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Fugue and Two Chorales of J. S. Bach (SSATB a cappella)

Same piece for brass quintet, or sax quintet.

J. S. Bach did some truly amazing things in his lifetime, not the least of which was writing a significant number of motets for use throughout the church year. These motets were typically for four-part choir, sometimes four-part-plus-four-part double choir, and sometimes five-part choir. These were generally accompanied by a small string orchestra or by organ, but since all the accompaniment typically did was double the vocal parts, these pieces are equally effective, some would say more effective, when sung unaccompanied.

What has happened here is to take a couple of small sections of Bach's best-known five-part motet, Jesu Meine Freude, BWV 227, and rearrange them to create a piece that is musically complete and more suited in length to concert performance or use in a worship service.

Bach's work was for a choir with two soprano sections, alto, tenor and bass. Our string orchestra arrangement can be used with this piece to provide accompaniment for a larger choir if desired (other instrumental arrangements on this site are not in the same key).

The lyric of the fugue and adagio chorale (BWV 227, No. IV) are from the writings of Paul: "Ye are not of the flesh, but of the Spirit, if in your heart the Spirit abideth. If Jesu's Spirit be not yours, ye are not His." Romans 8:9.

This is one of the occasions on which the original German of BWV 227, "Jesu Meine Freude," translates very well to English.

Bach is probably best known today for writing fugues. Perhaps he was the best ever at it, perhaps he elevated it to an unprecedented realm, perhaps he just managed to pack so much into a fugue that it was almost overwhelming. Whatever the reason, Bach fugues are really something special. In this one, he expounds on the text, bringing forth subject and answer, second theme and answer, and then mixing the stew thoroughly and adding pedal point approaching the ritard.

It is interesting to listen to Bach while reading a score, as you keep finding neat new things in his works. In this fugue, for example, the altos have a couple of very slick synchopated sections, and the tenors do some truly amazing acrobatics to keep part motion up to Bach's standards. The second soprano part is also intersting because it keeps emerging as the lead line, that is, once it gets started in the twelfth measure.

The adagio chorale is notable for its use of connecting lines where one after another part will solo while the rest of the choir rests between phrases. It is quite expressive, and produces an amazing effect if performed thoughtfully.

The tune and lyric for the chorale (BWV 227, No. III) are from a hymn by Johann Crueger.

+ + +

In Thine arm I rest me, Foes who would molest me
Cannot reach me here.
Though the earth be shaking, Ev'ry heart be quaking,
Jesus calms my fears.
Fires may flash and thunders crash,
Yea, and sin and hell assail me,
Jesus will not fail me.

+ + +

The words used here are an English transliteration. I do not call it a translation, as a literal translation would not have a reasonable syllable count and could not possibly convey the meaning in a muscially expressive way, as compared to these lyrics. This particlar set of lyrics is completely unmodernized from the oldest English translation of which I am aware, probably by Catherine Winkworth in 1863 (the original German text appears to have been penned by J. Franck in 1655). It is as it appears in several hymnals of about a century ago.

MP3 sound sample: Minnehaha Academy Singers, 1977
Since the singers performed the motet in movement-number order in this single-microphone live-concert recording, the chorale (III) was performed before the fugue and adagio chorale (IV). The fugue was pitched by the tenors themselves from the last chord of the chorale. This MP3 was created with the movements rearranged as they appear in this piece of sheet music. This means that in this MP3, the first note in this piece was literally pitched from the last note in this piece, and the new splice is between the adagio chorale and the hymn stanza. It is a testimony to Harry Opel's teaching of choral singing that there is no perceptible pitch difference between the movements. The Singers are students at Minnehaha Academy's high school in Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA.



FUGUE AND TWO CHORALES OF J. S. BACH, arranged as a concert piece for SSATB choir by Tom Kirkland, comes in a pdf file of 761K, with an eleven-page score and a license page, twelve pages in all. Performance time should be about 4:20.


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Last update: 21 March 2017