Monday, July 10, 2017

Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring - revisited

Summer and the slowed pace in the Texas heat can sometimes present an opportunity: to work on little projects that got stashed away in the back of one's mind during busy times.

So, this week I decided to figure out what has been bugging me for the longest time about the string quartet arrangements of the famous chorale - Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring - from Bach’s Cantata No. 147, Herz und Mund und Tat und Leben. In the US this is the de facto standard piece for the seating of the families at wedding ceremonies, yet always sounds a little lugubrious and opaque to me.

A quick look at the manuscript (from 1723) reveals something interesting: The chorale’s time signature is actually 3/4 and only the first violins (and oboes) are notated in 9/8, probably to avoid having to write triplets for the entire piece. Many arrangements/editions choose to rewrite the music into 9/8 for all instruments, which changes the character considerably. In particular the dotted eights followed by a sixteenth rhythm in violin 2 is lost.


Now that the arrangement has been reworked to follow more closely the Bach manuscript - surprisingly, not easily achieved with modern notation software - I am curious to try it out at an upcoming performance.

The Bach Collegium Japan recording below illustrates nicely:


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