Johann Sebastian Bach’s motets are so numerous that they can be combined in a single concert that they occupy a special place in the choral repertoire. Composed during the first years in Leipzig by the composer (1723-1731), these pieces have all the more weight in his eyes as they belong to a genre that his family has been practicing for generations. As a chapel master at St Thomas’s Church, Bach was in charge of composing for funerals and memorial services. Now, in the Lutheran liturgy, it is the kind of motet that is used for this type of service.
For Bach motets more than anywhere else, dexterity and virtuosity comparable to those of musicians are required, as the vocal line can be instrumental. Bach skilfully combines tradition and innovation. He applies on the one hand the rules that Josquin Des Prés fixed in the sixteenth century so that his polyphonic language consists of imitative writing and passages in homophony where the voices are led to sing the same text simultaneously. He also embellished his writing with two Italian practices: the use of the double choir and the insertion of madrigalisms aimed at musically translating certain words of the text.
When he came to Leipzig in 1789, Mozart would not fail to be won over by the sumptuousness of these pieces, which he was so quick to study in detail that he thought they were nourishing. Listening to these motets, is it still possible to doubt the existence of paradise on earth?
Valentin Tournet, conductor
Sunday June 21st 2020, 16h
Chapelle Royale de Versailles