By Dr. Steven Seigart
Director of Music/Organist
“Adagio” from Sonata No. 3 in C minor, Op. 56
—Alexandre Guilmant (1837–1911)
“Jesu, joy of our desiring” from Cantata 147
—J. S. Bach (1685–1750)
Sung by the Meeting House Virtual Choir
Text by Robert Bridges (1844–1930)
—Jacques-Nicolas Lemmens (1823–1881)
Today’s anthem is the ever-popular chorus from Bach’s Cantata 147 known by most in the English-speaking world as “Jesu, joy of our desiring” (we have changed the text to be inclusive). This English version (it is not a translation of the German) is curious because it has little to do with the original words–not surprising since this cantata was written for the Feast of the Visitation (when Mary, pregnant with Jesus, visits Elizabeth—Elizabeth responds with words that form the beginning of the “Ave Maria,” and Mary then proclaims the “Magnificat”). The actual translation is as follows: “Well for me that I have Jesus, O how tightly I hold him that he might refresh my heart, when I’m sick and sad.” An Advent-style cantata, the accompaniment is pastoral, with gentle, sweeping triplets. The text we know today is a sort of Trinitarian prayer, but focuses much more on Spirit-filled imagery with phrases like “Holy wisdom,” “uncreated light,” and “fire of life.” Regardless, the beauty of this simple chorus is undeniable and uses the Word of God as the basis for inspiration and hope.
To frame the service, we’ll have two popular French voluntaries that come from the decades following the Revolution and Napoleon’s Wars—a fanfare in the new French toccata-style by the “father” of the French technique, Belgian-born Jacques-Nicolas Lemmens; and a lyric prelude by one of his most notable students, Alexandre Guilmant, who became the organist at La Trinité in Paris and taught at the conservatory (succeeding Lemmens’ other famous pupil, Charles-Marie Widor). There, Guilmant’s pupils included a whole generation of French organists, including Marcel Dupré and Joseph Bonnet, among many others. These two pieces couldn’t be any different: the first, a crisp and tightly-organized—though harmonically-conservative—vestige of the Classical style; the second, a chromatic, meandering melody that verges at times on indulgent parlor song! What both have in common is a distinct French style and a total absence of that Germanic discipline most associated with Bach: counterpoint.
Don’t forget to record a video of you and your family singing along to the “Amen” response at the end of the service! Find out more at opmh.org/amen.