2014-01-26 Notes from the Bench

“In dir ist Freude” (In You is Joy) by Johann Sebastian Bach

A commentary on this week’s music by Dr. James T. Gerber, Music Associate

In Thee is gladness
Amid all sadness,
Jesus, Sunshine of my heart!
By Thee are given
The gifts of heaven,
Thou the true Redeemer art!
Our souls Thou wakest,
Our bond Thou breakest,
Who trusts Thee surely
Hath built securely,
He stands for ever: Hallelujah!

Bach’s setting of “In dir ist Freude” features a prominent, carillon-like ostinato figure in the pedal that is heard through this work. The cantus firmus is split up and distributed among the voices in various forms.  The melody in undecorated forms is set against embellished versions and creates the bases for the counterpoint of the entire work.

“In dir ist Freude” is one of the chorale settings Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750) wrote for the Orgelbüchlein (Little Organ Book), a collection of 46 chorale preludes for organ. Bach originally conceived his Little Organ Book to include a much larger collection of chorale settings, 164 total that would incorporate the chorales sung through the entire liturgical year. The majority of the settings Bach completed were written between 1708 and 1717, while he served as organist for the ducal court of Johann Ernst in Weimar. Bach added motivic accompaniment to each of the chorale melodies within this collection, and then developed the settings in a variety of ways; with four-part contrapuntal treatment, as a trio, canonically, and with varying degrees of embellishment. In addition to being a collection of music for the Lutheran church service, Orgelbüchlein was also viewed as a pedagogical manual and treatise on composition.

The hymn tune, “In dir ist Freude,” is based on a melody that was written by the Italian priest and composer, Giovanni Gastoldi (1554-1609). The original composition was one of his secular “balleti,” a dance-like song, and was originally published in a collection of vocal work titled Balleti a cinque voce (Balleti for five voices) in 1591. In 1594, Johannes Lindemann (c. 1555-1633) included this melody in a collection of carols, replacing Gastoldi’s secular text with his own sacred text (in German) now associated with this melody.

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