Tuesday, August 9, 2011

My Jesus, Joy of Man's Desiring

To end my summer blogging hiatus as summer nears its end, I'm finally getting around to recording and uploading an arrangement I made at the end of the spring.

I'm planning to write a good bit more about this piece in the weeks ahead, but for now I'll just say that it was written in honor of Judson and Janice Carlberg, the recently retired president and first lady of Gordon College. The Carlbergs were wonderful leaders of our school for the past nineteen years, and they also happened to be enthusiastic supporters of our Piano Hero recital series. Although Piano Hero was on hiatus this past year, we presented a special year-end recital in honor of the Carlbergs on May 23. A couple of days before the recital (which featured fan favorites such as the overtures to Candide and 1812), I had the idea of arranging the college hymn for our two-piano context.

Gordon's college hymn is the classic "My Jesus, I Love Thee," its tune having been composed by A.J. Gordon, the college's founding father. The melody is quite simple in shape and structure,

and as I thought about it, Bach's famous "Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring" came to mind. Bach's flowing triplets are anything but simple, but they were designed by Bach to accompany another very simple hymn tune, so I figured I might as well steal from the best.

Bach's triplets are re-imagined to some degree because this new arrangement is in duple meter, whereas Bach's is in triple time. I originally tried switching Gordon's hymn into triple time, but because it has such a simple melodic profile, it tended to get lost that way. (Actually, the hymn tune Bach borrowed was originally in duple meter; you can see many versions of the tune here.) Stretching Bach's triplets from 9 to 12 per measure turned out to be a fun challenge, but I think it works, both as an extension of Bach's idea and as an accompaniment to Gordon's tune.

Although I was pleased with the two-piano version, I decided to record it here with violin and piano so that the tune floats clearly above the counterpoint. (Also, I forgot to hit the record button at the premiere!) The recording itself is an unedited take from an hour or so spent in the recital hall this afternoon with my "house violinist" - having a daughter learning to play the violin is really starting to pay off! She was quite patient as I faked my way through a hybrid piano part I patched together from the two-piano score.* Some day I'll try to make a more polished version, but I think this captures the spirit of the arrangement pretty well.

* Actually, the day before the May 23 Piano Hero recital, I was at church early in the morning preparing to play the 10am service. I didn't have a prelude picked out yet, I needed something in G Major, and it occurred to me that the then arrangement-in-progress would work nicely with violin. So, I called home and asked my wife to bring our house violinist along early with fiddle in hand; then, I whipped out the laptop and tossed together a very quick violin/piano version which we premiered an hour or so later. She's a pretty cool customer. (She wasn't thrilled about being asked to play on the spot, but not having to practice much seemed to make up for it. Growing up as Daughter of MMmusing is going to be an interesting experience.)

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