Composing a bicinium is one of the most difficult compositorial tasks there is. When you first see the score of a bicinium it does not seem very difficult. After all, there are only two musical lines, one for the left hand and one for the right hand. What can be difficult about that? When used as musical form for a choral prelude the task seems even more simple as the musical line for one of the two hans is the melody of the choral. The composer has only to provide a musical part for the other hand. Indeed, writing one line as counter melody for a choral melody is not so difficult. What makes it is difficult is the task to make it interesting.
To make a bicinium interesting a composer has to have a good understanding of what makes music move forward, how to create and release tension, how to create colour and meaning. In short: how to create something that’s interesting to play and interesting to listen to. An emotional impression is easily made when you have lots of notes and chords at your disposal to make a grand effect. When you have as little as one line you can freely compose the task is huge.
It takes a really good composer to create interesting bicinia. Johann Bernhard Bach (1676 – 1749) was such a composer. He was the second cousin of Johann Sebastian Bach (his grandfather was the eldest brother of the grandfather of Johann Sebastian Bach). He wrote several bicinia as choral preludes and they are invariably ‘good’. The prelude to “Nun freut euch lieben Christen gemein” is no exception. The choral melody is played with the right hand, and the left hand plays the freely composed accompaniment. Bach uses fragments of the choral melody for the left hand part in short fore imitations to introduce each of the phrases of the choral melody. For the rest he writes free figurations in a fast paced rythmic texture, to lend contrast to the choral melody.
It’s really a nice piece to play and with Advent nearing it can come in handy for any organist looking for something new to play.
The recording was done on the sample set of the Müller-organ in the Sint Bavokerk in Haarlem by Voxus Organs for Hauptwerk.
Bach, Nun freut euch, lieben Christen gmein