Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring (Bach, arr. Philip Sparke)

Bach’s appointment as Cantor at Leipzig’s Thomaskirche in 1723 required him to produce a new cantata for every Sunday service. His choir rehearsed weekly on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday and on Saturday the boys were joined by the instrumentalists to rehearse for the following day. 

It has justly been claimed that Bach’s cantata output in the 1720’s is ‘one of the most astonishing creative explosions in the history of Western music’. Bach wrote five yearly cycles in all (although nearly half of these are now lost) and though Telemann (12 cycles), Kuhnau (14) and Krieger (nearly 2000 cantatas) wrote more, none of these matches the consistent quality and inspiration of Bach’s works. 

Cantata 147 was adapted from an earlier Weimar work and first performed on 2nd June 1723 to celebrate the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary. The chorale, Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring, concludes both parts of the cantata and is unusually elaborate, treated more like one of the arias than a chorale. It is perhaps the best-loved cantata movement from Bach’s entire output.