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29-11-'07 | A. Eikelboom

Jesu, meine Freude BWV 227 by Johann Sebastian Bach: a praedicatio sonora

Jesu, meine Freude BWV 227 by Johann Sebastian Bach: a praedicatio sonora

Albert Schweitzer’s characterization of the motet Jesu, meine Freude by Johann Sebastian Bach as a ‘sermon about life and death’ appears to be adequate – Bach’s style of composing was strongly inspired by his theological opinions. Theological content was more important to him than matters such as aesthetics or symmetry. Bach composed music to honour God and to educate people, Arie Eikelboom concludes after having made an in-depth study of the musical aspects of the motet.

A motet is a polyphonic vocal composition in which a Bible text, sometimes in combination with a chorale, is set to music. Jesu, meine Freude BWV 227 is a pietistic text by Johann Franck combined with a number of verses from the Epistle to the Romans. The two texts are similar in structure – in both the first part deals with life on earth and the conclusion is eschatological in character, and both texts emphasize the central position of Jesus in redeeming the believer. It turns out that the text and its eschatological climax were decisive in Bach’s choice of metre, key and division of parts when composing the motet. Although Bach seems to have sought symmetry as well, this was clearly less important than the textual factors.

Bach and Luther

Bach followed the Lutheran tradition with regard to his musical standpoints. According to Luther, the Bible was a source of inspiration for religion, but to this end it was necessary to bring the Bible texts to life in combination with music. In this approach music was of vital importance in generating and maintaining belief. Bach most probably composed the motet as a study piece for the boys at the Thomasschule in Leipzig, where he started working as a cantor in 1723. This piece enabled Bach to explain the heart of Lutheran theology and the relationship between music and text to the choristers.

Old-fashioned at the time

Opinions about music were already changing during the time when Bach was working in Leipzig. Bach, however, did not follow these changes and was therefore regarded as an old-fashioned composer, mainly with regard to his vocal compositions. The way Bach used intervals, harmony, metre and rhythm for the benefit of the text was no longer understood and found to be too complicated and excessive. Although appreciation for Bach’s compositions started to increase in the mid-nineteenth century, Eikelboom’s study reveals that they can only be fully understood if they are interpreted from the perspective of the musical tradition and theology that Bach grew up in.

Curriculum Vitae

Arie Eikelboom (Rotterdam, 1948) studied school music, church music, organ, harpsichord, music theory and musicology. He worked as a lecturer in hymnology, liturgics, history of music and general theoretical subjects at the Faculty of Music of Utrecht School of the Arts, and currently as a lecturer in church music at the Gorinchem Conservatoire. /GB

Please click here to listen to the motet Jesu meine Freude

Date and time

29 November 2007, 2.45 p.m.

PhD student

A. Eikelboom

PhD thesis

Jesu, meine Freude BWV 227 van Johann Sebastian Bach: een praedicatio sonora [Jesu, meine Freude BWV 227 by Johann Sebastian Bach: a praedicatio sonora]

Supervisor

Prof. A.L. Molendijk

Co-supervisor

Dr J.R. Luth

Last modified:30 March 2017 2.57 p.m.
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