Of all Bach’s motets Komm, Jesu, komm! BWV229 is the one most steeped in the tradition of the Thomasschule and Thomaskirche in Leipzig. Its text is a paraphrase of John 14, verse 6 (‘I am the way, the truth and the life: no man cometh unto the Father but by me’) written by the former Thomaner, teacher at the Thomasschule and Leipziger poet Paul Thymich that was set by Bach’s predecessor as Thomaskantor Johann Schelle, for the funeral of Leibnitz’s mentor the German philosopher and Leipzig University professor and Rector of the Nikolai- und Thomasschule zu Leipzig Jakob Thomasius 1 which was held on 14 September 1684. Bach would have been thoroughly aware of all of this when he when he wrote his own setting of the first and last (verses I and XI) of Thymich’s hymn.
It seems likely that Bach composed Komm, Jesu, komm! BWV 229 either for a funeral service or a memorial in 1732 or earlier. We can date it to 1732 or earlier because the oldest surviving manuscript for the motet was copied by one of Bach’s students in that year. Its form is that of a chorale although Bach does not treat it as one in the first stanza which he sets phrase by phrase as though it were Biblical prose. In the second stanza – the last page of the musical setting, however Bach does treat his material as a chorale in the four-part harmonisation he labels ‘aria’. It’s a very rewarding piece of music full in which Bach exploits to the full the possibilities afforded by a double choir and contrasting technique, rhythm, meter, affect, and texture. I’ve always loved the first section with it’s mounting intensity as Jesus is bidden to come and how Bach follows this by juxtaposed chordal blocks and how for the second section he uses a simple minuet like melody to convey the soul’s surrender to God. There’s some evidence that this melody which somewhat resembles ‘Dir, dir, Jehova, will ich singen’ is by Bach himself. It’s sung below by the Thomanerchor Leipzig, conducted by Thomaskantor Georg Christoph Biller. Enjoy :-)
Text: Komm, Jesu, komm! BWV229
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|Komm, Jesu, komm! Deutsch||English|
Komm, Jesu, komm, mein Leib ist müde,
ich sehne mich nach deinem Friede;
der saure Weg wird mir zu schwer!
Komm, komm, ich will mich dir ergeben;
du bist der rechte Weg, die Wahrheit und das Leben.
Paul Thymich (1656-1694)
Come, Jesu, come, my flesh is weary,
and I long for thy peace;
the thorny path is too hard for me!
Come, come, I will yield myself to thee;
thou art the way, the truth and the life.
|Drum schliess ich mich in deine Hände Deutsch||English|
Drum schliess ich mich in deine Hände
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.
Paul Thymich (1656-1694)
So I give myself into thy hands,
Though the course of my life hastens to its end,
the spirit is truly ready.
Let it dwell with its creator,
since Jesus is and ever shall be the true way to life.
- see: Aufzeichnungen von Jakob Thomasius während seines Rektorates an der Nikolai- und Thomasschule zu Leipzig (1670-1684)) ↩