Musical Advent Calendar – Day 4

Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring

The musical offering for today is a very well-known piece of music, Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring, played on alto recorder by Sarah Boice. The music is an arrangement of a movement from a cantata composed by J.S. Bach in 1723, the first year in his position as director of music for the town of Leipzig, which was the position he would hold until the end of his life in 1750. Although the cantata was intended to be used during Advent, the city of Leipzig during Bach’s time observed the ancient practice of tempus clausum during the season, meaning that services were to be spoken only from the first Sunday in advent until Christmas Day – no music at all was used in their services during this time! 

As a result, Bach instead used the piece for the feast of the Visitation on July 2, commemorating Mary’s visit to her cousin Elizabeth while the two were pregnant with Jesus and with John the Baptist, respectively, as recorded in the first chapter of Luke’s Gospel. Because this Biblical event is an important event leading up to the birth of Christ, it is very well suited to be used during Advent. 

I hope you will meditate on these words, a translation of the original German used in the last movement of the cantata, as you listen to Sarah play this musical act of praise to God.

Jesu, joy of man’s desiring,
Holy wisdom, love most bright;
Drawn by Thee, our souls aspiring
Soar to uncreated light.

Word of God, our flesh that fashioned,
With the fire of life impassioned,
Striving still to truth unknown,
Soaring, dying round Thy throne.

Mitchell Stecker, Music Director