Chorale Prelude: Fughetta on "Aus meines Herzens Grunde"

Today let's consider the Chorale Prelude "Aus meines Herzens Grunde" by Johann Christoph Bach (1642-1703). He was a second cousin of the famous J. S. Bach (1685-1750) and was similarly blessed with outstanding musical abilities.

Chorale Preludes are used in a worship service to introduce a hymn/chorale. They are written in the same key as the hymn, employ parts of or all of the hymn melody (or close variations), use the same meter, and so on. They differ, however, in the sense that they are free compositions written for the keyboard/organ, and are not always in the same four-part style as the hymn itself. They set the mood for the hymn, remind the congregation how the melody goes, and gets us ready to sing!

We are going to consider a short example and discuss a fundamental technique used in its style.

Before proceeding, however, please listen to the piece here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Km6KeZWhA2E

There is a lot happening, but let's focus on one special technique:

A "call-and-response style" where the melody is heard in one voice, then "echoed" in another, sometimes at a different pitch level (higher or lower).

This type of approach shouldn't be totally unfamiliar to you. Like a game of musical "follow the leader," many of us can remember childhood songs (like "row, row, row your boat" and "are you sleeping?") where one voice would start the melody, and others would join in periodically, creating a wonderful effect. Let's see how it works here.

First, the opening measures of the melody used in the hymn "Aus meines Herzens Grunde," below. This fragment provides the material to be used in the prelude, and forms the basis of its development:

...and the complete organ score itself is below. I would like you to focus on the green and red colors for now. I've highlighted -- "boxed in" -- the melody each time it appears. Put this in front of you and listen to the tune again. Try to follow the music with your eyes AND your ears, and try to catch the melody each time it makes an appearance:

If you are able to connect what you hear with what you see, and can pinpoint the exact moments in time when the melody is presented, congratulations! If not, don't give up. Sing the melody to yourself several times (to keep it fresh in your mind) and listen to the piece a few times. The goal is to be able to listen to the music without the score and the visual hints so you're able to "digest" it as it goes by in real time.

Once you have done that, you are actually taking baby steps toward becoming a more sophisticated listener of music.

If you're able to hear the call-and-response going on, listening will be much more enjoyable. I find myself much more involved when I realize that the melody is going to show up again soon, and I find myself waiting for its reappearance. The pedals in measure 14-15 state the melody very strongly, then I really enjoy the melody appearing (with alterations) in the upper voices in measures 16ff. The final parts of the composition seem to be emphasizing the fast sixteenth notes. The piece is no longer just a wash of sounds, but now it starts to tell maybe a little bit of a story...

For bonus points, observe the musical ideas I've highlighted in the blue boxes. There's a short musical idea presented in the upper voice and then echoed almost immediately in the lower voice. Train your ears to hear that in the same way you approached the first idea.

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