Jesu, meine Freude

Johann Sebastian Bach

Jesu, meine Freude


About this work

At once the longest and best known of Bach's five authenticated motets, BWV 227 ("Jesus, my joy") was composed in Leipzig, sometime before 1735. It may, like BWV 226, have been composed for a funeral service, but the suggestion that it may have performed such a function in 1723 has been discredited by modern scholarship. The text is based on a strict alternation of strophes of the hymn by Johann Franck from which the motet takes it name, and a biblical text drawn from Romans 8:1-2 and 9-11; such a juxtaposition of chorale and biblical text is a typical feature of the Lutheran motet, but it is rarely crafted into so perfectly symmetrical a form as it is here. A further unusual feature of the work is the introduction of two solo trio sections (Nos. 4 and 8) into a genre that, in its traditional Lutheran from, is purely choral.

The choral writing in the biblical passages is in five parts, although several strophes of Franck's hymn are set as simple four-part harmonizations. As with BWV 228, the loss of the source material and performance details for the motet have led scholars to much speculation. Principal among theories concerning the work's genesis is the suggestion that, again like BWV 228, it is a work of several layers of development, the earliest possibly dating back many years to Bach's pre-Leipzig period. Evidence to support such a notion comes from the lack of any real relationship between the biblical text and the chorale, normally a carefully considered matter in the Lutheran motet. In the view of Bach scholar Christoph Wolff, the motets composed without a known purpose may not indeed have been written with any specific event in mind; the composer may have intended them as compositional exercises for didactic purposes. Whatever the truth they form part of a small, but unusually satisfying part of Bach's output.