Johann Sebastian Bach was better known as a virtuoso
organist than as a composer in his day. His sacred
music, organ and choral works, and other instrumental
music had an enthusiasm and seeming freedom that
concealed immense rigor. Bach's use of counterpoint was
brilliant and innovative, and the immense complexities
of his compositional style -- which often included
religious and numerological symbols that seem to fit
perfectly together in a profound puzzle of special
codes -- still amaze musicians today. Many consider him
the greatest composer of all time.
The five motets positively attributed to J. S. Bach
vary considerably from one another. Although ostensibly
following in the tradition of the seventeenth-century
German motet, characterized by a juxtaposition of
contrapuntal and imitative choral passages, each
reveals some different facet of Bach's technique; BWV
229 ("Come, Jesus, come") is typical of this diversity.
As is the case with four of the five motets, neither
the occasion nor the date of composition is known,
although circumstantial evidence strongly points to a
dating from Bach's Leipzig years (from 1723). The text
is based on the first and last stanzas of a
seventeenth-century funeral hymn by Paul Thymich; the
lack of the traditional combination of biblical and
hymn texts (unusual here) is mitigated by the poet's
quotation in the last line of his first stanza of a
paraphrase from St. John, "Thou art the way, the truth
and the life" -- words given great emphasis by Bach.
The hymn was originally written for the funeral in 1684
of Jacob Thomasius, the rector of the Thomasschule in
Leipzig, set to music by Thomas Schelle, cantor of the
Thomasschule from 1677 - 1701.
Bach sets the first verse as a double four-part chorus
-- a texture he employs in three other of the motets.
Each textural phrase has its own separate musical
treatment in which texture and expression are
constantly varied. The final stanza is treated more
conventionally and straightforwardly as a mainly
homophonic four-part chorus; its melody is a very rare
example of Bach employing a chorale tune of his own
composition within the context of a larger work. The
motet is known today solely from a copy made around
1731-2 by Bach's pupil, Christoph Nichelmann.
Although originally created for Double Chorus
(SSAATTBB), I created this arrangement for Woodwind
Quartet (Flute, Oboe, Bb Clarinet & Bassoon).