Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring

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Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring is the most common English title of a piece of music derived from the 10th and last movement of the cantata Herz und Mund und Tat und Leben, BWV 147 ("Heart and Mouth and Deed and Life"), composed by Johann Sebastian Bach in 1716 and 1723.

A transcription by the English pianist Myra Hess (1890–1965) was published in 1926 for piano solo and in 1934 for piano duet.[1] It is often performed slowly and reverently at wedding ceremonies, as well as during Christian festive seasons like Christmas and Easter, despite the affect[clarification needed] suggested by Bach in his original scoring,[2] for voices with trumpet, oboes, strings, and continuo.


Much of the music of Herz und Mund und Tat und Leben comes from Bach's Weimar period. This earlier version (BWV 147a, composed 1716) lacked the recitatives, but included the opening chorus and the four arias incorporated into the later version. For Leipzig (composed 1723), Bach added three recitatives and the celebrated chorale movement which concludes each of the two parts.[3]

Although it is the 32nd surviving cantata that Bach composed, it was assigned the number BWV 147 in the complete catalogue of his works.[4] Bach wrote a total of 200 cantatas during his time in Leipzig, largely to meet the Leipzig Churches' demand for about 58 different cantatas each year.[citation needed]

Contrary to the common assumption, the violinist and composer Johann Schop, not Bach, composed the movement's underlying chorale melody, "Werde munter, mein Gemüthe"; Bach's contribution was to harmonize and orchestrate it.[5] It is one segment of an extended, approximately 20-minute treatment of a traditional Church hymn, as is typical of cantatas of the Baroque period.

Instrumental arrangements[edit]

Bach scored the chorale movements (6 and 10) from Herz und Mund und Tat und Leben for choir, trumpet, violin, optionally oboe, viola, and basso continuo. 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 transcription for piano is by Dame Myra Hess.[5]


English text[edit]

The following is the most commonly heard English version of the piece. It was written by the poet laureate Robert Bridges. 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, 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]

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 strongly 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 if I feel my heart is breaking.—from BWV 147, chorale movement no. 6

Jesus remains my joy,
my heart's comfort and essence,
Jesus resists all suffering,
He is my life's strength,
my eye's desire and sun,
my soul's treasure and pleasure;
Therefore will I not leave Jesus
out of heart and face.—from BWV 147, chorale movement no. 10


  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. ^ "Herz und Mund und Tat und Leben", The Oxford Composer Companions: J. S. Bach, Oxford University Press
  4. ^ Bach Cantatas, Chronological Listing
  5. ^ a b Arnold, Denis (1983). The New Oxford Companion to Music. Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-311316-3.
  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

External links[edit]