Wednesday Bach Blogging: Leo Kottke - Jesu, Joy Of Man's Desiring

    Leo Kottke's 1969 recording of Johann Sebastian Bach's Jesu, Joy Of Man's Desiring, from his album 6- and 12-String Guitar.  At the time, this was a revolutionary, possibly even subversive rendition of this Bach piece; unlike all earlier versions, which were straight transcriptions, Kottke played a re-imagined adaptation.  It had already been accepted that jazz musicians could perform standard popular songs in whatever stylistic manner that suited them; in this case, though, this was Bach, not a pop tune, and it wasn't done as jazz or swing, but in Leo Kottke's own unique guitar style.

Jesu, Joy Of Man's Desiring is the commonly used title for the last, Chorale, movement of J.S. Bach's cantata Herz und Mund und Tat und Leben, (Heart and Mouth and Deed and Life); BWV 147.

Next, here's another interesting version of this piece, as performed by Heaven And Earth - Stuart Smith on electric guitar; Ricky Phillips, bass; Ray Rodriguez, keys; and Richie Onori, drums:

In some ways, this rock quartet performance is more faithful to Bach's original composition than is Kottke's.  Except maybe for the drums.  And the Stratocaster and Marshall amplifier stack.  And the electric bass and synthesizer, and it's really really fast.  And the screaming lead vocals.  Oh wait - there are no vocals.  Anyway, except for all the differences, it's the same.  But different.

Unlike most composers of orchestral music, Bach had been for some years an organist, and playing the incredibly loud and intense church pipe organs would have given him an appreciation for the loud and intense and rhythmic, and it is entirely probable that he would approve of this performance of his music.

To get a good idea of what the original cantata Herz und Mund und Tat und Leben sounded like, here is a recent concert performance by Concentus Musicus Wien, along with the Arnold Schoenberg Choir.  The Conductor is Nikolaus Harnoncourt; the Chorus Master is Erwin Ortner.  Note that Mr. Harnoncourt truly enjoys what he does for a living - he sings along with the choir while he conducts the musical ensemble!