Sunday, 15 February 2015

Jesus bleibet meine Freude

This chorale movement is from the cantata Herz und Mund und Tat und Leben, BWV 147 ("Heart and Mouth and Deed and Life"), It was composed by Johann Sebastian Bach between 1716 and 1723. It is better known as Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring. If you hear the melody you will have heard it somewhere, on a wedding most likely. And you hear it in the most bizarre instrumental transcriptions nowadays. Bach only contribution was to harmonize and orchestrate the existing choral melody, written by Johann Schop, Werde munter, mein Gemüthe. Bach never meant this chorale to be a “stand alone” music, it was part of his 20 minutes Church Music “Herz und Mund und Tat und Leben”.

It is interesting to look at the text of the choral. The text was written by Martin Jahn (c. 1620–c. 1682 ):

Deutsche Original Text

English transcription

Wohl mir, daß ich Jesum habe,
o wie feste halt' ich ihn,
daß er mir mein Herze labe,
wenn ich krank und traurig bin.

Well for me that I have Jesus,
O how strong I hold to him
that he might refresh my heart,
when sick and sad am I.

Jesum hab' ich, der mich liebet
und sich mir zu eigen giebet,
ach drum laß' ich Jesum nicht,
wenn mir gleich mein Herze bricht.

Jesus have I, who loves me
and gives to me his own,
ah, therefore I will not leave Jesus,
when I feel my heart is breaking.

And it sounds like this:

That is number 6 of 10 parts in the cantata, the tenth and last part is:

Deutsche Original Text

English transcription

Jesus bleibet meine Freude,
eines Herzens Trost und Saft,
Jesus wehret allem Leide,
er ist meines Lebens Kraft,
Jesus remains my joy,
my heart's comfort and essence,
Jesus resists all suffering,
He is my life's strength,

meiner Augen Lust und Sonne,
meiner Seele Schatz und Wonne;
darum laß' ich Jesum nicht
aus dem Herzen und Gesicht.

my eye's desire and sun,
my soul's love and joy;
so will I not leave Jesus
out of heart and face.

And the same old recording:

Now this sounds very "old" to our ears so a more popular English translation was made:

Jesu, joy of man's desiring,
Holy wisdom, love most bright;
Drawn by Thee, our souls aspiring
Soar to uncreated light.

Word of God, our flesh that fashioned,
With the fire of life impassioned,
Striving still to truth unknown,
Soaring, dying round Thy throne.

Through the way where hope is guiding,
Hark, what peaceful music rings;
Where the flock, in Thee confiding,
Drink of joy from deathless springs.

Theirs is beauty's fairest pleasure;
Theirs is wisdom's holiest treasure.
Thou dost ever lead Thine own
In the love of joys unknown. 

It will not surprise you I like the translation close to the original German text the best. The moral of this long story is that if you hear a terrible instrumental interpretation again of this wonderful cantata "Herz und Mund und Tat und Leben", you will know it is just a snippet out of a thicker book. The context in which Bach, Johann Sebastian Bach, has written it was entirely different.


  1. Beautifull , just beautifull.
    Thank you , Han, just what my soul needed just now ..

    Take care,
    Mona Lisa

    1. Yes it is of a breathtaking beauty, isn't it? Glad you enjoyed it, Mona Lisa,



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