Dec 172012

Johann Nikolaus Forkel had a desire to bring Germany’s native son, J.S. Bach, into focus in the early 1800’s. His research of Bach’s life and works were sketchy at times, but he put together the first authoritative work on the life of J.S. Bach. Forkel so desperately wanted his native land to know about the genius of Bach. “One of the best and most effective means of popularizing musical masterpieces is to perform them in public,” he wrote. “In that way works of merit secure a widening audience.”

Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring is a work of merit and it desires a very wide audience. It is, in my humble opinion, and with my limited knowledge of music, one of the most beautiful melodies I have ever heard. It so captivates me! Our minister of music, Michael Roderick, played it yesterday (12/16) for the prelude of our service. When I hear the music, I close my eyes and focus on the One who should be the chief Joy of my heart. His name is Jesus! Yes, you heard me right – I close my eyes and focus on Jesus (with the eyes of my heart). Don’t think I’m crazy if I feel a sense of rapture when I listen to the song. Forkel said in 1802, “No one who is familiar with the work of other centuries will contradict or hold my statement exaggerated, that Bach cannot be named except in tones of rapture, and even of devout awe, by those who have learned to know him.” God gifted this man to compose music for the church. That’s right. He was a music director, first in Weimar, then in Leipzig. He composed a new cantata virtually every week! He began composing on Monday, finished it on Thursday, practiced it with the orchestra Friday and Saturday, then it was played at 8 AM at Sunday morning mass. He composed around 550 cantatas, and that is only the beginning!

Forkel, with great regret, said, “Bach’s works unfortunately are rarely heard nowadays; for the number of persons capable of playing them adequately is at best inconsiderable.” I am thankful that God sent RBC a music leader that can more-than-adequately handle Bach! Forkel said, “To awaken a wide appreciation of musical masterpieces depends upon the existence of good teachers.” Michael, not only can you handle Bach, but you play Bach for us and teach him to us! Thank you, indeed!

Generations of Musicians

It is said of Bach’s family that ”in six successive generations scarcely two or three of its members are found whom nature had not endowed with remarkable musical talent, and who did not make music their profession.” They were a close knit family. It is said that they, “exhibited a clannish attachment to each other.” The Bachs often lived in small towns and were not prone to migrate to larger cities. The Bach name was still big in Germany, but not as big as it could have been. Then came Johann Sebastian Bach, born March 21, 1685, in Eisenach. At the age of 10 he became an orphan and was dependent on his oldest brother for care. This brother, Christoph, was amazed by his little brother’s talent. He fed him with as much music as possible to help him grow as a musician.

The Song

Jesu, Joy of Man’s desiring comes from cantata number 147. The cantata was named Herz (heart) und Mund (mouth) und Tat (deed) und Leben (life). There are ten songs in the cantata, with Jesu being the final song. Jesu was the second of two choral sing-a-longs in the cantata. The choral arrangement was designed to allow the people to stand and stretch while they sang with the chorus. I have read that the song was first played on July 2, 1723, but I also read that it was performed in Weimar on the 4th Sunday of Advent. I can’t seem to find out which is true, or if a combination of both are true: First played on July 2, then played regularly at Advent.

The text of the song was written by Martin Janus in 1661. The music was actually written by Johann Schop, but was arranged by Bach for his Cantata 147. The song has actually been arranged several times since. The English that we see today does not correspond to the original German. I want to give the translation of the original to right of the German. I do this because many of you I believe will be encouraged from the message of the original hymn. Perhaps you are suffering and you need encouragement to hold on. Well, here it is in the words of this hymn.

Jesus bleibet meine Freude
meines Herzens Trost und Saft,
Jesus wehret allem Leide,
er ist meines Lebens Kraft,
meiner Augen Lust und Sonne,
meiner Seele Schatz und Wonne;
darum lass’ ich Jesum nicht
aus dem Herzen und Gesicht.Wohl mir, dass ich Jesum habe,
o wie feste halt’ ich ihn,
dass er mir mein Herze labe,
wenn ich krank und traurig bin.
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 remains my joy
My hearts’s comfort and essence,
Jesus resists all suffering,
He is my life’s strength.
My eye’s desire and sun,
My soul’s love and joy.
So will I not leave Jesus,
Out of heart and face.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.
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.

I pray that Jesus would remain your joy this Christmas and forever. That He would be your strength and comfort and that He would refresh your heart. He remains faithful and He holds on to you with His omnipotent hand! He loves you, friend, so don’t lose sight of that. Let Him be the Joy of your desires!

Merry Christmas!