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Issue 54
This article was last updated on
19 February, 2001

More Stuff:

To Bach Is To Be Human
A Tribute to the Master


  • Brandenburg Concerti
  • The Orchestral Suites
  • The Harpsichord Concerti
  • Solo Harpsichord Concerti (Levin/Hänssler)
  • Violin & Oboe Concerti
  • Oboe Concerti

  • Cello Suites (Wispelwey)
  • Cello Suites (Yo-Yo Ma)
  • Partitas & Sonatas for Solo Violin (Mela)
  • Partitas & Sonatas for Solo Violin (Podger)
  • Violin Sonatas (Complete) Podger/Pinnock (Channel).

  • Bach Transcribed for Piano (Lauriala)
  • Harpsichord Music by the Young Bach (Hill)
  • Anna Magdelena Notebook 1725. Behringer (Hänssler)
  • Klavierbüchlein for Wilhelm Friedemann Bach. Payne (Hänssler).
  • The Six Partitas (Leonhardt)
  • The Goldberg Variations
  • The Six Partitas (Leonhardt)
  • The Art of Fugue (ALSQ)

  • The Sacred Masterworks (Decca)
  • Sacred Music in Latin (Hänssler)
  • The Motets
  • The Magnificat
  • Mass in B minor
  • St. Matthew Passion
  • St. Matthew Passion (Gardiner/DG)

    For even more Bach reviews, check out the Inkvault!

  • The Six Motets

    BWVs 225-230
    An Inktroduction by Ng Yeuk Fan

      I REMEMBER singing parts of Jesu meine freude when I was in the Singapore Youth Choir. "Ihr aber seid nichts fleishlich" was one of our competition pieces. Ever since then, I have been in love with the intricate scoring of this music and these Motets have become one of my all-time favorites.

    The Bach Motets

    BWV 225 Singet dem Herrn ein neues Lied (1726-7)

    BWV 226 Der Geist hilft unser Schwachheit auf (1729)

    BWV 227 Jesu, meine Freude (?)

    BWV 228 Fürchte dich nicht (?)

    BWV 229 Komm, Jesu, komm! (1730?)

    BWV 230 Lobet den Herrn alle Heiden (?)

    Unverified Motets:
    BWV 118 O Jesu Christ, mein Lebens Licht (1736-7)

    BWV 231 Sei Lob und Preis mit Ehren

    The surviving motets are six in number. There are various accounts by famous scholars with regards to their authenticity and style.

    John Eliot Gardiner includes BWV 231 "Sei Lob und Preis mit Ehren" and the unclassified "Der Gerechte kommt um" as completed motets. However, BWV 231 has now been identified as part of an incomplete cantata or motet by Telemann.

    Still more are cantatas he believes to be wrongly classified as such. All these have also been included in his set of motets and motet-like movements. Their inclusion in Gardiner's set serves scholastic interest and may be welcomed by those intent on examining these works to greater detail. In any other case, they make wonderful listening for the discerning ear. Most of the other available recordings consider BWVs 225-230 as the only six surviving Motets by J.S. Bach.

    THE MOTET is the oldest compositional genre in European polyphonic art music. Its history can be followed without interruption from its beginning in the 12th century up to our own day, and it was always regarded as representative of the highest musical artistry. During the 18th century, the singing of the motet constituted a fixed element of services in the two principle churches of Leipzig: St. Nicholas and St. Thomas, the working spheres of J.S. Bach from 1723 up till his death in 1750.

    Right: The interior of the St. Thomas.

    The motet was always heard after the introductory organ prelude, while the cantata (the principle music) was performed between the gospel reading and the sermon. In any case, it is customary that the job of performing them fell to the Kantorei (Church Choir), which was made up exclusively of boys' and men's voices. Instruments, if used, are often performed colla parte (doubling) with the vocal parts.

    Scholars are divided as to the purpose of the six Motets. Though most of them were thought to be funeral music, they cover a lot of ground in terms of creativity, originality, choral and vocal techniques. These motets are truly masterpieces by any standard. The amount of attention they receive however, judging from the number of people who know them, is tantamount to shame.

    In their entirety, great complexity and immense demands on vocal virtuosity, the Motets have been rendered rare in most choir repertoires. Nevertheless, no lesser figure than Philippe Herreweghe has written that they are "consummate" in conception and "fearsomely difficult to perform".

    The Bach Motets: A Survey of Recordings



    BENJAMIN CHEE's earliest Brandenburg Concertos in the DG Walkman Classics series was eaten up by the cassette player. Today, he has six versions on CD, so that it won't happen again.

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    192: 30.5.1998 © Ng Yeuk Fan

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