Wo Gott der Herr nicht bei uns hält, BWV 1128

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Wo Gott der Herr nicht bei uns hält is a chorale fantasia for organ composed by Johann Sebastian Bach in the early 18th century. A copy of the chorale fantasia resurfaced on 15 March 2008 at an auction of items from the collection of the 19th-century Bach scholar Wilhelm Rust.[1] The piece, until then known as BWV Anh. 71, could by this discovery be authenticated as Bach's and was reassigned the number BWV 1128.[2]


The performance specifications and range indicate that Bach wrote the piece for the organ in Mühlhausen, where he was organist from 1707 to 1708.[1] The organ was remodelled according to his design, and Bach revisited Mühlhausen to supervise the execution of his plan, which was completed in 1709.[3]


Bach's composition consisting of 85 bars of organ music is based on the Wittenberg melody used for Justus Jonas' 1524 eight-verse hymn "Wo Gott der Herr nicht bei uns hält".[4] The large-scale fantasia is of moderate difficulty in four contrapuntal voices, and is scored for Rückpositiv, Oberwerk and Pedal.[1]

After an introductory section, the ornamented chorale appears in the right hand beginning with bar 12, proceeding verse by verse with interludes, chromaticism and echo sections. It concludes with a coda in a flurry typical of stylus phantasticus.[1]


The first public record of the composition is in the 1845 estate auction of Johann Nicolaus Julius Kötschau who had been organist at St. Mary's in Halle. According to the auction record the manuscript was once owned by Wilhelm Friedemann Bach, Johann Sebastian's eldest son, and predecessor of Kötschau as organist in Halle. When Wilhelm Friedemann died in 1784 he left it along with other manuscripts, which included his Clavier-Büchlein, to his distant relative and student Johann Christian. When this Johann Christian died in 1814, Kötschau acquired these pieces from the estate auction. Kötschau later loaned the manuscript to Felix Mendelssohn, and then to the Leipzig publisher C. F. Peters.[1]

In the 1845 auction of Kötschau's estate, the manuscript, along with other Bach works, was acquired by Friedrich August Gotthold (de). In 1852, to preserve his collection, Gotthold donated it to the Königsberg Library, where, 25 years later, Joseph Müller listed it in a catalogue describing "24 books of organ compositions by J. S. Bach," which contained as fascicle No. 5 "Fantasia Sopra il Corale Wo Gott der Herr nicht bey uns hält pro Organo à 2 Clav. e Pedale."[1]

Learning about the piece, Wilhelm Rust had the manuscript sent on a library loan to Berlin, where he copied it in 1877.[1] Rust, who had edited more than half of the volumes of the Bach Gesamtausgabe (BGA), resigned from the BGA project over conflicts, particularly with Philipp Spitta.[5] Rust shared his knowledge about the piece with Spitta's rival Bach biographer Carl Hermann Bitter, who listed "141. Wo Gott der Herr nicht bei uns hält. Fantasia sopra il Chorale. G-moll. (Königsberger Bibliothek.)" as a chorale prelude by Bach in Vol. IV of his second edition of J. S. Bach (Dresden 1880 / Berlin 1881).[6][1] After Rust’s death in 1892, a large part of his collection went to a student of his, Erich Prieger.[1] Prieger’s collection, in turn, was put up for auction after World War I in three sections, one of which, with 18th- and 19th-century Bachiana, went in 1924 to the Cologne book dealer M. Lempertz.[1]

The manuscript owned by Kötschau went lost in the Second World War. According to Hans-Joachim Schulze (de) there is some hope it may have survived in a Russian library.[1] As the chorale fantasia did not get included in the BGA, Wolfgang Schmieder listed it as a doubtful work in the second Appendix (Anhang) of the 1950 first edition of the Bach-Werke-Verzeichnis (BWV Anh. II 71), where it remained in subsequent versions of the catalogue that were printed in the 20th century.[2][1]

Parts of Krieger's collection, including some compositions by Rust and his copy of BWV Anh. II 71, went up for auction on 15 March 2008. The Rust items were acquired by the University and State Library of Halle, and finally the chorale fantasia was authenticated by Stephan Blaut and Michael Pacholke of Halle University, and got the BWV number 1128.[1]


On 10 June 2008 Ortus published the score, based on two 19th-century manuscript sources:[1]

Performance and recording[edit]

On 13 June 2008, Ullrich Böhme played BWV 1128 at the opening concert of the Bachfest Leipzig, which included Bach's cantata BWV 178 on the same chorale, sung by the Thomanerchor.[1] The same day a CD by Rondeau Production containing these two works was released.[1]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p Joel H. Kuznik. "BWV 1128: A recently discovered Bach organ work" pp. 22–23 in The Diapason, Vol. 99 No. 22. December 2008. (archived July 21, 2011)
  2. ^ a b Wo Gott der Herr nicht bei uns hält BWV 1128; BWV Anh. 71; Emans 195 at www.bachdigital.de
  3. ^ Eidam, Klaus (2001). "Ch. V". The True Life of Johann Sebastian Bach. New York: Basic Books. ISBN 0-465-01861-0. 
  4. ^ "Bach: Choralfantasie BWV 1128/Org". Bach: Choralfantasie BWV 1128/Org. Echo Musikproduction. Retrieved 2009-01-26. 
  5. ^ Reinmar Emans and Sven Hiemke. "Editionen der Werke Johann Sebastian Bachs" pp. 227–260 in Musikeditionen im Wandel der Geschichte edited by Reinmar Emans and Ulrich Krämer. Walter de Gruyter, 2015. ISBN 3110434350, pp. 247–248
  6. ^ Karl Hermann Bitter. Johann Sebastian Bach, second revised edition. Berlin: Baensch, 1881. Vol. 4, p. 250

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