Das Orgel-Büchlein : Work information

Johann Sebastian Bach ( Music, Images,)
Performed by
Gerhard Gnann (Organ)

This work

Work name
Das Orgel-Büchlein
Work number
BWV 599-644
1715-01-01 02:01:00

This recording

Richard Hauck
Richard Hauck
Recording date
1999-02-01 01:00:00

Track listing

  • O Lamm Gottes, unschuldig (618) 5:05 min
  • Dies sind die heiligen zehn Gebot (635) 1:20 min
  • Vater unser im Himmelreich (636) 1:36 min


A collection of 45 short chorale preludes, the Orgel-Büchlein (Little Organ Book) was mostly composed between 1713 and 1715, though Bach continued to add to it periodically, even as late as c. 1740. The collection was originally intended to contain 164 pieces, but Bach seems to have lost interest and only took it up again in connection with his teaching.

The Orgel-Büchlein thus serves a didactic purpose: Bach writes on the title page that the collection is for the organ student to "learn how to develop a chorale, in various ways, and at the same time gain experience in the technique of playing the pedals, which in each of these preludes is treated as entirely obbligato".

The 45 extant preludes transcend mere exercises, however, to form a staple element of Protestant church music. They are organised in the order of the church hymn book whose melodies provide the cantus firmus for each prelude, from Advent, through Christmas, Epiphany, Passion, Easer, Pentecost, Order of Service, Catechism, Faith in God and Death/Eternity. The Easter preludes are particularly uplifting and BWV622, one of the preludes for the Passion, possesses a beautiful melody.

The Composers

Johann Sebastian Bach

One of the greatest composers in history, Johann Sebastian Bach (father of C.P.E, J. C. and W. F. Bach) was by far the most significant member of the Bach dynasty of musicians.

He outshone his forebears and contemporaries, but did not always receive the respect he deserved in his own lifetime. After a brief engagement as a violinist in the court of Weimar, Bach became organist at the Neukirche in Arnstadt. In June 1707 he moved to St. Blasius, Mühlhausen, and married his cousin Maria Barbara Bach. In 1708 he was appointed court organist in Weimar where he composed most of his works for organ. In 1717, he was appointed Court Kapellmeister to the young Prince Leopold at Cöthen, but was refused permission to leave Weimar. The Duke only allowed Bach to go after holding him prisoner for nearly a month.

While at Weimar, Bach wrote his violin concertos and the six Brandenburg Concertos, as well as several suites, sonatas and keyboard works, including several, such as the Inventions and Book I of the 48 Preludes and Fugues (The Well-tempered Clavier). In 1720 Maria Barbara died, and the next year Bach married Anna Magdalena Wilcke. Bach resigned the post in Weimar in 1723 to become cantor at St. Thomas’ School in Leipzig where he was responsible for music in the four main churches of the city. Here he wrote the Magnificat and the St. John and St. Matthew Passions, as well as a large quantity of other church music. In Leipzig he eventually took charge of the University “Collegium Musicum” and occupied himself with the collection and publication of many of his earlier compositions.

Over the years that followed, Bach’s interest in composing church music declined somewhat, and he took to writing more keyboard music and cantatas. As his eyesight began to fail, he underwent operations to try and correct the problem, and these may have weakened him in his old age. He died at age 65, having fathered a total of 20 children with his two wives. Despite widespread neglect for almost a century after his death, Bach is now regarded as one of the greatest of all composers and is still an inexhaustible source of inspiration for musicians. Bach’s compositions are catalogued by means of the prefix BWV (Bach-Werke-Verzeichnis) and a numbering system which is generally accepted for convenience of reference.

Related Composers: Pachelbel, Telemann, Handel, Couperin

Also influenced: Mendelssohn, Brahms, Stravinsky, Hindemith