regard the Schübler Chorales as a minor piece of hack-work, but as a significant public statement.[speculation?] These six chorales provide an approachable version of the music of the cantatas through the more marketable medium of keyboard transcriptions.[1] Virtually all Bach's cantatas were unpublished in his lifetime.

Context and content[edit]

The hymn tunes of the Lutheran hymns on which the chorale settings included in the Schübler Chorales are based can be identified by their Zahn number.[2] The fourth chorale of the set is however based on a German variant of the Ninth psalm tone.

Five of the Schübler Chorales are transcriptions of movements of extant church cantatas by Bach. These cantatas belong to the chorale cantata or second year cycle. Bach began to present the cantatas of this cycle from the first Sunday after Trinity 11 June 1724, which was the start of his second year in Leipzig. He continued to present 40 new chorale cantatas until Easter of the next year, 1 April 1725, from which day the chorale cantata cycle and the second year cycle no longer coincide: for the remainder of his second year in Leipzig his newly composed church cantatas were no longer in the chorale cantata format, while on the other hand he added chorale cantatas to the cycle which were composed outside the period of his second year in Leipzig. Listed according to the sequence of the liturgical year:

For BWV 646 there is no extant model from which the chorale prelude may have transcribed.[13] Apart from some original manuscripts of the preceding cantata models there are no extant manuscripts of the Schübler Chorales older than their 1747–1748 printed version: Bach's only extant autograph regarding the organ versions consists of the corrections and improvements he wrote, before August 1748, in his copy of the first edition.[14]

All six Schübler Chorales are in the chorale fantasia format: this means that one of the melody lines in the setting is the relatively unadorned chorale tune, which is called cantus firmus. The two central preludes of the set (BWV 647 and 648) are four-part settings, while the others are three-part settings (trios).[14]

BWV # Title Model Date Tune
645 1 Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme BWV 140/4 25 November 1731 Zahn No. 8405
646 2 Wo soll ich fliehen hin (unknown) Zahn No. 2164
Auf meinen lieben Gott
647 3 Wer nur den lieben Gott lässt walten BWV 93/4 9 July 1724 Zahn No. 2778
648 4 Meine Seele erhebt den Herren BWV 10/5 2 July 1724 9th psalm tone
649 5 Ach bleib bei uns, Herr Jesu Christ BWV 6/3 2 April 1725 Zahn No. 493
650 6 Kommst du nun, Jesu, vom Himmel herunter BWV 137/2 19 August 1725 Zahn No. 1912a

Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme, BWV 645[edit]

BWV 645 (excerpt)

Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme, BWV 645.

Chorale melody[edit]

Hymn tune of BWV 645

The hymn tune of this chorale prelude is "Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme" ("Wake, Awake for Night is Passing"), Zahn No. 8405.


The chorale prelude is a transcription of "Zion hört die Wächter singen" ("Zion hears the watchmen sing"),[15] the 4th movement of the cantata Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme, BWV 140, which is a chorale for tenor voice accompanied by unison strings and continuo.

Wo soll ich fliehen hin (or) Auf meinen lieben Gott, BWV 646[edit]

Wo soll ich fliehen hin (or) Auf meinen lieben Gott, BWV 646.

Chorale melody[edit]

Hymn tune: "Wo soll ich fliehen hin" ("Whither shall I flee?"), or, "Auf meinen lieben Gott", Zahn No. 2164.


Since no model has been found for BWV 646, most scholars assume that the source cantata is one of the 100 or so believed to have been lost. The trio scoring of the movement suggests the original may have been for violin, or possibly violins and violas in unison (right hand), and continuo (left hand), with the chorale (pedal) sung by soprano or alto.

Wer nur den lieben Gott lässt walten, BWV 647[edit]

Wer nur den lieben Gott lässt walten, BWV 647.

Chorale melody[edit]

Hymn tune of BWV 647

Hymn tune: "Wer nur den lieben Gott läßt walten" ("Who allows God alone to rule him"), Zahn No. 2778.


Arranged from Wer nur den lieben Gott läßt walten, BWV 93, movement 4 (duet for soprano and alto).

Meine Seele erhebt den Herren, BWV 648[edit]

Meine Seele erhebt den Herren, BWV 648.

Chorale melody[edit]

Tune of BWV 648

Tune: "Meine Seele erhebt den Herren" ("My soul doth magnify the Lord"), a German variant of the tonus peregrinus or ninth psalm tone.


Arranged from Meine Seel erhebt den Herren, BWV 10, movement 5 (duet for alto and tenor, chorale instrumental).

Ach bleib bei uns, Herr Jesu Christ, BWV 649[edit]

Ach bleib bei uns, Herr Jesu Christ, BWV 649.

Chorale melody[edit]

Hymn tune: "Ach bleib bei uns, Herr Jesu Christ" ("Lord Jesus Christ, with us abide"), Zahn No. 493 (a.k.a. "Danket dem Herrn heut und allzeit").


Arranged from Bleib bei uns, denn es will Abend werden, BWV 6, movement 3 (soprano chorale).

Kommst du nun, Jesu, vom Himmel herunter, BWV 650[edit]

Kommst du nun, Jesu, vom Himmel herunter, BWV 650.

Chorale melody[edit]

Hymn tune: "Kommst du nun, Jesu, vom Himmel herunter auf Erden" ("Come thou, Jesu, from heaven to earth"), Zahn No. 1912a (a.k.a. "Hast du denn, Jesus, dein Angesicht gänzlich verborgen").


Lobe den Herren, den mächtigen König der Ehren, BWV 137, movement 2 (alto solo).



In Bach's Nekrolog the Schübler Chorales were listed as fifth item, after the four Clavier-Übung volumes, among the composer's printed works: "Sechs dreystimmige Vorspiele, vor eben so viel Gesänge, für die Orgel" (lit. 'six three-part preludes, to as many hymns, for the organ').[16] In 1776 Johann Friedrich Köhler [wikisource:de] wrote admiringly about the chorales.[17] Early Bach-biographies by Hiller (1784), Gerber (1790) and Forkel (1802) listed the six chorale preludes among Bach's printed works.[18][19][20] Forkel added that they were "full of dignity and religious feeling", and mentioned the registration as intended by the composer of the second chorale (BWV 646).[21] At least seven manuscript copies of the preludes, based on the uncorrected or corrected original print, were realised before Breitkopf & Härtel republished them in the early 19th century.[22][23]

In 1748 C. F. Peters published the six Schübler Chorales, edited by Griepenkerl and Roitzsch [scores], as part of larger sets of chorale preludes.[24] Biographers Schauer (1850), Hilgenfeldt (1850) and Bitter (1865) included the chorales in their overviews of Bach's compositions.[25][26][27]


  1. ^ Boyd, Malcolm. Oxford Composer Companions: J.S. Bach, Oxford University Press, 1999, p. 441–442
  2. ^ Die Melodien der deutschen evangelischen Kirchenlieder, aus den Quellen geschöpft und mitgeteilt von Johannes Zahn (6 volumes), Verlag Bertelsmann, Gütersloh (1889–93). [further edited by the Gesellschaft zur wissenschaftlichen Edition des deutschen Kirchenlieds. Hildesheim, New York: Georg Olms Verlagsbuchhandlung, 1998. 6 volumes. ISBN 3-487-09319-7]
  3. ^ Work 00007 at Bach Digital website
  4. ^ Work 00737 at Bach Digital website
  5. ^ Work 00012 at Bach Digital website
  6. ^ Work 00736 at Bach Digital website
  7. ^ Work 00118 at Bach Digital website
  8. ^ Work 00735 at Bach Digital website
  9. ^ Work 00169 at Bach Digital website
  10. ^ Work 00738 at Bach Digital website
  11. ^ Work 00172 at Bach Digital website
  12. ^ Work 00733 at Bach Digital website
  13. ^ Work 00734 at Bach Digital website
  14. ^ a b Breig 2010, "Introduction" pp. 17–18
  15. ^ Dellal, Pamela. "BWV 140 – Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme". Emmanuel Music. Retrieved 7 July 2017.
  16. ^ Bach's Nekrolog (1754), pp. 167–168
  17. ^ Breig 2010, "Introduction" p. 18
  18. ^ Hiller, Johann Adam (1784). "Bach (Johann Sebastian)", pp. 9–29 in Lebensbeschreibungen berühmter Musikgelehrten und Tonkünstler neurer Zeit, Vol. 1. Leipzig: Dyk, p. 21
  19. ^ Gerber, Ernst Ludwig (1790). "Bach (Joh. Sebastian)", column 86ff. in Historisch-biographisches Lexikon der Tonkünstler. Leipzig: Breitkopf, column 91
  20. ^ Forkel, Johann Nikolaus (1802). "Bachs gestochene Werke", pp. 50–54 in Ueber Johann Sebastian Bachs Leben, Kunst und Kunstwerke: Für patriotische Verehrer echter musikalischer Kunst. Leipzig: Hoffmeister und Kühnel, p. 51
  21. ^ Terry, Charles Sanford, translator and editor (1920). Johann Sebastian Bach: His Life, Art, and Work, translated from the German of Johann Nikolaus Forkel. New York: Harcourt, Brace and Howe; London: Constable, pp. 117–118
  22. ^ D-B Mus. ms. Bach P 603, D-B Am.B 547, D-B Mus. ms. Bach P 525, PL-GD Mus. ms. 4203/4204, D-LEm Poel. mus. Ms. 25, Fascicle 1, D-B Mus. ms. Bach P 284, and D-B Mus. ms. Bach P 406 at Bach Digital website
  23. ^ D-B Mus. ms. Bach P 424 at Bach Digital website
  24. ^ Griepenkerl and Roitzsch 1748
  25. ^ Schauer, Johann Karl (1850). Joh. Seb. Bach's Lebensbild: Eine Denkschrift auf seinem 100 jährigen Todestag, den 28. Jul. 1850, aus Thüringen, seinem Vaterlande. Jena: F. Luden, p. 16
  26. ^ Hilgenfeldt, Carl Ludwig (1850). Johann Sebastian Bach's Leben, Wirken und Werke: ein Beitrag zur Kunstgeschichte des achtzehnten Jahrhunderts. Leipzig: Friedrich Hofmeister, p. 135
  27. ^ Bitter, Karl Hermann (1865). Johann Sebastian Bach. Berlin: Schneider. Vol. 2: p. 252 and CVIII


Manuscripts (chronological)


External links[edit]