Several years ago, I shocked the mother of a bride during our wedding music consultation by suggesting that our flute and harp duo play “Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring” at her daughter’s wedding ceremony. She had requested worshipful songs including hymns and traditional classical music, and being unfamiliar with this traditional wedding favorite, she thought the title seemed just a bit scandalous. Perhaps I should have instead asked if she wanted to hear the final movement from Johann Sebastian Bach’s “Herz und Mund und Tat”, or “Heart and Mouth and Deeds and Life”, written for church services in Lepzig:
Jesus remains my joy, my heart's comfort and essence, Jesus resists all suffering, He is my life's strength, my eye's desire and sun, my soul's love and joy; so will I not leave Jesus out of heart and face.
“Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring” was originally written for a choir, strings, trumpets, and bassoon, and the melody that we are so familiar with today was played by the violins. The English version that we most commonly associate with this melody, and from which today’s title is derived, is quite different from the literal translation:
Jesu, joy of man's desiring, Holy wisdom, love most bright; Drawn by Thee, our souls aspiring Soar to uncreated light.
Word of God, our flesh that fashioned, With the fire of life impassioned, Striving still to truth unknown, Soaring, dying round Thy throne.
Through the way where hope is guiding, Hark, what peaceful music rings; Where the flock, in Thee confiding, Drink of joy from deathless springs.
Theirs is beauty's fairest pleasure; Theirs is wisdom's holiest treasure. Thou dost ever lead Thine own In the love of joys unknown.