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Gratitude and Joy in Bach's Cantata 147

Bach Collegium Japan at Carnegie Hall
Steve Sherman
courtesy of the ensemble
Bach Collegium Japan at Carnegie Hall

On The Bach Hour, Masaaki Suzuki leads Bach Collegium Japan in the cantata that includes "Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring," and Lucas and Arthur Jussen are the soloists in an exuberant work for two pianos.

On the program:

Chorale on Jesu bleibet meine Freude, from Cantata No. 147 - The 12 Cellists of the Berlin Philharmonic

Concerto in C for Two Pianos, BWV 1061 - Lucas and Arthur Jussen, pianos; Amsterdam Sinfonietta

Cantata BWV 147 Herz und Mund und Tat und Leben (translation) - Yukari Nonoshita, soprano; Robin Blaze, counter-tenor; Gerd Tuerk, tenor; Peter Kooy, bass; Bach Collegium Japan, Masaaki Suzuki, conductor


Like all artists through the centuries, J.S. Bach wasn’t in control of what audiences found to be their favorite parts of his work. This lively trumpet tune, for instance, really couldn’t be more magnetic. It opens a cantata the composer wrote to express a devotional gratitude, with excitement, joy, and anticipation.


But was this the part that everyone remembered? No, it wasn’t. What about the meditative, beautiful part?


No, not that either. Maybe the part where the trumpet comes back, near the end?


That’s not the audience favorite from this piece either. The Cantata 147 is known for a short, beautiful part that shows up on its own in weddings, commercials, and arrangements for every combination of instruments you can imagine. And you’ll hear it in its original context, coming up on The Bach Hour.


Hello, I’m Brian McCreath; welcome to The Bach Hour from WCRB, Classical Radio Boston. Bach’s Cantata No. 147, Herz und Mund und Tat und Leben, or “Heart and mouth and deed and life,” reflects not just a particular angle on a Biblical story; it also reflects a part of the composer’s life. And if you’d like to see a translation of the text for that piece from Boston’s Emmanuel Music, just visit us online at Classical WCRB dot org.

And here is that most famous part of the Cantata 147, in a particularly beautiful arrangement. These are the 12 Cellists of the Berlin Philharmonic, with what’s generally known as “Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring,” here on The Bach Hour.

[MUSIC – BWV 147-6]

The 12 Cellists of the Berlin Philharmonic, with their own take on what has to be one of the most transcribed and arranged of all of Bach’s music, Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring. And you’ll hear the original version of that piece, in its natural environment, later in the hour.

I’m Brian McCreath, with The Bach Hour, from 99-5 WCRB.

And here is a concerto for two pianos by Bach. With the Amsterdam Sinfonietta, these are the Dutch brothers Arthur and Lucas Jussen here on The Bach Hour.

[MUSIC – BWV 1061]

Bach’s Concerto in C for two keyboards, performed here by Arthur and Lucas Jussen, with the Amsterdam Sinfonietta.

Coming up, it’s a cantata that’s not only gorgeous to hear. It also pulls off a double play, by both revealing a part of Bach’s life and work and by being the original home of one of the composer’s most famous pieces.

As Bach settled into the first year of the job that would define his legacy, he knew exactly what he wanted to do. No matter that he had never done it before, nor that his audience at the churches in Leipzig had never experienced it before. He was determined to write brand new multi-movement cantatas for each Sunday and feast day on the church calendar. And for no fewer than 13 of those days, he would write either large 2-part works, or two shorter cantatas, one that would be performed before the sermon and one after. It was an astonishing ambition.

The Cantata 147, Herz und Mund und Tat und Leben, or “Heart and mouth and deed and life,” is one of those two-part pieces. Written for the Feast of the Visitation of Mary - July 2nd in Bach’s time, and now celebrated on May 31st - it draws inspiration from Mary’s response when her cousin Elizabeth recognizes the divine in Mary’s yet to be born child, Jesus. In the Bible, that response is known as the Magnificat.

The text of the Cantata 147 is like a paraphrase of that Biblical poetry, and it begins with enthusiastic devotion on the words, “Heart and mouth and deed and life must give testimony of Christ.”

[MUSIC – BWV 147]

Later, the soprano soloist alludes to the Advent season - for which Bach had originally written the music earlier in his life - with the words, “Prepare, Jesus, even now the path for yourself.”


And twice during the Cantata 147, the chorus joins the ensemble with a song of praise, the second time on the words, “Jesus shall remain my joy, my heart’s comfort.”

Remember, you can find Pamela Dellal’s translation of the text of this piece for Boston’s Emmanuel Music when you start at our web site, Classical WCRB dot org.

Here is the Cantata No. 147, featuring soprano Yukari Nonoshita, counter-tenor Robin Blaze, tenor Gerd Türk, and bass Peter Kooy. Masaaki Suzuki leads Bach Collegium of Japan, here on The Bach Hour.

[MUSIC – BWV 147]

Bach’s Cantata No. 147, Herz und Mund und Tat und Leben, or “Heart and mouth and deed and life,” in a performance by Bach Collegium of Japan, along with soprano Yukari Nonoshita, counter-tenor Robin Blaze, tenor Gerd Türk, and bass Peter Kooy, all led by Masaaki Suzuki.

Remember, you can hear this program again on demand when you visit Classical WCRB dot org, where you can also hear the Bach Channel, a 24/7 stream of Bach’s music.

Thank you for joining me today, and thanks also to audio engineer Antonio Oliart Ros. I’m Brian McCreath, and I’ll hope to have your company again next week here on The Bach Hour.