Learning Helmut Walcha’s chorale prelude of Herzliebster Jesu, was hast du verbrochen

Helmet Walcha's Chorale PreludesAt my last lesson, I was assigned Helmut Walcha’s chorale prelude of (or is it on?) “Herzliebster Jesu, was hast du verbrochen”. One English translation is “Ah Holy Jesus, How Hast Thou Offended.”

When Michael played it for me, my first impression was, that pedal line sure is repetitive! I didn’t think I’d like it. One note in the treble clef is held throughout the entire piece. Now that I am practicing this piece, I am enjoying it. There is a trance-like quality about it. And I fall asleep hearing the pedal line in my head.

If you’d like to hear it, I found this video on YouTube. The pedal line is a little hard to hear, but this is the only video I’ve found of it so far.


Since being assigned this piece, I decided it was about time I found out what a chorale prelude is! I will also share how I’m learning this piece to avoid the tempo issues I had at my last lesson and many lessons before that!

What is a chorale prelude?

This is the first chorale prelude that I’ve been assigned. I’m sure Michael has mention chorale preludes and it’s very likely I’ve heard one or more at an organ concerts. When I Google’d “what is a chorale prelude” the definition that come up is “an organ piece based on a chorale.”

What is a chorale? According to this Wikepedia article, it is a melody to which a hymn is sung. The prelude is a tune is played to introduce the hymn.

I’ve learned that “Herzliebster Jesu, was hast du verbrochen” was written by Johann Heerman in 1630. The English text of all 15 stanzas can be read here. 10 years later the tune “Herzliebster Jesu”, was written ten years later by Johann Crüger. The chorale prelude was composed by Walcha in the 20th century.  To learn more about this chorale read this article which is where I obtained the history.

The Walcha’s chorale prelude that I’m learning may be played before “Herzliebster Jesu, was hast du verbrochen”. I think the chorale prelude can also be performed as a stand alone piece (but I’d need Michael or other organists to confirm).

How I’m am learning this piece

Tempo and feeling the beat has become one of my biggest challenges to face. I tend to worry too much about playing the correct notes when learning a piece. This causes problems later. I also received some tips for other organists after I shared the post about my last lesson. I am practicing counting when I walk as suggested by John Craven.

Herzliebster Jesu, was hast du verbrochen choral preludeWith this piece, I decided to take it very slow. Slow enough that I can play the right notes in the correct tempo. I am also relying on the metronome has my own sense of beat is not trustworthy yet. Also, the metronome will help me avoid problems with short changing rests.

The first rest in the pedal line in the photo would be one that I we not observe the full length of when learning a new piece. I would tend to rush over it, getting to the next too soon. I’m hoping with use of the metronome I can learn to feel the beat correctly on this piece.

I plan to have this pieced learned and at tempo for my next lesson.

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Heidi Bender writes about her experiences of learning to play the organ. She started on the adventure in 2009.

She also writes on her website Tons of Thanks, which helps people write thank-you notes. Heidi is also a cat lady who writes at The Joy of Cats.

7 thoughts on “Learning Helmut Walcha’s chorale prelude of Herzliebster Jesu, was hast du verbrochen”

  1. The organ professor I had in college introduced me to this same chorale prelude, and I’ve purposely included it sometime during the Lent/Passiontide season of the church year the two years (and plan to continue using it). The continuously held notes and the repeated pedal line (referred to as an “ostinato”) create a musical sound that is both haunting and simple, something I find very fitting for a time of solemn reflection in the church. I like it, and I’m glad you’re enjoying this piece too.

    As far as chorale preludes in general, I usually use them as “stand alone” pieces. While chorale preludes–as their name suggests–could be used to introduce a hymn prior to congregational singing, many of these pieces employ a very ornate/embellished melody line or rhythms that differ from what is laid out in the hymnal for congregational singing. This is aside from the fact that many chorale preludes are more than two or three minutes in length. There are probably congregations and situations where these pieces work just fine as hymn introductions, but in my experience they are not particularly helpful on Sunday morning when all the congregation really needs is a clear and concise reminder of what the melody is, an indication of the hymn’s tempo, and a means of knowing when to start singing. Instead, I “improvise” a very short introduction (no longer than the length of playing the hymn tune once) for hymn singing and save the chorale preludes for service prelude/voluntary/postlude/etc.–which I always need plenty of music for. [There could very well be organists who disagree with me though.]

  2. Thanks for sharing this. What a great way to compare experiences. Learning new pieces is a real challenge so ideas and experiences are always useful.


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