Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland (BWV 599)

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from Das Orgelbüchlein by Johann Sebastian Bach


Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland is the quintessential Advent chorale. Martin Luther adapted this Lutheran chorale from the Latin chant Veni redemptor gentium by translating the eight verses into rhyming metric poetry in German and adusting the melody to fit the style of his time. The text of the first stanza is translated to English as follows:

Come now, Savior of the nations,
revealed as the Son of the Virgin.
All the world is amazed
that God gave Him a birth such as that.[1]

The following descending motive recurs multiple times in Bach's setting:
Cross motive.jpg
It is sometimes called the cross motive because of its resemblance to that instrument of death. The large descent represents the upright part of the cross while the smaller ascents represent the transverse beam. Thus, this motive at once depicts two ideas: Christs descent into the world, and the cross that will ultimately be his death. The harsh chromatic nature of this motive and the piece in general serve to depict Christ's pain and suffering; He will descend into the world, and as Isaiah says, he will be "a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief."[2] The chromaticism may also be an allegory for the mystery of the incarnation of Christ and the Virgin birth. Indeed, as the piece progresses the recurring motive seems to add mystery and obfuscation to the entire text.

Registration and Organs[edit]

For a meditative interpretation: flutes 8', 8' & 4', or 8', 4', 2'; principal 8';[3] or German Baroque-style string stops, with balanced pedal built on a 16' foundation. For a more jubilant interpretation use some sort of plenum (principals 8' through 2' or chorus mixture). [4] [5]

Fingering and Pedaling[edit]

Quentin Faulkner has supplied early fingering and pedaling for this piece in the Leupold edition.

Articulation and Phrasing[edit]


The score does not indicate any ornamentation. Because of the chromaticism and the general simplicity of Advent music in general, the affect of the piece may best be served without any extra ornamentation.

Tempo and Meter[edit]

For this work, the chorale melody must be discernible in four beats to the measures so that the figuration does not dominate, yet the tempo must maintain the wondrous longing and majesty of the affect.[6] Hermann Keller recommends the quarter note = 40.[7]

Scores and Editions[edit]


Free download of Bach Gesellschaft edition.


Replace this text with any specific information on recordings

Free Online[edit]

James Kibbie, 1717 Trost organ, St. Walpurgis, Großengottern, Germany, using Lieblichgedackt 8' and Flötuse 4' in the Positiv; Subbaß 16' and Bordunbaß 8' in the Pedal.

Pay to Listen[edit]

William Porter at the 1723 Hildebrandt at Störmthal., including 10 other pieces from Das Orgelbuchlein.


  1. Johann Sebastian Bach: Orgelbuchlein. Ed. Robert Clark and John David Peterson. St. Louis, MO: Concordia, 1984.
  2. Isaiah 53:3
  3. Robert Clark master class, Brigham Young University, Jan. 11, 1996.
  4. J. S. Bach 1685-1750: Basic Organ Works. Historical Organ Techniques and Repertoire, vol. 2. Ed. Quentin Faulkner. Boston: Wayne Leupold Editions, 1997.
  5. Johann Sebastian Bach: Orgelbuchlein. Ed. Robert Clark and John David Peterson. St. Louis, MO: Concordia, 1984.
  6. Thomas Harmon, "Performance and the Affektenlehre in Bach's Orgelbuechlein," The Diapason 64, December (1972), 4.
  7. Hermann Keller, The Organ Works of Bach, trans. by Helen Hewitt (New York, 1967), 200.

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