Bach – Motets

To this day, for any choir, Bach's motets represent a special artistic and interpretive challenge. The Bavarian Radio Chorus under its artistic director Howard Arman has now recorded a selection of Bach's most famous motets: Jesu, meine Freude ("Jesus, my joy") BWV 227, Singet dem Herr ein neues Lied ("Sing to the Lord a new song") BWV 225, Der Geist hilft unser Schwachheit auf ("The Spirit gives aid to our weakness") BWV 226, Fürchte dich nicht ("Do not be afraid”) BWV 228, and Komm, Jesu, komm ("Come, Jesus, come") BWV 229.

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Johann Sebastian Bach
Motets

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Singet dem Herrn ein neues Lied (“Sing to the Lord a new song”)
Motet for double choir, BWV 225

Der Geist hilft unser Schwachheit auf (“The Spirit gives aid to our weakness”)
Motet for double choir, BWV 226

Jesu, meine Freude (“Jesus, my joy”)
Motet for five-part choir, BWV 227

Fürchte dich nicht, ich bin bei dir (“Do not be afraid”)
Motet for double choir, BWV 228

Komm, Jesu, komm (“Come, Jesus, come”)
Motet for double choir, BWV 229

 

Max Hanft organ
Günter Holzhausen violone
Bavarian Radio Chorus
Howard Arman conductor

CD, BR-KLASSIK 900523

 

The motets written during Bach’s first years in Leipzig form a group of works in their own right, and stand apart from other sacred music because they were not composed for the regular church liturgy, but for private occasions instead. This is why they were tailored closely to clients’ wishes or to Bach’s own ideas.

Taken together – and in contrast to “modern” cantatas – they are conservative in style, and belong to the tradition of vocal polyphony that reached its peak in the 16th century.  The chorus is backed not by an orchestra but only a simple instrumental accompaniment with basso continuo. To compensate for the missing orchestra, the vocal score is even more complex and finely detailed than usual: the small space is occupied by all kinds of compositional techniques, contrapuntal and concertante, as well as with chorales and double choirs.

With exceptionally reduced means, Bach thus created music that was every bit as significant and expressive as that of his much larger works.

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