JS Bach’s Cantata is confusing about Joy & Ordeal

This article is about the meaning of a sentence in Bach’s Cantata, and the different ways it is translated (from German to French or English), and what it can bring us about how the ways we deal with life.

I woke up a little disoriented by an obsessive, dense nightmare telling me in details that my life was really losing its cohesion. A mess like “having books but not knowing why any more”, “fearing the loss of purpose”, “falling sick but this time it won’t end well”, or “I’ll have to work a lot, without being sure it’s useful, to understand the fragments, the scales of my life” : terrible!

I sat on my bed, in need of a big coffee, happy to realize it was only a nightmare, watching a grey quiet queasy luminous sky, thinking about this little irony of life we all know :

When you work, it’s sunny, when you’re off, it rains.

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We all have this feeling of the irony of life, with all the shades. Murphy’s Laws (“Anything that can go wrong will go wrong”) are often hilarious to read. If France we sometime call it “LEM”, La Loi de l’Emmerdement Maximum, or “The Law of the Maximum Merdation”, which will make sense to everyone, oui?

But eventually it begins to hit harder. It deals with failure, love break-ups, losing job, or even death. I’ll tell you this true story.

Before WWII, a young upper class lady fell in love in France with a simple employee. Her family prevented her to marry the young man and arranged a more “proper” marriage. She had to accept it, I suppose. But decades later, in the 80s, her husband died, and then the unwealthy guy’s wife too. They were old, but happy : they fell back in love, lived this love, got married… and he died very soon.

I remembered this story because every member of her family kept telling her “Stop crying, you had a great life!”. So she stopped crying. And a week later was in hospital in emergency : her legs had tripled volume. Diagnostic : “Water Retention”.

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For the next part of this article I have to say that I’m don’t believe in any “God”. Nevertheless, faith inspired humans some great Art, right?

 

Johann Sebastian Bach wrote a Cantata “for the Feast of Visitation of Mary” (BWV 147) which is well known for the end : “Jesus bleibet meine Freude“.

This last part is very well known by the title “Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring”  – I just added the YouTube link under this paragraph – but it’s been translated to “sound better” : “Jesus bleibet meine Freude” is more like :Jesus shall remain my gladness“.

(I found also : Jesus remains my joy, Jesus stays my source of gladness, Jesus shall remain my joy).

Here’s the paragraph :

Jesus remains my joy,
the comfort and life’s blood of my heart,
Jesus defends me against all sorrows,
he is my life’s strength,

Why?

Bach, the year he composed the music, suffered the loss of two of his children. Johann August Abraham died the day after he was born, and a bit later Regina Johanne, who was 4 years old, died too.

I suppose that in the XVIIIth Century even more than now, you really can write things like “Jesus remains my joy”. The use of “remains” tells something about “I have to stay strong, I decide to be”.

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The French translation is wrong too. We say here : “Jésus, que ma joie demeure”, which means something a bit different : “Jesus, may my joy remains”.

  • The English and German are a statement : “Jesus remains my joy”
  • The French is a prayer, a supplication : “Jesus, may my joy remains”

 

You’ll notice that it is not either “Jesus, give me joy”, or even “help me”, but more “Allow my joy to keep existing”… 

 

This difference between a statement and a plea in the form of “Please allow” is fascinating enough to keep some of us thinking for a day. It’s different, but also so similar. Both tell us about the will to stay strong…

I’d summerize this all with this question :

What do we do against ordeal?

 

This is the longest article I ever wrote! Thanks for reading my Frenchy English!

Jean-Pascal

PS : You can maybe, also, read this : Amor Fati (and Sequere Deum).

 

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Reason & Pleasure : An Interesting Braid

Why, and how does music bring us pleasure?

I understood one day that human beings love music for very different reasons.  Melodies, the energy of dance, or the voice of a singer, nostalgia of an era or personal moment, to feel part of a community, for solos or the virtuosity of an instrumentalist, for a “sound”, or a production work.  Some people stay stuck their entire life on the Beatles, or Yes, or a single singer – Callas and everything around her. Why not?

Today I wonder, and I turn down the dial, or one of the cursors on musical pleasure.

1 – At the beginning of this dial you’ll find pure simple pleasure. You listen to Brahms‘ German Requiem and you feel bliss: “That is beautiful” bravo, and good for you.

2 – In the middle of the dial, reason and culture begin to become important.  You know where Brahms is in the historical timeline of classical music (say, between Mozart and Ravel), and you know a little of what’s happening in the music (here’s a soprano, there, woodwinds are playing a fascinating part with the horns…).

3 – At the end side of the dial, there is the connoisseur listener.  He is knowledgeable in the other works of Brahms, reads the sheet music, and understands what forces are in play (articulations of the different movements of the Requiem, what is said in the texts, how the instruments work together, etc…).

One could say this dial moves “from pleasure to reason,” but it’s not that simple. Why? Because the specialist, who is plunged into analysis and reason, is feeling pleasure as much as the amateurs.

More: I think that his pleasure is multiplied tenfold.

Tool: What is this strange way to mix reason and pleasure? Can we apply this to other territories (seduction, poetry, warfare ?), and how would this look?

What is this pleasure? Who knows the mechanisms of its birth?

How do we weave the braid made from different forces?

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