J.S. Bach: Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring
Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring is an unforgettable choral piece with one of the best know melodies of all time:
J.S. Bach and his Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring
Johann Sebastien Bach (1685-1750) was very likely the greatest composer of all time. He wrote an amazing number of works and almost every one of them is a masterpiece of the highest order. I recently read a biography of Bach that pointed out that, even though Bach is known for producing a great number of compositions, the majority of what he composed was discarded or otherwise lost during his lifetime.
J.S. Bach came from one of the major musical families in what is now Germany. That is why we need the “J.S.” to distinguish him from his many uncles, brothers and sons who were all, themselves, very talented composers.
J.S. Bach’s music was a culmination of the Baroque Era which stretched back to about 1600. Shortly after his death, and that of George Frederick Handel in 1758, composers like Franz Joseph Haydn and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart ushered in a the new Classical Era of music. No matter what style composers wrote in during the centuries after Bach’s death they have all praised him as being their musical Master.
Even though J.S. Bach has had a tremendous influence on the history of music, he lived a rather provincial life never straying very far from the small towns and cities of central Germany and never visiting the major musical capitals of his day: Paris, London, Rome, etc.
For convenience, J.S. Bach’s many works are referred to by their BWV numbers (Bach-Werke-Verzeichnis or Bach Works Catalogue). Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring is just one section (at 16:29 and again at 26:09 in the video below) of one of Bach’s many church Cantatas: Herz und Mund und Tat und Leben (“Heart and Mouth and Deed and Life”) BWV 147.
This Cantata was originally written in 1716 for one of the Sunday’s of Advent but remained unperformed at that time. Bach recycled and expanded the Cantata in 1723 for the feast of the Visitation. It was first performed on July 2, 1723.
Bach’s Jesu Joy of Man’s Desiring is “rediscovered”
As I mentioned above, Bach’s music has always been studied and admired by professional musicians. He is sometimes referred to as a “musician’s musician.” Despite that “insider” admiration, Bach’s music has sometimes lacked a greater appreciation by the general public who are often more interested in the “latest and greatest.”
In 1926 the English pianist Dame Myra Hess (1890–1965) published her arrangement of Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring for piano solo.
Dame Myra Hess was a very good pianist but she is most remembered today for two things: popularizing Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring and heroically continuing a recital series during the London Blitz of World War II. Between September 7, 1940 and May 21, 1941 40,000 Londoners were killed by the German air raids. Dame Myra Hess forever endeared herself to the British people by “keeping calm and carrying on” by playing beautiful music in the midst of such death and destruction.
In Chicago, since 1977, the Dame Myra Hess Memorial Concert Series has been presented every Wednesday just after Noon at no charge in the Preston Bradley Hall of the Chicago Cultural Center by the International Music Foundation.
Adding some “Joy” to Your Wedding
Because of its quiet nature and slow pace, J.S. Bach’s Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring is suitable as a Processional for the Bride or as part of the Prelude music selections.
Patrick Byrne, Piano
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