"Here one hears Bach in a closeness of rare intimacy, and it is precisely the supposed simplicity of the Schemelli songs that allows the artists to discover the great in the small: The songs reflect Bach’s deep assurance of faith. And this does not require timpani and trumpets, but only a small organ and a moving voice."Pizzicato, 30-10-2023
Only from the mid-1730s does Bach seem to be concerned with composing songs to contemporary lyrics. We find such a small series especially in the second piano booklet for Anna Magdalena Bach. He and his wife composed some "new songs" that certainly enriched everyday life in the family, such as making music together in the evening or prayers at home with their children. Among these six songs, there are especially those whose lyrics provide comfort.
The songs of the musical hymnbook have been given their title "Schemelli-Lieder" after the editor Georg Christian Schemelli (around 1680–1762). Schemelli is certainly responsible for the main selection of 954 songs and thus also for the selection of Bach settings to music.
The publication was titled Musicalisches Gesang-Buch (Musical Hymnbook) and contains 954 "witty, both old and new songs and arias, with well-set melodies, in discant and bass". In the preface of April 24 , 1736, the Naumburg superintendent Friedrich Schulze wrote the following:
The melodies contained in this Musicalisches Gesang-Buch are by Johann Sebastian Bach, Master of the Chapel Choir and Choir Conductor. Musicians in Leipzig, partly composed completely new, partly also improved by him in the basso continuo.
Of 69 songs with (mostly) figured bass, 21 are hymnologically detectable for the first time in this printing. Exactly these 21 songs were therefore taken as the basis for the selection here from the Musicalisches Gesang-Buch in addition to the mentioned small selection from the second book of sheet music of Anna Magdalena Bach.
The order of the 21 selected songs for the present production was based on musical aspects, e.g., related key combinations between songs. The performers also made a subjective selection from the multitude of printed verses.
Johann Sebastian Bach was a German composer and musician of the Baroque period. He enriched established German styles through his skill in counterpoint, harmonic and motivic organisation, and the adaptation of rhythms, forms, and textures from abroad, particularly from Italy and France. Bach's compositions include the Brandenburg Concertos, the Goldberg Variations, the Mass in B minor, two Passions, and hundreds of cantatas. His music is revered for its technical command, artistic beauty, and intellectual depth.
Bach's abilities as an organist were highly respected during his lifetime, although he was not widely recognised as a great composer until a revival of interest in and performances of his music in the first half of the 19th century. He is now generally regarded as one of the greatest composers of all time.
Here one hears Bach in a closeness of rare intimacy, and it is precisely the supposed simplicity of the Schemelli songs that allows the artists to discover the great in the small: The songs reflect Bach’s deep assurance of faith. And this does not require timpani and trumpets, but only a small organ and a moving voice.