(Transcribed for orchestra by Ottorino Respighi) I. Nun komm, der Heiden H.Liland H. Meine Seele erhebt den Herren
III. Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimine
The three chorale-preludes originally written for organ that Ottorino Respighi selected for orchestral treatment were scored by him in October., 1930, and were performed for the first time anywhere in New York at the Philharmonic-Symphony concerts of October 13, 14, 15 and 16 of the same year. When you hear the first one you sense the tragic and mystical side of Bach’s nature. You feel how much he comprehended of human life and sorrow, how lonely he was, and how that great soul fled to its solitudes and its communion with the one friend, guide and counselor, the Lord God.
Lawrence Gilman’s program notes on the occasion of the New York premiere contained an admirable exposition of the nature and contents of the chorales, which is partially summarized in the following paragraphs. The first line of the chorale text, which is associated with Luther’s Christmas hymn, is, in Dr. Terry’s translation, “Come, Redeemer of our Race.” Bach has turned the chorale theme into a song of mystical pathos and supplication. The second piece is a transcription of Bach’s transcription of the fifth movement of his tenth church cantata, “Meine Seele erhebt den Herren,” a cantata known as the “German Magnificat.” The thought is of “The power of the Almighty, the dispersal of the enemy, the humbling of the great ones of the earththese are the outstanding features of the picture painted by the composer.” The movement that Bach transcribed for organ was originally a duet for tenor and alto, with the theme of the Magnificat set against it. In Respighi’s transcription wind instruments sustain the Magnificat theme. This piece is shorter than the one preceding, and more militant in moodsterner stuff. The third chorale-prelude also comes from a church cantata, “Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme” (Sleepers, awake! A voice is calling”) . It is the fourth movement from the cantata, in which the chorale melody is sung by the tenors against orchestral counterpoint. Respighi redistributes the parts in very effective orchestration. The conception is of the calls of the watchmen from the walls of Jerusalem to the Wise and Foolish Virgins, to prepare for the coming of the Heavenly Bridegroom, and the emotions occasioned by these summonses. Bach’s counterpoint has the character of a joyous dance. There is the thought of the call of the watchmen, and the procession drawing nearer. The movement develops to a magnificent climax. These are three, and only three, examples of Bach’s depth and creative power.