Romans 8:1 is one of the hinge pins of the victorious Christian faith. As the lyric of this piece renders it, "So there is now no condemnation unto them which are in Jesus Christ-- them who walk not by the flesh corruptly, but as the Spirit leads." The English is a bit cumbersome to modern ears, but this is the traditional transliteration of the original German Bach set to this music. The use of the original "King James" English adds to the feeling of seriousness conveyed by this work. The English text only is included (this piece is available elsewhere on the internet in its original German).
Throughout "Jesu, Priceless Treasure," Bach sets off the verses of the Johann Crueger hymn with contrapuntal sections set to the words of various verses written by St. Paul in what we now know as Chapter 8 of Romans.
In this movement Bach takes the opening two phrases of Romans 8 and frames them in a chorale-like opening that makes effective use of a few seconds of silence from time to time. The choir then weaves a tapestry around that theme and arrives at a resting point mid way. The opening theme is repeated in a different key, and then the weaving begins again, this time completing the thought of the verse.
Ultimately, the music complements the message of confidence, and the strong five-part writing fully develops the thought that in Christ, we are in fact heirs of an incorruptible promise and can live confidently in it.
Bach was always pretty free about crossing parts, but this particular movement is full of rising and falling lines that find many parts inverted. Some may wonder why he does this. Partly it is to maintain the singability of the parts, sometimes it is to give a part that has hung in the high range too long a bit of a break, but mostly it is because Bach had some firm ideas about part motion. One rule is that he never permits all of the parts to move in the same direction within a phrase, and he avoids having even four out of five moving in the same direction if he can help it. The result is the smooth sonority that Bach is noted for.
Also, while baroque music per se is not often thought of as being particularly rhythmic, Bach has a lot of fun with parts moving on the "back beat" in this piece. He also goes to the very edge of what a baroque ear would consider to be even a little bit conventional in terms of harmony, producing a tonal vocublary that would be in use for most of the classical period and a big chunk of the romantic period.
Willing and adventurous choirs will thoroughly enjoy singing this wonderful piece, and we're glad to be able to bring it to you.
MP3 sound sample: Minnehaha Academy Singers, 1977
SO THERE IS NOW (BWV 227 No. II) by J. S. Bach, for SSATB choir, a cappella, comes in a PDF file of 1112K that contains eleven pages of complete score and license page, twelve pages in all. Performance time should be a little over three minutes.