No.14 Vater unser im Himmelreich

Johann Sebastian Bach

No.14 Vater unser im Himmelreich


About this work

Clavier-Übung III is Bach's major publication of organ music. The title means "Keyboard Practice." Its content is predominantly liturgical music, mostly various preludes on the catechism and hymns. Although the publication date is 1739, the exact dates of composition of its constituent items are less certain. However, the 12 catechism settings are linked by a masterly common organizational plan, making it certain that they were conceived as a group. As it is this group that is the core of the Clavier-Übung III, this makes it most likely that they were written specifically for it, and therefore are examples of Bach's late style.

Vater unser im Himmelreich (Our Father in Heaven) is from the catechism and is one of a pair of treatments of Martin Luther's setting of this hymn known as "The Lord's Prayer" because its text is attributed by the Gospels to Jesus Himself. As in the case of the other catechism preludes in this volume, Bach wrote two versions in different styles, this one and the one cataloged by Schmieder as BWV 683. (He also wrote another chorale prelude setting of Vater unser, BWV 737.) This treatment of Vater unser im Himmelreich is Bach's most complex. The rhythms of the piece are especially complex, so Bach builds the upper voices on a rock-solid bass line on the organ pedals in constant even motion. However, the unvarying rhythmic pulse is given a far-ranging harmonic and tonal role to play, and takes the key of the prelude widely afield.

The texture of the setting is in the form of a trio, with two main lines in two different manuals with contrasting registrations, over the bass line. It is in these upper voices that remarkable rhythmic devices flourish, including so-called "Lombard" rhythms (that is, a short accented note on the beat and a long unaccented note after, a device also found in Scots music).

Rich melodic ornamentation abounds, and the texture is added to with rippling figurations and canons at the octave. This involved texture ensures that the attentive listener is practically guaranteed to hear something new every time, and these technical revelations only heighten the religious profundity of the setting.