About this work
Johannes Crüger's chorale Schmücke dich, o liebe Seele was first published in 1644; about 70 years later, J.S. Bach took the melody and shaped it into one of his most beloved chorale preludes for organ, BWV 654. Composed sometime during Bach's years in Weimar (1708-1717), the chorale prelude on Schmücke dich, o liebe Seele is nevertheless a member of a group of 17 -- formerly 18 -- pieces known as the "Leipzig" chorale preludes because it was in that city that Bach, in the last years of his life, revised them with an eye towards publication.
The prelude is intricately ornamented, as are about a third of the "Leipzig" chorale preludes: the melody, or cantus firmus, is given to the uppermost voice and decorated generously, while the alto and tenor voices proceed along similarly ornate lines and the bass moves unadorned in steady quarter notes. There is a beauty in the way that Bach introduces the cantus firmus with three plain dotted half notes -- the decision to make us believe, briefly, that the chorale melody will be given in straightforward tones makes the blossoming of ornaments at the end of the third bar all the more potent. The three lower voices continue their delicious running counterpoint between the isolated phraselets of the cantus firmus, culminating in a wonderful five-bar codetta that surrounds the final pedal point E flat of the cantus firmus. The alternate version of BWV 654 is cataloged as BWV 654a.