Johann Sebastian Bach / Dame Myra Hess - Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring (c. 1920s)
The original of this consoling piece is the last movement from Bach’s Cantata No. 147, Herz und Mund und Tat und Leben. The underlying chorale melody was extracted from Johann Schop’s Werde munter, mein Gemüthe (1642). Bach harmonised it for chorus, with trumpet doubling the melody, and strings, continuo as well as oboes accompanying.
After first hearing the chorale prelude in April 1920, the sublime melody had stuck in Hess’s mind and she soon transcribed and played it over and over again. Besides sharing this extemporaneous arrangement to friends, she enjoyed performing it in public, often at the lunchtime concerts held at London’s National Gallery. Continued throughout World War II, these concerts were to raise morale of London people at a time of cultural blackout and had received rave reviews.
In this transcription, the rise and fall in the dynamics mirror the text. With Hess’s ability to transform holiness into piano sound, this work has won the affection of pianists and audiences all over the world. It is now one of the best-known pieces of Bach. Other piano arrangements of this chorale include the ones by Bauer and Kempff.