Monday, May 15, 2006

Jesu, meine freude

"Jesu, meine freude." As one of my favorite hymns both for its music, its meter, and its text, it is not sung often enough! It was written in the 17th century by Johann Franck (1618-1677), whom Catherine Winkworth says "ranks second only to [Paul] Gerhardt as a hymn-writer" (thank you, PTS book sale for my $1 copy of Christian Singers of Germany). German hymnwriting history before the 20th century is sometimes seen as being divided into two main schools, with Gerhardt at its divide—the first, of religious poetry easily set to music and sung as a group—and the second, poetry that is at times less regular and often more intensely personal and mystical. Franck falls into this latter category, although just at its beginning. As a provincial German politician, Franck seems an unlikely candidate for hymnwriting, but his output both in hymns and secular poetry is generally well-regarded.

Jesu, priceless treasure,
Source of purest pleasure,
Truest friend to me!
Long my heart hath panted,
Till it well-nigh fainted,
Thirsting after Thee!
Thine I am, O spotless Lamb!
I will suffer nought to hide Thee,
Ask for nought beside Thee.

In Thine arm I rest me,
Foes who would molest me
Cannot reach me here;
Though the earth be shaking,
Every heart be quaking,
Jesus calms my fear;
Sin and hell in conflict fell
With their heaviest storms assail me,
Jesus will not fail me.

Satan, I defy thee;
Death, I need not fly thee;
Fear, I bid thee cease!
Rage, O world, thy noises
Cannot drown our voices
Singing still of peace;
For God's power guards every hour,
Earth and all the depths adore Him,
Silent bow before Him.

Wealth, I will not heed thee,
Wherefore should I need thee,
Jesus is my joy!
Honours, ye may glisten,
But I will not listen,
Ye the soul destroy!
Want or loss or shame or corss
Ne'er to leave my Lord shall move me,
Since He deigns to love me.

Farewell, thou who choosest
Earth, and heaven refusest,
Thou wilt tempt in vain;
Farewell, sins, nor blind me,
Get ye far behind me,
Come not forth again;
Past your hour, O pomp and power;
Godless life, thy bonds I sever,
Farewell now for ever!

Hence all thoughts of sadness,
For the Lord of gladness,
Jesus, enters in!
Those who love the Father,
Though the storms may gather,
Still have peace within;
Yea, whate'er I here must bear
Still in Thee lies purest pleasure,
Jesu, priceless treasure!

This hymn, with its "Lord of gladness," and thoughts of safety and comfort from Jesus, is actually usually sung to a tune that most feel is not joyful at all. The c minor chorale melody's composer, Johann Cr├╝ger, was organist at the Nikolaikirche in Berlin from 1622-1662. Bach arranged it into its common, present form in 1723.

I usually am relegated to singing it in Lent, because of its minor quality. But, it doesn't strike me as Lenten, or, mournful in nature (which I have been told it is)! Can we sing minor-key hymns today in America without connotations of sadness? A large portion of rock tunes are minor, but, a glance through recent evangelical hymnals reveals very few. Perhaps this is due to the gospel hymn influence at the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th centuries.

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