Zachow, a master of counterpoint | Secrets of Organ Playing Contest, week 97

in #secretsoforganplaying6 months ago (edited)

This is my entry for the Secrets of Organ Playing Contest, Week 97. I play Zachow's chorale prelude "Erbarm dich mein, o Herre Gott", LV 28.

Friedrich Wilhelm Zachow or Zachau (1663 – 1712) was a German musician and composer. Nowadays he is mostly remembered as the teacher of Georg Friedrich Händel, yet in his own time he was famed as rganist and composer of church cantatas. His surviving organ compositions are largely based on chorales.

The choral preludes "Erbarm dich mein, o Herre Gott", LV 28), shows Zachow mastered counterpoint to a high level. The manuscript subtitles this composition as "Choral con Fuga et contrasubjecto". Though it's not a fugue in the true sence, the accompaniment of the choral melody is build on two different themes. In order of first appeareance, let's call them theme A:


and theme B:


These two theme's occur as stated above and in several variations. Perhaps even the first entry of the alto voice can be considered a variation of theme B.


Theme B occurs 16 times in the piece, Theme B 15 times, or 16 times as well when you count the first entry of the alto voice. The challenge is of course to spot them all without looking in the score. Though to make it easy, I marked the entries in the video as well.

On a technical note:

  • I often show the score in the video in the form of the finished, published text. This time, I thought it would perhaps be nice to show the copy I play from. Playing the music I typeset, is a form of proofreading, so this copy contains indications of the transription errors I made initially. And it contains some finerings, articulation indications and warnings for myself to play the correct duration or the correct note ("A!")
  • I wanted to experiment with two camera angles. It's kind of lucky I did, because the main camera's battery died before I finished playing. The second camera, pointed towards my hands, recorded the entire piece. So you'll see that after some 3 minutes I switch the image of the main camera for the image of the second camera. As I liked the recording and I knew I had a lot of postprocessing to do (indicating al the entries of theme A and B), I did not play it again.

The recording was done with the Hauptwerk software and the sampleset, made by Sonus Paradisi, of the Schittger organ in the St. Martini-kerk, Groningen (

Score available at my website somewhere this weekend.


Thanks for your entry! The combination of the sound of Martinikerk organ and Erbarm dich mein, o Herre Gott chorale tune has a soothing effect on me...

I love the sound of the Principal as solo voice. I decided to use the one of the Rugwerk because I like the tremulant of that division better than the tremulant of the Bovenwerk.