Composers Datebook®

with host John Birge

Tuesday, July 2

Bach's "Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring"

Synopsis

On this date in 1723, church-goers in Leipzig were offered some festive music along with the gospel readings and sermon. The vocal and instrumental music was pulled together from various sources, some old, some newly-composed, and crafted into a fresh, unified work, a church cantata entitled “Herz und Mund und Tat und Leben”—which in English would be “heart and voice and thought and action.” The idea was that text and music would complement and comment on that day’s scripture readings and sermon.

Now this sort of thing was not all that uncommon back then for the hard-working composer Johann Sebastian Bach. On average Bach would prepare and present around 50 church cantatas a year, and Bach’s cantata No. 147, presented on July 2, 1723, concluded with a catchy melody that would be revived to great effect some 200 years later.

In 1926, the concluding choral section of Bach’s cantata, “Jesus bleibet meine Freude” in the original German, was arranged by the British pianist Dame Myra Hess and given an English title, “Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring.” It became a popular piano recital selection, and, over time, a very popular piece to play at weddings—even though Bach’s original cantata text had nothing at all to do with tying the knot.

Music Played in Today's Program

J.S. Bach (1627 - 1750) Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring, from S. 147

Additional Information

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