Opening Voluntary: Chorale Prelude on Jesu meine Freude – J. S. Bach (1685-1750)
Today’s opening voluntary is based on the tune for the hymn, “Jesus, all my gladness” (Jesu meine freude) sung as our final hymn today (The Hymnal, 1982 #701). The text and tune appeared together from the first in Johan Crüger’s Praxis Pietatis Melica, published in Berlin in 1653. The tune is Crüger’s own and was paired with the text written by his personal friend, Johann Franck. This text, in German original, was six stanzas long and apparently modeled on a love song, popular at the time, by the title “Flora, meine freude,” which appeared more than 10 years earlier in 1641. Franck was born in Guben, Brandenburg in the year 1618. His father, of the same name, died when he was only 2 years of age, and he was adopted by his uncle, who was the town judge. In 1638, he became a student of the law at the University of Königsberg, the only German university that was left undisturbed by the 30 years’ war. He returned home only 2 years later at the request of his mother in Guben who wished him near her during the turmoils of war during which Guben was occupied by both Swedish and Saxon troops. He began his practice of law in 1645 and was successively burgess and councillor, burgomaster and, finally, deputy from Guben to the diet of Lower Lusatia. Although he published a number of secular poems, he also wrote some 110 hymns, most of which were published by his friends who included Johann Crüger, publisher of his Jesu meine Freude.
Johann Crüger was born in 1598 at Gross-Bresse, Brandenburg, not far from the town of Guben where his friend Franck was born and lived. After his schooling, he settled in Berlin where, except for a short stay in 1620 at the University of Wittenberg, he remained for the rest of his life. In 1622 he was appointed cantor of St. Nicholas’ Church in Berlin. Crüger was considered one of the best musicians of his day and composed a number of hymn tunes, although he himself is not known to have written any hymn texts. Of his many tunes, about 20 remain in common use today, perhaps the most famous of which is that for the hymn, Nun danket alle Gott, usually known in English translation as “Now thank we all our God” (#396, The Hymnal 1982).
Crüger’s tune for Jesu meine Freude was a particular favorite of J. S. Bach (1685-1750) who used it in 4 cantatas, a 5-part motet and as the basis for several organ works. The version played today as our opening voluntary is from his Orgebüchlein, a collection of some 46 pieces on chorale tunes arranged for the liturgical year. Most of them were composed during the years 1708-1717 when he was organist of the ducal court in Weimar.