Jesu, miene Freude - Johann Sebastian Bach (1685 - 1750)


Although the motet (derived from the French mot) came into being in the thirteenth century (when words, often secular, were added to the upper parts of passages of organum), its flowering into the central genre of church music was not until the sixteenth century. By then, the use of a plainsong cantus firmus as the foundation of the music had largely been replaced with imitation and the use of counterpoint to illustrate each phrase of text. The points of counterpoint were frequently unrelated and the structure of the whole piece was, therefore, determined by the text rather than by adherence to an existing musical line. By the early eighteenth century, the word motet was often used loosely to describe any piece of church music that fulfilled the former liturgical function of the sixteenth century motet.

Although such works might today be described as cantatas or concerti (they would often involve instrumental continuo, solo voice sections and obbligato instrumental passages), in Bach’s day, there was an understanding that a motet, even in the Protestant tradition, would draw on some or all of the features of the stile antico. Bach’s motets might have been performed with continuo and instrumental doubling but, as distinct from his cantatas, would not normally have included obbligato instrumental parts. They were still written as a succession of unrelated points of counterpoint, but sometimes more modern elements were introduced such as fugal technique or the ritornello plan.
All of Bach’s six authenticated motets were written between 1723 and 1727 for St Thomas’ Church, Leipzig, where Bach was appointed as director of music in 1723. During this period, Bach’s major output consisted of the majority of his cantatas, and it seems likely that for ordinary Sunday services he used existing motets from the seventeenth century tradition, reserving his own motet compositions for special occasions; four of the six were written for funeral services of prominent members of the congregation of St Thomas. ‘Jesu Meine Freude’ (BWV 227), the longest, most musically complex and earliest of the six, was written in 1723 for the funeral of Johanna Maria Käsin, the wife of Leipzig’s postmaster.
It uses as its basis the eponymous chorale by Johann Crüger (words by Johann Franck), but includes passages from St Paul’s Epistle to the Romans. It is set in eleven short movements arranged in a symmetrical musical structure which can be divided into three groups of settings: choral tune and text (nos. 1, 3, 7, 11); free settings of the chorale (nos. 5 and 9) and settings of the extra biblical text (nos. 2, 4, 6, 8, 10). The whole piece is centred around the fugal number 6; either side of this are two groups (nos. 3–5 and nos. 7–9) containing a chorale, a trio and an aria-like movement. Numbers 2 and 10 have material in common and numbers 1 and 11 use identical music

Barry Creasy


Collegium Musicum of London


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