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Composers Datebook®

with host John Birge

Saturday, July 18

Bach's "Jesu, Meine Freude"

Synopsis

In Leipzig on today’s date in 1723 the funeral of Johanna Maria Kees, the wife of that city’s postmaster, took place at the St. Nicolas Church, where Johann Sebastian Bach served as music director.

For many years, some musicologists have speculated that for this occasion Bach composed a motet for solo voices entitled “Jesu, Meine Freude,” or “Jesus, My Joy” in English. Other musicologists have pointed out that there is no reference to this work in the surviving order of service for that funeral, so if the motet were performed, it might have been by a small group of singers at the gravesite for the consolation of the deceased’s family.

Bach’s music is both intricately constructed and heartfelt, which leads us to speculate Bach may have been thinking of another funeral that took place three years earlier, namely that of his own wife, Maria Barbara, who died at age 35, when he was away from home, and was buried on July 7, 1720.

In an age long before cell phones and text messaging, Bach’s son Carl Philip Emmanuel reported that his father was at Carlsbad when Maria Barbara died, writing, “The news that she had been ill and died reached him only when he entered his own house.”

Music Played in Today's Program

J. S. Bach (1685 - 1750) Jesu, meine Freude BWV 227 Monteverdi Choir; English Baroque Soloists; John Elliot Gardiner, dir. SDG 716

Additional Information

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