Sunday, March 29, 2020

Bach Day #9: My Jesus, Joy of Man's Desiring

I'm keeping things simple on this Second Sunday of "The Eleven Days of Bach," and to be honest, after managing to get the new version of Bach's Canon per tonos up and running and fixed, etc., I'll probably keep it simpler for these last three days. I had one other major project mentally in the works, but I think I'll need more space and time to get that finished.

Having focused the last two days on one of Bach's more forbidding compositions, today features what is surely one of his most accessible and beloved tunes, the ever-popular Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring - but with a twist. The funny thing about that work, which is originally from the Cantata 147, is that though it is a setting of a chorale melody (basically a hymn tune), the tune itself is quite simple and not that interesting. The "melody" everyone knows is the running triplet accompaniment which Bach wrote to adorn the chorale. Though it is too busy and fast-moving to be very singable, it combines pattern and variety in a way that is memorable and has become iconic.

Back in 2011, I debuted a two-piano arrangement of another simple hymn tune, A. J. Gordon's "My Jesus, I love thee," which uses Bach's "melody" as accompaniment, but with additions made to move from a 3/4 to a 4/4 context. You can read more about this arrangement here, featuring an impromptu home recording with my young violinist daughter. A couple of years later, she and I performed it in recital in a new version adding my wife on cello:

Although it is obviously a distortion of Bach's original, I think the "idea" of the Bach is maintained and it was interesting to experiment with the malleability of the original material. The moment I'm most pleased with is at 3:08 in the video above when, over the familiar pedal tone, the third phrase of the hymn tune is stretched out in running 8th notes across the triplets.

That's it for today. No 30-minute videos, no pitch-bending distortions. Just a little Bach twisted into something new.

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