Front Page Titles (by Subject) An Wasserflüssen Babylon. - Bach's Chorals, vol. 3 The Hymns and Hymn Melodies of the Organ Works
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An Wasserflüssen Babylon. - Johann Sebastian Bach, Bach’s Chorals, vol. 3 The Hymns and Hymn Melodies of the Organ Works 
Bach’s Chorals. Part III: The Hymns and Hymn Melodies of the Organ Works, by Charles Sanford Terry (Cambridge University Press, 1915-1921). 3 vols. Vol. 3.
Part of: Bach’s Chorals, 3 vols.
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An Wasserflüssen Babylon.
The hymn and melody appeared together in the third part of the Teutsch Kirchēamt mit lobgsengen (Strasbourg, 1525). The words are by Wolfgang Dachstein, to whom the melody also is assigned. He was Organist of Strasbourg Cathedral, and later, having become a Protestant, of St Thomas’ Church there. He died circa 1561.
There are two movements upon the melody in the Organ works—in the Eighteen Chorals and among the miscellaneous movements (Fünfstimmig). Griepenkerl states that Krebs’ copies of the two are marked respectively “Vers 2” and “Vers 1.” They display a close relation in tonality, atmosphere, and construction. Both are in G major. Both are inspired by the word “Wasserflüssen” (waves). In quavers, against the crotchets of the cantus, the accompaniment ripples on pellucidly in a figure which, in No. 18 especially, is reminiscent of Schubert’s familiar “Barcarolle.” Though No. 17 is six bars longer than No. 18, the two movements are otherwise similar. Practically they are built upon the same Bass, and their contrapuntal accompaniment to the cantus is constructed out of the opening two lines of the melody. In No. 17 the close is prolonged upon a final (tenth) statement of the opening phrase of the cantus. The melody also occurs in Choralgesange, No. 23. In the penultimate bar (supra) E flat for E natural as the sixth note was general after 1653. Witt (No. 601) has it and also Bach’s B natural as the penultimate note of bar 4 supra. Of Bach’s B natural as the third note of bars 2 and 4 Zahn (No. 7663) affords no earlier example.
N. xvii. 18. The movement is No. 3 of the Eighteen Chorals. Schweitzer1 finds in it the evident influence of Georg Böhm, Organist of St John’s Church, Lüneburg, from 1698 to his death in 1734 (?). Spitta2 , on the other hand, detects in it the example of Dietrich Buxtehude (1637-1707), Organist of St Mary’s Church, Lübeck, but concurs with Schweitzer in regarding the movement as an early essay of Bach’s. He dates its composition circa 1712, during the Weimar period.
No. 17 is not the oldest form of the movement. B.G. xxv. (2) 157 (P. vi. 103) prints an older version of it which may be distinguished as No. 17a. In the year 1720, as will be shown, Bach revised No. 17a and produced No. 18. No. 17 seems to have been the final text, prepared for the collection upon which Bach was at work at the time of his death. With what art he creates (cf. No. 18 where the impression is less evident) an atmosphere of languor congruous to stanza i of the hymn!
N. xviii. 13 was the result of a revision of No. 17a, whose occasion Spitta suggests with plausibility. In the autumn of 1720 Bach visited Hamburg, where the post of Organist in the Church of St James was vacant. Johann Reinken, the veteran Organist of St Catherine’s Church there, came to hear Bach play, and complimented him upon an improvisation, in the broad Bohm-Buxtehude manner, upon the melody “An Wasserflüssen Babylon,” a theme which Reinken himself had treated in a Prelude1 . Spitta suggests2 that Bach revised the Hamburg improvisation (No. 17a) and sent Reinken No. 18. Having regard to Reinken’s age and traditions it was natural that Bach should offer him a composition in the manner of Böhm (Reinken’s pupil) and Buxtehude rather than in the new forms Bach was originating. While preserving the framework of No. 17a, Bach added a second Pedal part, an addition which entailed removing the cantus from the Tenor, where it lies in Nos. 17a and 17, to the Treble3 .
The single ms. of No. 18 is in the Royal Library, Berlin, inscribed “J.S.B.” by Krebs.
[1 ] For the nonce, for the purpose.
[2 ]Remains (Parker Society, 1846), p. 571. The original hymn has five stanzas.
[1 ] Vol. i. 292.
[2 ] Vol. i. 616.
[1 ] For Bach’s visit to Hamburg, see Forkel (trans. Terry), p. 20.
[2 ] Vol. i. 617.
[3 ] Spitta points out (i. 608) that the characteristics of the Buxtehude form were melodic ornamentation, richness of harmony and tone, the constant employment of two manuals, one having the cantus, and the frequent use of the double Pedal (pedale doppio).