The resounding clarity of antiquity
The internet shows a wide amazing array of performance styles for the ancient “Blessed Jesus, At Your Word”. We say it’s ancient especially if the original title of the song is “Blessed Jesus At Thy Word”, and antiquity attached to this music gives it great value. It is meant for church gatherings, particularly one sung pre-sermon. In theme, it is a prayer for clarity, for the congregation’s illumination. German writer Tobias Clausnitzer penned the German original “Liebster Jesu, wir sind hier” and it was published in the Berliner Gesangbuch (1676) in Nuremberg. The Berliner Gesangbuch is simply the hymnal of Germany, Austria, and Luxembourg. Calausnitzer was a chaplain for the Swedish Army who also gave sermons at prestigious events: One, during the ascension to the throne of Queen Christina (1645), and at the end of the Thirty Years War, during the Celebration of the Peace of Westphalia (1648).
The English translation was penned by someone dubbed as “The most gifted translator of any foreign sacred lyrics into English in the 19th century”, Catherine Winkworth. She put hard work into translating “Blessed Jesus, At Thy Word”, as can be gleaned from her impassioned lyrics. Winkworth lit up the song in every aspect. She was a feminist and took active educational work at the Clifton Association for the Higher Education of Women. She applied tender refinement in translating “Liebster Jesu, wir sind hier” into English verse and became a standard in the field of foreign text translation.
The melody ”Liebster Jesu” was composed by German composer Johann Rudolf Ahle. Ahle took up Theology at Erfurt University where his ability as an organist was quite known. In 1654, Ahle was one of the organists in Muhlhausen’s St. Blasius Church. The other organist was the young Johann Sebastian Bach. Ahle’s huge catalog consisted of popular church music including chorals (he prescribed, particularly for up to four voices with quick instrumental interludes called ritornellos which could be performed with or without the baseline and harmonies or basso continuo).