J. S. Bach's motet for SSATB choir, "Jesu, Priceless Treasure," is made up of eleven movements. Four of these, Nos. I, III, VII, and XI, are straight harmonizations of the Johann Crueger hymn "Jesu Meine Freude." The others, except for V and IX, are settings of verses from the eighth chapter of Paul's epistle to the Romans. In Romans 8, Paul deals with the believer's relationship to the Spirit and to the sinful nature.
Bach treats Romans 8:2 in movement IV, "Thus then the law of the Spirit, in Christ abiding, now has made me free from the law of sin and death." The essential truth of this verse is mouthed by the treble voices (SSA) in flowing waves, as of a wheat field gently rippled by the wind. The short section, taking less than a minute to sing, ends with all three parts arriving at the end of the verse "...free from the law of sin and death."
As if to make sure this point was heard, Bach begins movement V with an empahtic sounding of the words "Death, I do not fear thee!" by all five parts of his SSATB choir. Movement V is loosely based on a stanza of the Crueger hymn, but very little of the hymn tune is recognizable. Rather, this movement is usually classified as a chorale fantasy, a complete outpouring of creative energy expounding on the lyric, rendered in this English-language edition as follows:
Death, death I do not fear thee, though thou standest near me,
Grave, grave I calmly spurn thee, though to dust thou turn me,
Strong in hope and faith!
Rising up and singing I shall heav'nward winging,
Soar, and vanquish death, and without death shall forever rest.
He that reigns will rend my chains.
Earth may vanish, heaven may sever,
God is God forever.
There are very few, if any, pieces of music that more emphatically and clearly state the sure hope of resurrection that is the source of the victorious Christian life. Therefore, these two movements are the spiritual and musical heart and soul of this motet, and quite possibly of Bach's entire body of work.
These two movements are presented with English lyrics only. The entire work is available elsewhere on the internet with the original German lyrics.
MP3 sound sample: Minnehaha Academy Singers, 1977
THUS THEN THE LAW and DEATH I DO NOT FEAR THEE from BWV 227 by J. S. Bach, an SSA setting of Romans 8:2 and an SSATB chorale fantasy, both a cappella, comes in a PDF file of 1296K that contains Eight pages of complete score and license page, nine pages in all. If both movements are performed sequentially (recommended), performance time should be around 3:20.
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Last update: 4 March 2021