BWV 229

All of Bach: a project by the Netherlands Bach Society

Komm, Jesu, komm

BWV 229 performed by the Netherlands Bach Society conducted by Stephan MacLeod
Grote Kerk, Naarden

What gives soprano Klaartje van Veldhoven goosebumps?

The rough and the straight path

Bach looks to the hereafter with great confidence.

In his very readworthy book Johann Sebastian Bach – Die Motetten, Klaus Hofmann states that singers from Leipzig knew this motet for centuries as ‘Der saure Weg’, after the most difficult phrase in the piece. The path to the source is a straighter one, as although we still do not know precisely for whom Bach wrote this piece, it is anyway clear that he composed it himself. Moreover, we can presume that it is a funeral or memorial motet that was created in Leipzig. One important clue for this is the text, which was written by Paul Thymich in 1684 for the funeral of the headmaster of Thomasschule at the time. Bach took the first and last strophe from the 1697 Wagnerschen Liederbuch. Each verse ends with a reference to Jesus as the ‘straight path’, as in the book of John. The ‘own melody’ referred to in the book has not survived.

With no chorale as a basis, Bach was free to hark back to a classic motet model, by giving each element of meaning its own small part. The first strophe is thus divided into six contrasting sections. ‘Der saure Weg’ with its difficult steps and leaps is one of them, and the aptly expressed ‘Kraft’ that ‘verschwindt’ is another. You sense the hopeful desire for death already in the opening bars and in ‘Ich sehne mich’. The cheerful transition from earth to heaven comes to life in the second ‘Komm, komm’ of the text (‘ich will mich dir ergeben’). ‘Du bist der rechte Weg’ concludes the first verse with a rocking jubilant song for the two choirs.

For the second verse, Bach ‘restricted’ himself to an ingenious aria, in which both choirs unite. But the deceptively simple façade of a four-part chorale conceals a refined tapestry of sounds. Big leaps, difficult runs and exciting harmonies elevate this piece way beyond a simple congregational hymn, and the gentle melody exudes too much ‘Bach’ to be an existing chorale. Finally, there is another moving elaboration on the ‘straight path’ paraphrase, in an expression of deep trust in death and a place in heaven.

Motets, BWV 225-231, 118 and Anh159

Cantatas were Bach’s daily bread and a regular part of his weekly tasks as Cantor of St Thomas’s. His motets were a different case entirely. Apart from the cantata, hardly any new music was played in Leipzig (music was selected instead from the motet collection Florilegium Portense). This gave Bach scope for writing commissioned works for private occasions, often funerals. Unfortunately, probably dozens of these works have been lost. The pieces that did survive have stayed on the repertoire since their composition, unlike Bach’s other vocal works.

The surviving authentic motets – nine works, although research continues – build on a genre with an impressive pedigree. Against the background of strict Renaissance polyphony, the generation of Schütz (1585-1672) borrowed elements from the opulent, polychoral works of Giovanni Gabrieli and gave them a Central-German, Lutheran twist. In Bach’s case, too, the content focused on chorales and biblical passages, whereby worldly madrigalism (or put simply: portraying the words) served only to reinforce the expression of the religious genre.


BWV
229

Title
Komm, Jesu, komm, mein Leib ist müde

Genre
Motet

Year
1723-1732

City
Leipzig

Lyricist
First and last strophe of a song by Paul Thymich

Cast & Crew

Recording Date 14 May 2016
Release Date 20 June 2017
Location Grote Kerk, Naarden
Conductor Stephan MacLeod
Soprano Orlanda Velez Isidro, Klaartje van Veldhoven, Griet de Geyter, Aleksandra Lewandowska, Marjon Strijk, Hilde van Ruymbeke, Stephanie Pfeffer, Marta Paklar
Alto Barabás Hegyi, Gemma Jansen, Elena Pozhidaeva, Bernadett Nagy, Marine Fribourg, Victoria Cassano McDonald
Tenor Adriaan de Koster, Wolfgang Frisch, Guy Cutting, Diederik Rooker, Immo Schröder, Ronald Threels
Bass Matthew Baker, Sebastian Myrus, Pierre-Guy Le Gall White, Martijn de Graaf Bierbrauwer, Michiel Meijer, Jelle Draijer
cello Lucia Swarts
violone Robert Franenberg
bassoon Benny Aghassi
organ Pieter-Jan Belder
harpsichord Siebe Henstra
theorbo Fred Jacobs
Director Simon Aarden
Assistant director Ferenc Soetman
music recording Guido Tichelman, Bastiaan Kuijt, Micha de Kanter
MUSIC EDIT AND MIX Guido Tichelman
Camera Bart ten Harkel, Merijn Vrieling, Merlijn Dielemans, Chris Reichgelt, Martijn Struijf
Gaffer Zen Bloot, Patrick Galvin
video engineer Niels Cnossen
set technique Marco Korzelius
Data handling Jesper Blok
project manager NEP Peter Ribbens
Producer Marco Meijdam
interview Beitske de Jong, Gijs Besseling

Vocal Texts

Original

Komm, Jesu, komm,
mein Leib ist müde.
Die Kraft verschwindt je mehr und mehr,
ich sehne mich
nach deinem Friede;
der saure Weg wird mir zu schwer!
Komm, ich will
mich dir ergeben;
du bist der rechte Weg,
die Wahrheit und das Leben.

Drum schliess ich mich in deine Hände
und sage, Welt, zu guter Nacht!
Eilt gleich mein Lebenslauf zu
Ende,
ist doch der Geist wohl angebracht.
Er soll bei seinem Schöpfer schweben,
weil Jesus ist und bleibt
der wahre Weg zum Leben.

Translation

Come, Jesus, come,
my body is weary,
my strength deserts me more and more,
I yearn
for thy peace;
life’s bitter path is too much for me!
Come, come, I will surrender myself to thee,
thou art the right Way,
the Truth and the Life.

And so I place myself in thy hands
and bid thee, world, farewell!
Though the sands of my life are running out,
the spirit is ready.
It shall hover before its maker,
for Jesus is and remains
the true way to life.

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