The textual design of Bach’s longest and most complex motet, Jesu, meine Freude, BWV 227, is impressive and unusual in its own right. All six verses of the chorale text are set, interspersed by several verses from Romans (forming an eleven movement set of chorale variations). It is the transformative quality of these verses that seem best to explain Bach’s structural framework of the piece which is virtually palindromic: the second movement of the motet speaks of those who are ‘in Christ’, whereas the next to last movement turns the idea around referring to the Spirit of Christ dwelling ‘in you’. Much of the same musical material is utilized in both verses. Other mirror images abound. The work opens and closes with a simple four-part setting of the chorale. The fourth movement is a trio for high voices, the fourth to last, a trio for low voices. The centerpiece is a fugue of exquisite tenderness and lyricism. It is an exhaustive exploration of this particular chorale tune, the reason, Craig Smith suggested, for his never returning to that tune again – as if there was no more to say.

© Michael Beattie

Back to Bach Notes & Translations