J.S. Bach Cantata; “Jesus, joy of man’s desiring”
Johann Sebastian Bach was born in 1685 and spent a big part of his life writing and performing music (Williams, 2007). He is revered as the most influential Baroque music composer who not only played instruments but sung as well. In his youth he preferred the Violin as his central instruments but as he aged he gradually shifted into playing the organ. In fact, majority of his income was attributed to his organ playing skills. J.S. Bach was talented to compose any form of music that was popular or current at the time including; fugues, preludes, concertos, chorals and toccatas (Williams, 2007). This paper seeks to assess one of his famous cantatas with a combination of prelude and choral pieces. This musical piece is titled, “Jesus, joy of man’s desiring”.
This is a popular prelude used in the Church as J.S. Bach was very religious with most of his famous compositions inclined to serve at the church (Williams, 2007). This composition is designed to pit two musical pieces that smoothly overlap. There is the prelude that starts and is replaced by the choral piece, and then the cycle is repeated to the end. Therefore, the visual impression provided is an overlapping series of hills and valleys. The musical piece applies the key of ‘G’ and is written in the time ¾ (Williams, 2007). The pace of the song is moderate and I would classify it under the musical reference andante moderato.
The prelude in itself can be said to have three different lines each with its unique melody that have a smooth transition from the bottom, middle and top line. However, the top line is predominant and gives the prelude its identity. Each line provides one beat thus easy to differentiate the switch from one line to the next. According to Timothy Salzman, the top line is characterized through prevalence of triplets and three of the same are considered a measure or the beat (2003). Salzaman further defines the middle line as a dotted integration of eighth and sixteenth note. Therefore, a beat in the middle line is considered the coupled notes. However, it is important to note that the middle line does not often follow this arrangement throughout the piece. Salzman identifies the bottom line based on the applied quarter notes, with three per measure or beat (2003). Occasionally, the arrangement of the middle line is adopted in the bottom line. A classical Bach fashion has the prelude start at G major and towards the end, from a D major it finishes on G Major (Salzman, 2003). The choral piece can be categorized in the four voices of bass, tenor, alto and soprano. The voices provide a slower beat than the prelude occasioned by an ornamental or a slurring effect. The prelude is steady and lacks dramatic effects so that the lyrics if sung at the choral section enjoy the enhancements such as staccatos.
I like the predictable and smooth transition between the prelude and choral sections and enjoy the tone variations within each section that makes the piece interesting to the ears. The piece provides a nostalgic and relaxing effect that throws the listener into deep meditation upon repeated playing. It strikes me with the same intensity of the leading instrumental in the contemporary “I will see you when you get there” by Coolio, the popular American Rap and hip-hop artist. A deeper connection can be established via the “I will see you when you get there” instrumental version often plaid in church or funeral ceremonies. The musical effect provides moments of self-reflection popularly referred to as moments of clarity. This J.S. Bach Cantata is a powerful musical piece that takes the modern people back into the Baroque period to confirm that ancient sentiments can be propagated and stay relevant without aging.
Salzman, T. (2003). A composer’s insight: thoughts, analysis, and commentary on contemporary masterpieces for wind band. Galesville, MD: Meredith Music Publications.
Williams, P. (2007). J. S. Bach: A Life in Music. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
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