Johann Sebastian Bach - Chorals pour le temps de Pâques / Carols for Easter Time - Mélodies originales des chorals


Johann Sebastian Bach
Carols for Easter Time BWV 618 - 634 (Orgelbüchlein) 
16 original melodies* of the Little Organ-Book Chorales

Jean-Charles Ablitzer
The Sainte-Croix Church Organ, Aubusson, Creuse, France

Ian Honeyman

"Diapason d'Or" de Diapason-Harmonie n°318
"Un événement exceptionnel" de Télérama n°1995
Sélectionné par "La Discothèque Idéale" de Flammarion/Compact

Digital/Digital/iTunes Plus

Bach's chorale works contained in the Orgelbüchlein are today among his most popular compositions. Very different in character, these pieces appeal by their effusiveness, conciseness and concentration, and for the piquant colours with which organists, by their registration, highlight the main line and subtle tracery of the polyphony.

On closer inspection, however, these collections reveal other treasures, together with a spiritual and musical dimension which reaches far beyond the ephemeral charm of the pretty miniature.

Let us first turn to the manuscript of the Orgelbüchlein, preserved, like most of Bach's remaining manuscripts, in the State Library in Berlin (Berlin, Staatsbibliothek). The first page of this precious little oblong book, laid out in the Italian style, contains a large title written in the composer's own hand (in German, with a few words in French and the signature in Latin) :

"Little organ-book in which the student organist is taught to execute a chorale work in all kinds of ways and to progress in the study of the pedal, the pedal being treated as essential in the chorale works that it contains.

For the greatest glory of God the All-Mighty, for the subsequent (generation) so that it may learn from it.

The author, Jean Sebast. Bach, currently Kappelmeister to his Excellency the Prince Regnant of Alhalt-Coethen".

There follows 184 pages of music manuscript with hand-drawn staves. On each stave is the title of a hymn corresponding to a title in a book of Thuringian hymns then in use. Two thirds of the staves, however, remained empty. In all, forty-six pages are annotated with hardly any erasure marks. How did this come about? It is today possible to answer this question with some certainty.

In the ten years that he spent in Weimar (1708-1717), Bach occupied the post of church organist, a post he was not to hold again during the second half of his life. Recent studies and the statements of his youngest son Carl Philipp Emanuel indicate that Bach composed most of his organ works in Weimar. These works were primarily intended for the young and famous virtuoso. On sundays and holidays, in the ducal chapel, his main task, like any organist, was to accompany the hymns of the congregation which were taken from the hymns of the Lutheran church. Accompanying also meant introducing and paraphrasing the hymns or chorale works. This important function gave rise to the "Chorale Preludes" for organ, established by an already long tradition of composers. In Johann Sebastian's day, an outstanding specialist of the genre was none other than his distant and learned cousin Johann Gottfried Walther, his contemporary and, like Bach, recently settled in Weimar, as organist of the Church of St Peter and St Paul. The proximity of the two young men must certainly have generated a rivalry and reflection between them. Gradually, during these happy years, Bach formed and perfected a standard repertoire, and given his encyclopaedic mind, and his penchant for organization he was predestined surely to compose a basic manual for organists covering the repertoire of hymns for all religious services.

Accordingly the opening of the Little Organ Book resembles the large organ books in which the French catholic teachers annotated all pieces which accompanied entire masses; it also resembles the many hymn-books (Gesangbücher) used in the Lutheran Church. For this same reason the hymn titles are given at the top of each page. The musician had only to copy the chorale paraphrases he felt to be among the most accomplished that he had composed and the most suitable to appear in a collection intended for future publication.

Unfortunately the project was not completed. It is generally assumed - although there is no supporting historical evidence - that the composer used the time he spent in jail at the end of his stay in Weimar to do this work. By requesting rather too insistently his leave from the ducal chapel in order to take up his new appointment in Coethen, the musician annoyed His Royal Highness, who had him arrested and held under guard for an undetermined period on November 6th, 1717.

It may be assumed that to occupy this enforced leisure time without losing heart, the composer undertook the systematic copying of the best chorale works - more exactly the "Chorale Preludes" - composed in the final years. Released after four weeks, on December 2nd, as arbitrarily as he had been arrested - he was, moreover, now issued his official leave together with a no less official disgrace - the musician quickly packed his belongings and travelled to Coethen, taking with his scores the unfinished Little Organ Book which his many new activities prevented him from completing.

After physical and graphological examination of the manuscript, it seems more likely that the project, which had matured during the early years in Weimar, was implemented around 1713 or 1714. The collection would have been composed and the early compositions annotated at this time. His time under house arrest in 1717 must have enabled the musician to continue the incomplete copying work and to sign it with his new title of Kappelmeister at Coethen, unless he considered continuing his task on arriving in Coethen but did not have the time.

Bach, however, did return to the organ chorale work, much later in Leipzig, more than twenty years after the period of the Orgelbüchlein, he composed a new Organ Book which was also intended as an exercise book - Clavier Übung - These are the 21 chorale works which together with the grand Prelude and Fugue in E-flat major and 4 Duettos are meant for the Lutheran Mass, a worthy counterpart to the Masses of François Couperin or Nicolas de Grigny. A few years later towards the end of his life, the musician returned to the Chorale Preludes, as he had done in Weimar, to give them a final form. These works are lofty meditations on the threshold of death and are highly complex. In this final collection christened "Leipzig Autograph" we find a developed and expanded refrain of one of the chorales that entitled "Orgelbüchlein", the "KommGott Schöpferheiliger Geist", otherwise the "Veni Creator", of which we have yet another version predating the Orgelbüchlein.

In composing the Orgelbüchlein, the young and widely recognized master organist gave a striking insight into his genius and imagination, but he was also concerned with giving organists, mainly those beginning their careers, a practical collection of works, and, as the title page shows, a method. This work by the young Bach - he had just turned thirty when he prepared to leave Weimar - clearly shows how the musician-poet always doubled as a theorist and teacher. All organists today agree that the Orgelbüchlein is a supreme lesson in how to phrase distinctly the voices assigned to the fingers and feet, and how to registrate. It is a lesson in all the possible forms of ornamentation and counterpoint and in the various ways of augmenting and diminishing a theme.

This is taught through a series of beautiful and repeatedly inventive pieces which contain intense expression in their ornamentations, modulations, melodic lines and rhythms. The question remains, "what is it that they express?" This brings us to the crux, the most precious quality of these chorale works.

The Chorale Preludes have long been considered in France as pieces of "pure music" which developed impressionistic degrees of emotion around such titles as "In a sweet joy" or "When we are in dire distress". This view seriously overlooked their strictly liturgical function and the hymns on which they are based, the hymns or chorale works which Luther made central to his new religion. According to the Reformer, singing exorcised evil and temptation, and bringing men together by uniting them with God; it put peace in their souls and prepared them to listen to the holy word. Accordingly Luther and his colleagues, and later other poets and musicians, provided the young reformed church with a series of edifying hymns, regularly structured chorale works which fill the lungs and instill a sense of balance in all those who sing them aloud and with an open heart.

These chorale works were sung in church, when the congregation assembles, several times during the service and one last time at the end. They were also sung at home with the family every evening; this was ritual of becoming reconciled, of making peace, with God and with others. Where we sing, God is among us. The Lutheran German of the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries continually sang these chorale works which became his daily bread. From his early childhood, in the family and at school, he was familiar with the melodies and the words which he would meet in church. Once in church, before the singing began, the organist would give an introduction, sound the A and give out the melody; while he played, the faithful would mentally sing along with the organ, putting the words of the first verse with the tune of the hymn. Hence the developments of counterpoint and harmony in constantly repeated symbolic figures played by the organist offering a musical commentary, and allowing us to experience the holy text which he and the faithful hear together. Through this mental association of ideas and music, the organist fulfils the function of a preacher, and for this reason Bach may be considered one of the great theological commentators of the Lutheran church.

In the home, unlike in church, when a keyboard instrument was available, the chorale works were provided with a simple accompaniment rather than with a paraphrase or commentary as before. Bach himself, like many other musicians in Lutheran Germany, has left us these modest harmonies for domestic use, which may be compared with the solid and structured accompaniment which helped the faithful to sing the verses of hymns in church after the ornamented introductions of the organist.

To fully appreciate these chorale preludes it is essential to be familiar with the chorale works themselves, with their words and music, as were Bach's contemporaries. Accordingly, the present recording offer us first the domestic version of each chorale; supported by a discreet harmony, a single voice is heard singing the text of the first verse, that is the verse upon which the organist comments in his introductory prelude. The versions in this recording are those of Bach, when available, of his contemporaries like Kaufmann or Pachelbel, or of the present performers in accordance with the tradition of church organists. After this simple sung version, the melody of the hymn in the chorale prelude is then played on the organ. To complete the picture, the congregation should then be heard to sing in unison the hymns in their entirety, as is still today the practice in the Lutheran church. There is however clearly little point in going to such extremes for all forty-five chorale works.

One final remark on the production of this recording in the simple, domestic version, as in the rendering by the congregation in church, the chorale work would be sung aloud with well-defined phrases and without subtleties of interpretation. In this recording the performer is left to follow his own inspiration and to convey the wealth of theological and emotional allusions and intentions contained in the chorale works. The sonorous symbolism of the musical commentary of the organ preludes is thus all the more strongly felt.

Gilles Cantagrel

Choral BWV 618 "O Lamm Gottes unschuldig" 
O Lamm Gottes, unschuldig 
am Stamm des Kreuzes geschlachtet, 
allzeit erfund'n geduldig 
wie wohl du warst verachtet; 
All' Sünd hast du getragen, 
sonst mùssten wir verzagen. 
Erbarm dich unser, o Jesu! 

Choral BWV 619 "Christe, du Lamm Gottes" 
Christe, du Lamm Gottes, 
der du trägst die Sünd' der Welt, 
erbarm' dich unser; 

Christe, du Lamm Gottes, 
der du trägst die Sünd' der Welt, 
gib uns deinen Frieden amen. 

Choral BWV 620 "Chstus, der uns selig macht" 
Christus, der uns selig macht, 
kein Bös's hat begangen, 
ward für uns zur Mitternacht 
als ein Dieb gefangen, 
geführt vor gottlose Leut' 
und fälschlich verklaget, 
verlacht, verhöhnt und verspeit, 
wie denn die Schrift saget. 

Choral BWV 621 "Da Jesu an dem Kreuze stund" 
Da Jesu an dem Kreuze stund, 
und ihm sein Leichnam war verwund 
so gar mit bitterlichen Schmerzen, 
die sieben Wort, die Jesu sprach, 
betracht in deinem Herzen. 

Choral BWV 622 "O Mensch, bewein' dein' Sünde gross" 
O Mensch, bewein' dein' Sünde gross, 
darum Christus sein's Vaters Schoss äussert, 
und kam auf Erden. 
Von einer Jungfrau rein und zart 
für uns er hie geboren ward, 
er wollt' der Mittler werden. 
Den Todten er das Leben gab, 
und legt' dabei all' Krankheit ab, 
bis sich die Zeit her drange, 
dass er für uns geopfert würd', 
trüg unsrer Sünden schwere Bürd', 
wohl an dem Kreuze lange. 

Choral BWV 623 "Wir danken dir, Herr Jesu Christ" 
Wir danken dir, Herr Jesu Christ, 
dass du für uns gestorben bist, 
und hast uns durch dein teures Blut 
gemacht vor Gott gerecht und gut. 

Choral BWV 624 "Hilf, Gott, dass mir's gelinge" 
Hilf Gott, dass mir's gelinge, 
du edler Schöpfer mein, 
die Wort in Reim zu bringen, 
zu Lob und Ehren dein, 
dass ich mag fröhlich heben an, 
von deinem Wort zu singen, 
Herr, du wollst mir beistahn. 

Choral BWV 625 "Christ lag in Todesbanden" 
Christ lag in Tobesbanden, 
für uns're Sünd'gegeben, 
der ist wieder erstanden, 
und hat uns bracht das leben; 
dess wir sollen fröhlich sein, 
Gott loben und ihm dankbar sein, 
und singen Halleluja. Halleluja! 

Choral BWV 626 "Jésus Christus, unser Heiland" 
Jesus Christus unser Heiland, 
der den Tod überwand, 
ist auferstanden, 
die Sünd' hat er gefangen : 

Choral BWV 627 "Christ, ist erstanden" 
Christ ist erstanden 
von der Marter alle : 
des soll'n wir alle froh sein, 
Christus will unser Trost sein. 

Choral BWV 628 "Erstanden ist der heil'ge Christ" 
Erstanden ist der heil'ge Christ, 
Alleluja, Alleluja! 
der aller Welt ein Tröster ist, 
Alleluja, Alleluja! 

Choral BWV 629 "Erschienen ist der herrliche Tag" 
Erschienen ist der herrliche Tag, 
dran sich niemand g'nug freuen mag : 
Christ, unser Herr, heut triumphiert, 
all' sein' Feind' er gefangen führt. 

Choral BWV 630 "Heut' triumphieret Gottes Sohn" 
Heut' triumphieret Gottes Sohn, 
der von dem Tod erstanden schon, 
Halleluja, Halleluja! mit grosser Pracht und Herrlichkeit, 
des dank'n wir ihm in Ewigkeit. 
Halleluja, Halleluja! 

Choral BWV 631 "Komm, Gott, Schöpfer, heiliger Geist" 
Komm, Gott, Schöpfer, heiliger Geist, 
besuch das Herz der Menschen dein; 
mit Gnaden sie füll, wie du weisst, 
dass dein Geschöpf vorhin sein. 

Choral BWV 632 "Herr Jesu Christ, dich zu uns wend" 
Herr Jesu Christ, dich zu uns wend', 
dein'n heiligen Geist du zu uns send' 
mit Hülf ' und Gnad', Herr uns regier' 
und uns den Weg zur Wahrheit führ'. 

Choral BWV 634 "Liebster Jesu, wir sind hier" 
Liebster Jesu, wir sind hier, 
dich und dein Wort anzuhören; 
lenke Sinnen und Begier 
auf die süssen Himmelslehren, 
dass die Herzen von der Erden 
ganz zu dir gezogen werden.

Jean-Charles Ablitzer


Born in 1946 and attracted early in life by the organ, Jean-Charles Ablitzer was self-taught before enrolling in the Strasbourg Conservatory, where he studied under Pierre Vidal. In 1971 he won the post of organist at Saint-Christophe Cathedral of Belfort, home of the great Valtrin-Callinet organ restored by Kurt Schwenkedel of Strasbourg. The same year he was also named professor of organ at the Belfort Conservatory. 

J.C. Ablitzer's extensive knowledge of baroque music and instruments conditions the rigorous discipline of his style, which reflects the principles described in learned treatises; his personal discoveries regarding registration, articulation and phrasing; and his research into antique organs (construction materials, keyboard and pedalboard configuration). Jean-Charles Ablitzer is an ardent chamber-music performer, and has participated in numerous baroque ensemble concerts and recordings.

The high quality of Ablitzer's recordings (Bach, Couperin) has received ample praise from the critics : "…Playing a superb Catalan instrument with the characteristic Iberian nasality, Ablitzer constructs a glittering monument resounding with vast incandescent figures. Phrasing, registration, and digital dexterity are stunning. No one since Chapuis has played Couperin this brilliantly…" (from a review by Jean-Luc Macia).

Ablitzer's two recordings of François Couperin Masses were ranked by the monthly review "Le Monde de la Musique" as among the ten best classical recordings of 1987.
"…Jean-Charles Ablitzer's abilities as a colourist enable him to etch the smallest details of a tormented work that eschews comfortable harmonies and banal equilibrium, and to confront its most lyrical effusions with aplomb. This "Complete Works" (Buxtehude) in progress is devilishly promising…" (from a review by Paul Meunier).

"…But never fear; the Belfort organist doesn't drag Brahms over the borderline into austere pedantry. He remembers the lesson this composer learned during his long stay in Vienna, the importance of smooth flow and sunny declamation : here is a recording flooded with just that Viennese spirit…" (from a review by Xavier Lacavalerie).

"…his fervour is enough to draw tears from a stone, but it is his exuberance and joy that fulfil the crucial role of restoring to Titelouze's music its original sharp brilliance and dazzling verve. The centuries fall away, the musical themes engage with each other like flashing swords of light…" (from a review by Paul Meunier).

"…dedicated to Georg Boehm, known for having influenced the great Bach, his works, it is now proven, deserve their own success. To the glowing chorales, Monique Zanetti lends her pureness and ecstatic innocence, while Jean-Charles Ablitzer offers glory and enlightenment.” (from a review by Paul Meunier).

"…he is well aware of the recent musicological evolutions, his application of which is extremely seductive… He is not the prisoner of any fashion in his choice of tempi, phrasing, or registration. On the contrary, he is constantly inspired, proposing innovative solutions with every page." (from a review by Francis Albou /J.S. Bach, Organ works in Goslar).

lan Honeyman


The English tenor (also actor and pianist) of international fame, Ian Honeyman, studied at the prestigious school of King's College. Ian Honeyman has been soloist amongst other things with the Opéra of Paris. The extent of his work is broad, and includes opera, oratorio, recital and creation. But he is particularly noticed for his strong scenic presence as an actor, as for his interpretations of the roles of Evangelist in the Passions of Bach and for his courses and recordings with Paul Dombrecht and his Baroque Orchestra Il Fondamento.
With the Opéra Comique of Paris Ian Honeyman was Hippolyte in the work of the same name by Rameau. As an actor-singer he reveals meditative and paroxistic aspects in the role of The Madwoman in Curlew River by Britten. With the search for a greater proximity with his public, he combines his talents of singer and pianist, hoping to thus find a greater freedom in his emotions.


Mélodie originale
Choral BWV 618 "O Lamm Gottes unschuldig"

Mélodie originale
Choral BWV 619 "Christe, du Lamm Gottes"
Mélodie originale

Mélodie originale
Choral BWV 620 "Christus, der uns selig macht"

Mélodie originale
Choral BWV 621 "Da Jesu an dem Kreuze stund"

Mélodie originale
Choral BWV 622 "O Mensch, bewein' dein' Sünde gross"

Mélodie originale
Choral BWV 623 "Wir danken dir, Herr Jesu Christ"

Mélodie originale
Choral BWV 624 "Hilf, Gott, dass mir's gelinge"

Mélodie originale
Choral BWV 625 "Christ lag in Todesbanden"

Mélodie originale
Choral BWV 626 "Jesus Christus, unser Heiland"

Mélodie originale
Choral BWV 627 "Christ, ist erstanden"

Mélodie originale
Choral BWV 628 "Erstanden ist der heil'ge Christ"

Mélodie originale
Choral BWV 629 "Erschienen ist der herrliche Tag"

Mélodie originale
Choral BWV 630 "Heut' triumphieret Gottes Sohn"

Mélodie originale
Choral BWV 631 "Komm, Gott, Schöpfer, heiliger Geist"

Mélodie originale
Choral BWV 632 "Herr Jesu Christ, dich zu uns wend"

Mélodie originale
Choral BWV 634 "Liebster Jesu, wir sind hier"


"Diapason d'Orde Diapason-Harmonie n°318 :

L'idée n'était pas vraiment neuve mais d'une application extrêmement délicate : ce que nous nommons choral est en fait un prélude de choral, donc l'harmonisation donnée ou non d'un thème, à l'orgue, destiné à introduire le chant de la communauté. Alors, fallait-il enregistrer l'Orgelbüchlein, en intercalant autant de chorals, chantés par un chœur? On risquait lourdeur et ennui. Ablitzer et Honeyman ont eu recours à la troisième possibilité, la version dite domestique, précédant, elle, le choral. Ce n'est donc plus Bach qui prépare le fidèle de la Réforme au chant communautaire, mais le chant qui prépare l'auditeur du XXe siècle à l'écoute de Bach. Merveilleux retournement des choses dont on ne saurait ,saisir, le temps de le lire, toutes les vertus. Une voix limpide et chaude, Honeyman, ténor, expose la mélodie et le texte, souvent repérables, note pour note, mot pour mot, dans le prélude de choral qui fait suite, une voix qui, parce que soliste, nuance les textes presque à l'infini, faisane même usage d' une ornementation très légère, raffinée - évitant ainsi la monotonie de quarante-cinq interventions qui auraient pu n'être que stéréotypées. L' accompagnement, au positif, est de Bach, de ses contemporains ou d'Ablitzer.
L'interprétation du cycle proprement dit est une des plus belles qui soient, parce que d'une logique d'approche sans faille. Elle est modérée, mais en tout : tempo (giusto à l'égard de la liturgie), couleur variée mais sobre, intériorisation, maîtrise, L'orgue d'Aubusson (Gérald Guillemin), est splendide, idéal, et lui aussi modéré (taille, timbre), pur. Pour être très précis : les bonnes versions de l'Orgelbüchlein ne manquent pas, mais celle-ci apporte quelque chose de réellement nouveau : un rythme d'écoute différent, proprement inouï, dû à cette alternance chant et orgue, authentiquement belle.
Pour finir, un coup de chapeau à Harmonic Classics pour la présentation du coffret et l'intérêt des textes, remarquables - bref le disque objet d'art.
 - Michel Roubinet
Technique : 8,5/10. Equilibre tonal : très bon. Image stéréo : naturelle, orgue très présent. Définition : analytique. Pureté sonore : très bonne.

"Un événement exceptionnelde Télérama n°1995 :

L'œuvre prend soudain tout son sens quand on fait, comme ici, précéder les préludes de chorals par la mélodie originale à partir de laquelle Bach a composé son œuvre : la voix est là pour aider les fidèles à la suivre. C'était bien à "l'usage domestique" que le Cantor écrivit "l'Orgelbüchlein". Réalisation de haut goût et comme le grand orgue de Sainte-Croix d'Aubusson est beau! - Paul Meunier

Selected by "La Discothèque Idéale" de Flammarion/Compact
© 2021 Harmonic Classics