Welcoming Spring with a Little ‘Joy’ from J.S. Bach

There’s nothing remarkable about it. All one has to do is hit the right keys at the right time and the instrument plays itself.” Johann Sebastian Bach

Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring,” recognized simply as “Joy,” has been played at weddings and funerals, graduations and special milestones and events. Without question, it is one of the most popular and well-known pieces of music.

I always understood that it was J.S. Bach who creative the melody. Today, I found out that Johan Schop came before J.S.Bach. In 1642, he published the melody with Johann Rist’s hymn text “Wach auf, mein Geist, erhebe dich” (“Wake, My Spirit, Rise”).

J.S. Bach created his ‘Joy’ in 1723 for four solo vocalists, a four-part choir, and an instrumental ensemble of trumpet, two oboes, violin, viola, and continuo. But the name “Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring” came in 1926 when Dame Myra Hess published a transcription for solo piano.

This was the first time that I had heard of Dame Myra Hess, which is a testament to the narratives held safe in the folds of history. There are treasures to be found when looking back into the mists of time.

Myra Hess was bold as well as innovative. During WWII, when London concert halls were blacked out at night to avoid being a target for bombing, she decided that lunchtime would be a more appropriate time to hold musical events. She organized almost 2,000 “lunchtime concerts” which started in The Blitz.

This is your invitation to join my brother, Brian, and me in celebrating the arrival of spring with “Joy” from J.S. Bach.

72 Thoughts

    1. Oh, Cindy I know exactly what you mean. Beethoven pulled at our souls. “Music is the one incorporeal entrance into the higher world of knowledge which comprehends mankind but which mankind cannot comprehend.” Ludwig van Beethoven

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    1. I had never heard about Myra Hess!! YIKES! She was a dynamic force and there are places which still hold those lunchtime concerts in her memory. I read that during her lifetime she presented 1,698 concerts seen by 824,152. What a legacy.

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    1. How very well said, Dave. What I most appreciate about books and discussions of books is that we see a broader view of the story of humanity. In so doing, we receive an understanding of our place in the overarching narrative. I enjoyed your most recent post and will be responding now that I have had some time to reflect. I love our conversations.

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    1. Did you know that J.S.Bach had 20 children? 209 surviving church cantatas, dozens of concertos, countless organ preludes and fugues – plus taking care of a busy and large family. He had great support in his two wives: Maria Barbara (m. 1707–1720) and Anna Magdalena (m. 1721–1750).

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      1. Indeed I did. I hesitate to say I taught music and drama privately for many years, largely because I was not actually known for teaching these, more life lessons. But I did run a music and drama biz for 30 odd years. Now and again I stretched to teaching stuff about a composer. Not that often but now and again.

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  1. Good morning, dear Rebecca,
    we love Bach and the music of Baroque. It’s healing listening to Bach. Your brother plays the guitar very well, we are impressed. Our dear Master learned the guitar too but he can’t play it any more.
    Thanks for sharing.
    Have a happy week, with love and hugs
    The Fab Four of Cley
    🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Thank you so much for you kind words, which I will pass on to Brian. In our last conversation Brian told me how he had to relearn techniques that he had thought he had mastered many years ago. Just because you learn a skill once, doesn’t mean you never have to learn it again. When I was looking back at the origins of the music, I reflected on how we share information and give correct attribution. I have been following the idea of Open Access and how can we build upon new knowledge by giving a nod to the knowledge that came before. By the way, I’m thinking of taking up the recorder. I understand that learning a musical instrument gives strength to memory. Sending many hugs and lots of love to my dear friends, the Fab Four of Cley!

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    1. It is time to do our Spring Dance, Liz!!! Brian is the musician/philosopher of our family. He prefers to live simply and musically – and with humour. He would be a great stand-up comedian.

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    1. The daffodils have arrived and the cherry trees are starting to blossom. We had two days of snow this year, so we were all out taking photos of this event because Spring comes swiftly in Vancouver, bringing large quantities of rain. It is wonderful to feel the earth wake up especially today when the sun made an appearance. Thank you for your lovely comments – very much appreciated.

      Liked by 3 people

  2. It is a delight to see your beautiful photos where the flowers sings of
    spring. I didn’t know any of the history of the song most of us would
    credit to Bach.
    It is a wonderful piece of music so honour goes to all.

    Miriam

    Liked by 3 people

    1. I didn’t know the history either, Miriam. “Joy” was part of a larger piece of music, which was composed by Bach. I often think of those who have given us knowledge to build upon and leave more knowledge for the next generation. I read that Paul McCartney has cited J. S. Bach as an influence on his song, “Blackbird”. He was inspired by a well-known piece by Bach that he and George had learned to play as children. One idea leads to another and another…

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    1. I am dancing my Spring Dance today. Sunshine has come to Vancouver, and the world is full of light, colour and music. Thank you so much for your heartwarming comments, Marina. Sending many hugs your way.

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  3. What a magnificently joyous post, Becky. I love all the photos and of course I especially love Brian’s beautiful playing. The quote at the start gives me an opportunity to post a link to one of the most famous moments in the history of British comedy. This is the ‘all the right notes, just not in the right order’ routine by comedy duo Morecombe and Wise, with the wonderful Andre Previn. Enjoy! xxx https://youtu.be/uMPEUcVyJsc

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    1. Oh Liz, This is a brilliant video – funny. I had to look up more detail. And found it. I did not know that Andre Previn thought that this would be a serious moment and he was tricked somehow. I read in Wikipedia that “Previn himself recalled in 2005 that people in Britain still recall the sketch years later: “Taxi drivers still call me Mr Preview”. He later said he was happy that the sketch meant as much to everyone else as it did to him, and that several parts of it were (uncharacteristically for Morecambe and Wise) improvised.” Spring has come, the earth has come alive – it is time to do our Spring dance. Hugs and more hugs.

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  4. Oh that is so beautiful, Rebecca! Kudos to you brother. I Love Bach. That’s the song that played as a preamble to our wedding. I listened to it just yesterday, as I’ve been playing classical music quite a bit lately. 🙂

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    1. There is something about classical music that brings out a spirit of reflection, which has been a blessing over the past months. This music is perfect for weddings. Solemn yet filled with the joy of life. Sending hugs!

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    1. Thank you, Linda. I am delighted that you joined Brian and me celebrating the coming of Spring. The daffodils have arrived and soon the tulips will be showing off their colour. One of my favourite Bach quotes is: “The aim and final end of all music should be none other than the glory of God and the refreshment of the soul.” Have a wonderful day.

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  5. Oh to be able to play a musical instrument-especially like that- surely the greatest gift. The red bluebells are wonderful- but then all bluebells are regardless of their colour. Welcome back Eostre.

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    1. I am so pleased you mentioned Eostre. I have been looking into the origins of the Easter Bunny and her name came up. Here is what I found out: Ostara, the ancient Germanic goddess of the spring, transformed a bird into a hare, and the hare responded by laying colored eggs for her festival. Digging back further I found Eostre. Ostara’s story begins with Eostre, an Anglo-Saxon goddess. I cannot believe that it is only recently that I found these narratives, Paul. I continue to learn and learn and learn.

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  6. Thank you Rebecca and Brian for this lovely podcast; can not get any better. The music is beautiful and so well done. I enjoy the lovely photos, as well. I did not know about the lunchtime concerts; what a novel idea and must have been treasured and enjoyed and remembered in years later. Also, thank you for the added history that you mentioned–new to me. Again, thank you for this lovely music shared and so well performed.

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    1. I knew that you would enjoy Brian’s video. I share your hope that he will have the time to devote to his music. He has a busy life and time goes by fast! Sometimes we forget to set aside a few hours to concentrate on creative pursuits. I remember that the Vancouver Art Gallery had lunchtime concerts a few years ago. I hope that these concerts come back after Covid19. Hugs!!

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  7. All one has to do is hit the right keys at the right time and the instrument plays itself.” J.S.Bach
    Ah yes, the simplicity of knowing how! If only it were all as simple as suggests, Johann Sebastian Bach!
    Beautiful guitar-playing indeed, and the gorgeous flowers to focus on Spring, so badly needed after living this past pandemic year, with a bit to go. Thank you Rebecca, for the continuity of your creative posts.

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    1. I always smile where I read that quote, which goes along with another one that says something to the effect that anyone could compose as well as he could, if only they worked hard. Thank you for your heartwarming comments, Annika and for joining in the celebration of spring. By the way, I’m enjoying Sammy’s performance of his compositions. https://youtu.be/kjXHvC7lPPQ

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    2. Thank you, Jean-Jacques. Spring 2020 will be one that is remembered in the history books. In my research into Bach’s ‘Joy,’ I came across an excellent, but brief overview which included this information on how other composers viewed Bach: “Mozart, not a person afflicted by low self-esteem, said of him: “Now there is music from which a man can learn something.” Brahms admonished his contemporaries to “study Bach; there you will find everything.” For Beethoven, who looked after Bach’s impoverished daughter, he was the “immortal god of harmony”; for Wagner, “the most stupendous miracle in all of music”; for Pablo Casals, “the supreme genius of music”; for Debussy, “a benevolent god to which all musicians should offer a prayer to defend themselves against mediocrity.” For Schumann, “music owes as much to Bach as religion to its founder”; for Rimsky-Korsakov, “all modern music owes everything to Bach”; and, for Albert Schweitzer, “everything leads to him.” https://www.cs.princeton.edu/~chazelle/music/bach.html. Happy Spring!! We continue to thrive even in the midst of uncertainty.

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      1. WOW! That is quite complete, leaving no need to say word one in addition to all this praise. Of what I remember of Bach, he was not in the habit of handing praise flippantly. I’m still chuckling at your all inclusive recap of his seemingly backhanded or left-handed reverence toward all his fellow masters.Pompous comes to mind.
        And a happy Spring to you!

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  8. Rebecca, thank you for the moments of bliss listening to your brother’s tender and beautiful guitar solo interspersed with the wonder of nature! Fascinating to learn about Myra Hess – I haven’t heard of her before nor about the lunchtime concerts. They must have given so much peace and joy during the worst times in the blitz.

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    1. I always smile where I read that quote, which goes along with another one that says something to the effect that anyone could compose as well as he could, if only they worked hard. Thank you for your heartwarming comments, Annika and for joining in the celebration of spring. By the way, I’m enjoying Sammy’s performance of his compositions. https://youtu.be/kjXHvC7lPPQ

      Liked by 4 people

      1. Rebecca, it’s wonderful you’re enjoying Sammy’s compositions/covers and this is one of his and my favourite!

        He’s spending lockdown at university these last few months and the piano stands quiet, sad and lonely, patiently waiting for the musician!

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    1. Thank you Martina! I did not know about Schop, Hess or where the lunchtime concerts originated before I wrote this post. I continue to learn, which is the best gift that life has given. There is always something new around the bend in the road, an open door or archway, a conversation over tea. We will never run out of books to read or music to play. Sending many hugs back your way. Happy Spring!!

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    1. I will pass on your heartwarming comments to Brian. He loves music and the process of learning. There are so many talented musicians that have inspired him. Doing my spring dance these days. Sending many hugs!

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    1. I am so glad that you joined Brian and me for a Spring Celebration. The rain has stopped for a few days and I’m heading out into the warmth, carrying my mask along with me. Nothing can stop us from feeling the generosity of this vibrant season. Hugs and more hugs!

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  9. That was an interesting tidbit about the song Rebecca. This is such a marvelous post. It fills all the senses, the beautiful flowers — and I could listen to your brother play the guitar for hours. Thanks to him for sharing that with us — and huge thanks to you for pulling all this joy together to share. Hugs on the wing!

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    1. Hugs coming back swiftly on the wing. Spring has come, the daffodils are out and cherry blossoms are starting their dance.

      “She turned to the sunlight
      And shook her yellow head,
      And whispered to her neighbor:
      “Winter is dead.”
      A.A. Milne, When We Were Very Young

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  10. What a wonder Myra Hess must have been! 2,000 concerts during the blitz of London is amazing. Music is so powerful and has the ability to raise us out of ourselves into something grander and beautiful. I loved this listen. Beautiful, Rebecca. Thank your brother for the lovely serenade. ❤

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    1. Thank you, Diana! I am fascinated by outliers like Myra Hess. While it seems that she was the one who did all the work of bringing these concerts together, I rather think it was because she could ignite the possibilities in the souls of others to participate in a fresh beginning. We celebrate the hero in the hero’s journey. BUT hero always needs help, a community of support and, dare I say it, a little luck. Thank you for your kind words – I have passed them on to Brian. Sending many hugs your way.

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      1. 🐰💞🍷🌷🍫🎼🐣🐰💞🍷🌷🍫🎼🐣🐰💞🍷🌷🍫🎼🐣🐰💞🍷🌷🍫🎼🐣🐰💞🍷🌷🍫🎼🐣🐰💞🍷🌷🍫

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  11. Your brother did well. I try Bach on the piano and there really is no place to hide…for a beginning/moderate piano player such as myself. Once you know him you can ornament and improvise and fudge. I’m not there yet. I enjoyed your Spring Break.”

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    1. I am delighted that you are a pianist and that you have played Bach. I agree there is no place to hide. I remember practicing (that was a long time ago) the two part inventions each hand separately so that each hand would remember the notes. As J.S. Bach once wrote: “There’s nothing remarkable about it. All one has to do is hit the right keys at the right time and the instrument plays itself.” Well, it is easier said than done!!! 🎶 🎶🎶

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  12. I love the image of Myra Hesse and her lunch time concerts, my mother had told me about them. But my first introduction to this music was at infant school when it was one of the pieces played as we went into morning assembly. I was only at that school for a few months, but I have never forgotten and still love it.

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    1. Thank you for stopping by and for your lovely comments. How wonderful to experience this music at such a young age. The young mind has an incredible power for retention. Memories of my childhood are clear while memories of my adulthood are more vague and intertwined. I am delighted that we connected and look forward to our ongoing conversation.

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