The organ chorales of Johann Pachelbel: origins, purpose, style

Willmett, John Patrick

Ph. D. University of Edinburgh, 2007 (

The starting point of this study is an examination of the hymn books in use in the churches in Erfurt and Nürnberg when Pachelbel was organist in these places. The contents of the hymn books and the form of the chorale melodies found in them are related to the organ chorales of Pachelbel.

A survey of the place of the organ chorale in the performance of German hymns and the wider place of these in the liturgy leads to a detailed consideration of liturgical practice in Nürnberg’s Sebalduskirche. Conclusions are drawn about exactly how the organ was used in church services, and the specific purposes for which Pachelbel’s the organ chorales were written.

A critique of earlier schemes of classification of Pachelbel’s organ chorales is followed by a new scheme that takes into account recent insights into the manuscript history of the pieces.

An analysis of the style of Pachelbel’s organ chorales covers the topics of modality and tonality, the treatment of part writing, dissonance, the elaboration of polyphonic lines, the influence of the Italian string masters on Pachelbel’s style, Figurenlehre, Affektenlehre, and the place of these organ chorales in the historical development of the form. Some questions of attribution and authenticity conclude the thesis proper.

The appendices comprise a note on the organs in Erfurt and Nürnberg at which Pachelbel presided, a complete list of the organ chorales with verbal and musical texts of the chorales and incipits for the organ chorales, two hitherto unpublished organ chorales attributed to Pachelbel in the manuscripts, and a full bibliography.