Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring

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"Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring" is the popular English title of the chorale from the 1723 Advent cantata Herz und Mund und Tat und Leben (Heart and Mouth and Deed and Life), BWV 147, by Johann Sebastian Bach. The chorale occurs twice in the cantata, with different texts each time (neither of which matches the English): as its sixth movement, Wohl mir, dass ich Jesum habe (Blessed Am I That Have Jesus), and again as its tenth movement, Jesus bleibet meine Freude (Jesus Remains My Joy). The English title derives from famous piano transcriptions made by Myra Hess, in 1926 for piano solo and in 1934 for piano duet,[1] as published by Oxford University Press. Whether played instrumentally or sung in German or English, the chorale is often heard at weddings and during Advent, Christmas, and Easter.[2]


Bach composed a four-part setting with independent orchestral accompaniment of two stanzas of the hymn Jesu, meiner Seelen Wonne, which had been written by Martin Janus in 1661 and was commonly sung to a Johann Schop melody, Werde munter, mein Gemüthe.[3]

Structure and scoring[edit]

Herz und Mund und Tat und Leben has ten movements and is in two parts, with the chorale concluding each part.[4] Bach scored it for choir, trumpet, violin, and basso continuo, with optional parts for oboe and viola.

Instrumental arrangements[edit]

External audio
audio icon You may hear Dame Myra Hess performing her transcription of Bach's "Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring" in 1940
Here on
audio icon You may hear Bach's "Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring" performed by E. Power Biggs
Here on

The music's wide popularity has led to numerous arrangements and transcriptions, such as for the classical guitar and, in Wendy Carlos' album Switched-On Bach, on the Moog synthesizer. According to The New Oxford Companion to Music, the best-known transcriptions for piano are those by Hess.[3]


English text[edit]

The following is a version with words attributed to the poet laureate Robert Bridges.[5] It is not a translation of the stanzas used within Bach's original version, but is inspired by stanzas of the same hymn that Bach had drawn upon: "Jesu, meiner Seelen Wonne", the lyrics of which were written in 1661 by Martin Janus (or Jahn), and which was sung to Johann Schop's 1642 "Werde munter, mein Gemüte" hymn tune.

Jesu,[a] 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.[6]

Original text[edit]

Chorale "Wohl mir, daß ich Jesum habe"

Jahn's verses[7][8] express a close, friendly, and familiar friendship with Jesus, who gives life to the poet. It has been noted that the original German hymn was characteristically a lively hymn of praise, which is carried over somewhat into Bach's arrangement; whereas a slower, more stately tempo is traditionally used with the English version.

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 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.


Well for me that I have Jesus,
O how tightly I hold him
that he might refresh my heart,
when I'm sick and sad.
Jesus I have, who loves me
and gives himself to me,
ah, therefore I will not leave Jesus,
even when my heart breaks.
—from BWV 147, chorale movement no. 6

Jesus remains my joy,
my heart's consolation and juice,
Jesus fends off all suffering,
He is my life's strength,
my eyes' lust [voluntarism meaning: reason of being] and sun,
my soul's treasure and pleasure;
Therefore I will not leave Jesus
out of heart and sight.
—from BWV 147, chorale movement no. 10

Modern adaptations[edit]

The melody and other elements have been used in several pop and classical crossover recordings:

Notes and references[edit]


  1. ^ Jesu is the Latin vocative case of the name, formerly used in English texts, too.


  1. ^ Boyd, M., ed. "Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring", The Oxford Composer Companions: J. S. Bach, Oxford University Press
  2. ^ Kennedy, M., ed. "Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring", Oxford Dictionary of Music, Oxford University Press
  3. ^ a b Arnold, Denis (1983). The New Oxford Companion to Music. Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-311316-3.
  4. ^ "Herz und Mund und Tat und Leben", The Oxford Composer Companions: J. S. Bach, Oxford University Press
  5. ^
  6. ^ "Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring" lyrics, Our Wedding Songs
  7. ^ Bach; "Jesu, joy of man's desiring", web-published by St Basil's Music
  8. ^ BWV 147 Herz und Mund und Tat und Leben
  9. ^ Kalin, Martin (1998). "The Missing Kink: An interview with ex-bassist Peter Quaife". Kinda Kinks.; Cohen, Eliot Stephen (20 February 2018). "Dave Davies Remembers Kinks Bassist Pete Quaife". Bass Player. Archived from the original on 19 August 2019.
  10. ^ "Image: RPM Weekly". Library and Archives Canada. February 26, 1972. Retrieved June 11, 2020.
  11. ^ "December (booklet)" (PDF). Retrieved 1 December 2021.
  12. ^ "Andrea Bocelli Releases Sì Forever: The Diamond Edition, Out Today" (Press release). November 8, 2019. Retrieved June 11, 2020.

External links[edit]