Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring

(TUESDAY, September 17, 2019)

Famous for 296 years…

Pianist after pianist has played this this piece by Bach. It is from one of his Cantatas.

I have never taught it because it is difficult even to play the notes, and making it all flow is terribly hard. So no student of mine has ever had the skills to tackle it.

Dinu Lipatti suffered a tragic early death. He was born in 1917, coincidentally just about at the end of WWI. He died from cancer at age 33 and so his career ended tragically at a very young age. But his name and his sound remain legendary. Unfortunately he did not live long enough to be recorded in stereo, so the sound is rather primitive

This transcription was written by Myra Hess, another legendary pianist. She was born much earlier, in 1890, but she lived a much longer life and so was able to record when sound was much as it is today.

And now the same thing, done by Hess herself.

I have no preference here. Both these recordings are beyond my understanding in terms of touch, sensitivity and absolute mastery. If you do not play the piano you could easily think that two pianists are playing. That’s part of the magic. More magical to me is is that it sounds so easy and so natural that you could easily think that anyone could play this.

Finally the choral version, what Bach actually wrote:


10 thoughts on “Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring

  1. This piece is played so often on piano that it’s easy to forget it was written for choir. The performances of this piece pale in comparison to the choral version. This piece was tricky enough to play on oboe at a bit over half this speed, I can only imagine full tempo on piano.

  2. The amazingness of Hess’s playing, and Ligeti’s, to bring all this out – you’ve already said it, and it’s hard to say more.

    Louie’s choral version, I was glad to hear it. I found a Swiss version that had the whole cantata and also had a livelier rhythm and faster tempo, similar to this one. We’re not used to it this way, but it seems that’s what Bach had in mind originally.

  3. Oh man the way Lupati strums some of those chords. o.O

    I’ve had the Schaum version of this at the back of my black book for almost as long as I’ve been studying with you. No, I can’t play it. I forget it’s there. I don’t even noodle at it.

    Funny how both Hess and Lupati have virtually identical tempo. That said, immediately it jumped out to me that Hess is playing a bit fast and loose with it. It’s not exactly swing, but she gives it a .. life.. don’t have any other word.. actually yes,… she animates it. Which means just that.. gives it life.

    Here’s the Monterverdi Choir.. yes, Gardiner.

    he… dropped two gears and floored it. And it works! Like the Turkish march in LvB’s 9th Symphony, this cat ran it fast, way fast.. and.. it works!

    All of Bach is a dance. Even this.

    Especially this? *shrug*

    I do like how it all got staccato at the end of the stating of the theme. Right before they start singing.

    1. I can see how others like the faster tempo, but that’s just too fast for me, and I don’t like the way the words sound phrased that. Someone said “Bad German”, meaning the German sounds odd that way. That’s my impression.

      1. I’m thinking – is it the tempo, or the heavy emphasis rhythmically, which does make the words sound a bit odd. The tempo in the cantata which this is part of is also faster. I’m linking starting with just before, because it seems that the rhythm of the previous (movement? song?) is brought over to the next one, which is our song.

        Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desire, starts at 16:34.

Leave a Reply