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Bach, motets instrumental doubling


Thanks to the many Choralisters who responded to my question. Here is the original post:

Dear Choralisters,

One of my choirs will be performing a number of Bach motets, and I
would like to explore a variety of accompanying schemes ---
doubling the voice parts with instrumental consorts. I've
tentatively planned to hire a string quintet (2 vls, vla, vc, kb)
and a woodwind (double reed) quartet --- particularly for use in

My question is this - - which 4 woodwinds would you use? The alto
parts are too low for an oboe; the tenor parts are too high for a
bassoon. Oboe d'amore? Oboe da caccia? Has anyone solved this
problem to their satisfaction before?

Many thanks!

Lee Kesselman
Glen Ellyn, IL

bach typically doubles the chorus with 2 ob. and 2 bn. the ranges
should be perfectly fine - 2nd oboe playing alto (not an ideal range
for a young oboist....but if you hire a pro, no problem) there may
be a few instances of the alto going below the B flat below middle C
(lowest note on the oboe) in which case the oboist could either play
the sop. note or some other note in the harmony. similarly, the
bassoon should have no problem playing any of the tenor lines in bach.


I had a very successful concert performing "Jesu meine Freude" (not one
of the motets you list) using 2 oboes, English horn, and 2 bassoons. I
think I had to change just 1 or 2 notes at most. They sat on high stools in
back of the non-professional chorus and the sound percolated through, instead
of taking over, as they would have done if they'd been in front. Decided
early on against mixing early and modern double reeds.

I have never tried this with these pieces so I am not speaking from
direct experience

What about flute, oboe, clarinet, bassoon? I don't know the lowest
note of the clarinet off hand, but I think it might work for Bach tenor
parts (you'd need a transposition of course)

I have used an English horn in substitute for oboe da caccia - that
might be a lot of color along with an oboe, though, depending on the size
of your choir


No need to reinvent the wheel; Bärenreiter (Baerenreiter) has
published a set of instrumental parts for the six Bach motets, both winds and strings.
Their website ( does not specify the wind
instrumentation, but that would be easy enough to find out.


The tenor parts are not too high for bassoon. Think "Le Sacre du

In the Chicago area, you can probably find someone (or two) who owns
a d'amore, which would be stylistically apt since Bach wrote so much
for it, and often in pairs. Possibilities include oboe, d'amore, 2
bassoons or 2 d'amores/2 bassoons or oboe, English horn, 2 bassoons.

I have done both of those motets with the instrumental doublings. If I am not mistaken, the PETERS edition has it worked out for Bassoon 1 and Bassoon 2. I have the parts at my office. I can look. There may also be and English horn part.


English horn to replace the oboe? (It goes down to an E...)

Bassoon range is about B1 to D5... may I please borrow your tenors,
if they sing higher than that??? :-)


I would like to use an Englischhorn, if you want to use modern


Bach used two Oboe d'amori in BWV 8, Liebster Gott, wann werd' ich sterben. I would start there.

For what it's worth, I'm pretty sure that what Helmuth Rilling does is
What Hanssler publishes for Komm Jesu komm, whihc is strings doubling chorus
1, and for chorus 2, oboe i, oboe 2 OR english horn 1 (I think the oboe 2 has
to leave a few notes out), english horn II doubling tenor, and bassoon. I
suppose if we still had tailles...

And I've done it that way to to good effect, using two oboes, e.h. and

I'm pretty sure rilling does the same for the the double choir motets.


On behalf of the choral world, thank you for programming Bach
motets! They are incredible gems.

I looked at the two motets you mentioned, and I must, respectfully,
disagree with your assessment of the various instruments'
capabilities. The tenor parts of these Bach motets (or any of them,
for that matter) are easily within the range of even a moderately
competent bassoonist. The alto parts in questions are a bit more
problematic, but in Fuerchte, I only counted one low A, which is
below the range of a modern oboe. There were a handful of pitches in
Komm that were too low, but not many. You could solve this by
changing the notes in question.

Now the fact that probably 99% or more of the pitches in those alto
parts are within the range of the oboe does not mean they are in the
"happy" range (tessitura, as singers would say) of the oboe. That is
a consideration, and you may want to use an English horn for the alto
parts. I probably would.

By the way, I am speaking not only as a choral conductor, but as a
former decent oboist and moderately competent bassoonist!


Two years ago we performed Komm Jesu Komm with a string bass as the sole instrument on continuo. We had a guest bassist on faculty ... a fine player, who did an excellent job. It knitted things together where I had the most concern ... continuous strength in the bass line.


Helmuth Rilling uses oboe, d'amore, da caccia, and bassoon for the
Doublings of choir two, strings on choir one, bass (with or without organ) stands
between and plays both choirs.


The tenor parts aren't too high for a GOOD bassoonist! But you're
right; for Bach bassoon was a bass instrument. And no, I haven't run
into this problem because I prefer to do Bach as Bach wrote it.

Can you GET oboe d'amore and/or da caccia? You don't say whether
these are college, community, or professional players. Either
instrument is pretty scarce. Realistically two English horns would
make more sense, if you're using modern instruments. (I'm surprised
the alto parts are too low for regular oboe.)

One caveat: The instant you add colla parte instruments--and you may
already know this--they will wipe out your choir's diction, and
they'll need to bump up the consonants by about 200%. It's a little
less of a problem if you use recorders instead of an oboe band, since
they sound an octave higher.


Well, I did solve the accompaniment problem with "Komm, Jesu, Komm." We sang it a cappella. Sorry that doesn't answer your question. But it was effective and was wonderful.

First, as I’m sure you’re aware, there is still a debate about whether the motets are a cappella works or not. I’m inclined to agree with you that they are NOT a cappella works, but xxxx evidently disagrees—which is why he says, “I prefer to do Bach as Bach wrote it.” Trouble is, it’s not as simple as that: Bach may well have intended instrumental doublings.

The model for using colla parte instruments in the motets is “Der Geist hilft,” for which a complete set of doubling instrumental parts survives. In that work, the strings double chorus one, and the woodwinds double chorus two. The chorus two parts are marked oboe, oboe, taille, and bassoon. It’s the “taille” part that is a bit of a mystery—there’s no instrument called that. It refers instead to a middle voice.

Probably Bach used an oboe d’amore there. Another option would be to use an English horn. Both would work well.

Good luck. I’m sure it will be beautiful.


Strings on stage right: 1.1.1.(1.1continuo in the middle with BN) EH,

This is organized in a continuous semi circle and works really well.


Thanks again!

Lee Kesselman
Glen Ellyn, IL