Music Notes for October 30, 2022

MOTET #3: Jesu, Meine Freude, BWV 227, Johann Sebastain Bach

All of Bach’s six authenticated motets were written between 1723 and 1727 for St Thomas’ Church, Leipzig, where Bach was appointed as director of music in 1723. During this period, Bach composed most of his cantatas, and it seems likely that for ordinary Sunday services he used existing motets from the seventeenth century tradition, reserving his own motet compositions for special occasions.
Four of his six motets were written for the funeral services of prominent members of the St Thomas’ congregation. Jesu, Meine Freude (BWV 227), the longest, most musically complex and earliest of the six, was written in 1723 for the funeral of Johanna Maria Käsin, the wife of Leipzig’s postmaster. It is a beautifully constructed motet, one of the few works by Bach for five-part mixed choir. Unique in its complex symmetrical structure juxtaposing hymn text and Bible text, the motet has been regarded as one of Bach's greatest achievements in the genre. Musicologist and Bach scholar Christoph Wolff suggested that the motet may have been composed for education in both choral singing and theology. It was the first of his motets to be recorded, in 1927.

Motet BWV 227 Jesu Meine Freude

1. Jesu, meine Freude
Jesus, priceless treasure
My heart’s delight,
Jesus, my joy,
Ah how long, ah how long
Must my heart be fearful,
Longing for you.
Lamb of God, my bridegroom,
Besides you there is on earth
Nothing else dearer to me.

3. Unter deinem Schirmen
Beneath your protection
I am free from the raging
Of all enemies.
Let Satan nose around,
Let the enemy be exasperated,
Jesus stands by me.
Lightnings flash and thunders crash,
Even though sin and hell terrify,
Jesus will protect me.

4. Denn das Gesetz
For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set me free from the law of sin and death
(Romans 8:2)

7. Weg mit alle Schätzen
Away with all treasures!
You are my delight,
Jesus, my desire!
Away with all vain honors,
I do not want to hear of you,
Remain unknown to me!
Sorrow, need, the cross, shame, and death,
However much I must suffer
That will never separate me from Jesus.

8. So aber Christus in euch ist
But if Christ is in you, though the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of
righteousness (Romans 8:10).

9. Gute Nacht, o Wesen
Good night, earthly existence.
What the world has to offer
Does not please me at all.
Good night, you sins.
Stay far away,
Come no more into the Light!
Good night, arrogance and show!
To everything about you, sinful existence,
I say good night.

11. Weicht, ihr Trauergeister
Be gone, you spirits of sorrow,
For my Lord of gladness,
Jesus, enters in.
For those who love God
Even their grief
Must become pure delight.
Here I may have scorn and derision,
Nonetheless, even in suffering you remain
Jesus, priceless treasure.

-Gordon Lathrop

Closing Voluntary: “Ein feste Burg” Flor Peeters (1903-1986)

Flor Peeters is, at least among church musicians, the most famous Belgian composer of the 20th century. The most salient feature of his style is its abundant optimism. Influenced by Gregorian chant, Belgian folk music and classical forms, Peeters created music with bright tonalities, enhanced by added notes, that is part of a fabric that freely alternates rhythmically active counterpoint with more introspective lyrical passages. He wrote many kinds of liturgical music including Masses, latin motets, and English anthems.