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No cantata performances are currently possible.

But we'll stream anyway!


What role does improvisation play in classical music, especially in baroque music and Bach? What does improvisation actually mean? What happens during improvisation? Is improvisation learnable? Rudolf Lutz plays and explains.


6.45 p.m.

Introduction with Rudolf Lutz und Xoan Castineira

7.00 p.m. to 8.00 p.m.

Lecture-recital on improvisation with Rudolf Lutz (keyboard and organ)


Concert venue

Stein, Switzerland // Evangelische Kirche


BWV 183 «Sie werden euch in den Bann tun»

1. Rezitativ ‒ Bass
«Sie werden euch in den Bann tun, es kömmt aber die Zeit, daß, wer euch tötet, wird meinen, er tue Gott einen Dienst daran.»

2. Arie ‒ Tenor
Ich fürchte nicht des Todes Schrecken,
ich scheue ganz kein Ungemach.
Denn Jesus’ Schutzarm wird mich decken,
ich folge gern und willig nach;
wollt ihr nicht meines Lebens schonen
und glaubt, Gott einen Dienst zu tun,
er soll euch selben noch belohnen,
wohlan, es mag dabei beruhn.

3. Rezitativ ‒ Alt
Ich bin bereit, mein Blut und armes Leben
vor dich, mein Heiland, hinzugeben,
mein ganzer Mensch soll dir gewidmet sein;
ich tröste mich, dein Geist wird bei mir stehen,
gesetzt, es sollte mir vielleicht zu viel geschehen.

4. Arie ‒ Sopran
Höchster Tröster, Heilger Geist,
der du mir die Wege weist,
darauf ich wandeln soll,
hilf meine Schwachheit mit vertreten,
denn von mir selber kann ich nicht beten,
ich weiß, du sorgest vor mein Wohl!

5. Choral
Du bist ein Geist, der lehret,
wie man recht beten soll;
dein Beten wird erhöret,
dein Singen klinget wohl.
Es steigt zum Himmel an,
es steigt und läßt nicht abe,
bis der geholfen habe,
der allein helfen kann.

Rudolf Lutz

Rudolf Lutz is not only a highly-regarded pedagogue who is able to explain complex compositional concepts in an accessible way, but also one of the world’s most renowned improvisors. He will present his live streams in English in order to best serve our large internet community.

Kuhn organ

The church in Stein, Switzerland, has a very valuable instrument that was built by Orgelbau Kuhn AG in 1985. We love to hold organ recitals there, and many visitors to our "Appenzeller Bachtage" festival know this beautiful church thanks to the popular sing-along event (“Singen in der Früh”) that we hold there.

Cantata performances of the J.S. Bach Foundation

Our cantata performances have been postponed until the end of the Covid crisis. We hope to resume our concert activities in January 2021.

Summary of the introduction to the improvisation concert by Rudolf Lutz

It is clear, of course, that tonight’s programme is not about a piece that has already been composed, but about pieces that are “composed” in real time, on the spot. It is about the art of improvisation. But what is improvisation exactly? Can it be learned? And how does the improvising mind work?

It’s a fact that not all of us – whether trained musicians or not – can really improvise. Indeed, it is a phenomenon of our time that the focus of classical music-making is on reproducing fixed written notes, in other words, compositions. For interpreters, it is a matter of translating the composer's message into sound with the help of a fixed musical script. Now, there are certainly a few areas where the art of improvisation remains alive, first and foremost in jazz, of course, and yes, in church music too! Nonetheless, even though more music academies and universities are gradually introducing programmes in improvisation – and not just for the early music scene – the notation-based approach continues to dominate in concert life.

The fact that we focus primarily on written music is not necessarily wrong in itself. But it by no means reflects the practice and musical life of the composers whose scores we aim so faithfully to reproduce. As a former pianist, I naturally think of the great Romantics: Chopin, Schumann, Liszt. Did they ever perform their own works precisely as they had written them down? No, they virtually composed them anew with every performance. To offer an analogy: These composers were able to tell their musical stories, and not simply read them aloud, because their command of musical language – harmony, counterpoint, etc. – enabled them to spontaneously create not just words or sentences, but entire, complex chapters. And yes, various indicators suggest that improvisors have internalised certain building blocks, and these can be linked in milliseconds to form coherent musical sentences that are structured in a rhetorically meaningful way. Just as the structures of through-composed music are audible, so too are the structures of improvised music.

I’d like to stay briefly on the topic of music and speech, or music and rhetoric, if you will. In ancient times, both music and rhetoric belonged to the seven liberal arts. The aim of rhetoric was to convince an audience of something ("persuasio"), among other things, by arousing their passions ("movere"). And music’s intention was to move listeners, by trigger different emotional states: the affects. We shall talk more about the affects tonight.

In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, improvisation contests, whether public or private, were commonplace. What great composer did not take part in them? Beethoven and Mozart? Surely they did. And I can well imagine that the cadenzas of Beethoven and Mozart’s piano concertos, for example, were conceived as the perfect opportunity for soloists to showcase their skills.

And what about Bach? Innumerous reports from his day attest to his prodigious improvisational skills. But in his compositions, too, the musically trained eye and ear can recognise his improvisational capabilities.

Bach travelled to Potsdam in 1747 at the invitation of Frederick the Great, where his son Carl Philipp Emanuel was employed as court musician. Apparently, King Frederick played a certain theme on the fortepiano. He then asked Bach to improvise a fugue on it (we'll come back to this again later). And Bach promptly improvised a three-part fugue that deeply impressed the king. So the king asked whether Bach could improvise a six-part fugue on the theme. That, Bach conceded, was beyond him, but he promised to “put the theme down on paper in a proper fugue, and then have it engraved in copper.” And thus the Musical Offering was born.

Another example: When Bach visited Hamburg in 1720, he auditioned in St. Jacobi church in front of Johann Adam Reincken, himself an outstanding organist and improvisor, who was then almost a hundred years old. After Bach had improvised for half an hour, Reincken is said to have exclaimed:

“I thought this art had died, but I see that it lives on in you.”

The admiration was mutual: 19 years earlier, in 1701, Bach had walked from Lüneburg to Hamburg – a distance of some 50 kilometres – just to hear Reincken play.

And now, we want to hear Ruedi play!

Live streaming archive

Have you missed a live stream or would you like to watch a performance again?


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