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Wenn wir in höchsten Nöten sein, BWV641
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Staying in the ‘benedictory’ key of G major (as Wilfrid Mellers calls it), Wenn wir in höchsten Nöten sein, BWV641 is based on the same melody as the chorale prelude Bach dictated on his deathbed – a tune by Louis Bourgeois, dated 1547. The text for the hymn is as follows:

Wenn wir in höchsten Nöten sein
Und wissen nicht, wo aus noch ein,
Und finden weder Hilf noch Rath,
Ob wir gleich sorgen früh und spat:
So ist dies unser Trost allein,
Dass wir zusammen insgemein
Dich anrufen, o treuer Gott,
Um Rettung aus der Angst und Noth.
When in the hour of utmost need
We know not where to look for aid,
When days and nights of anxious thought
Nor help nor counsel yet have brought,
Then this our comfort is alone;
That we may meet before Thy throne,
And cry, O faithful God, to Thee,
For rescue from our misery.

As in all three of my transcriptions, I have stayed extremely close to the original, simply doubling the pedal part, and occasionally moving a voice to another octave if need be. This chorale prelude is an arabesque – a florid, serene melody which, after staying within a fairly small range, soars upwards in the second last phrase, mirroring the words ‘And cry, O faithful God, to Thee’. The accompaniment constantly refers to the first four notes of the hymn tune.

from notes by Angela Hewitt © 2001

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