Singet dem Herrn ein neues Lied, BWV 225, is one of the most ambitious of the motets. Constructed like a three-movement concerto for double chorus, it demands 'instrumental' virtuosity of the singers. The outer movements are settings of familiar psalm texts; the middle movement is an ingenious synthesis of a chorale and freely set contrasting text. The first movement unfolds on an exceptionally grand scale. Countless repetitions of the word 'Singet' [sing!] in one choir are embellished with playful motives by the other in quick succession. The effect is of an endless joyous echo - regardless of the acoustic! Bach then clears the texture, allowing each chorus to stand alone for the second line of text. The enormous fugue central to the movement has an interesting form: It begins with the sopranos of chorus I and works its way down to the basses [SATB]. The basses of chorus II join their colleagues and the fugue works its way back up [BTAS] gathering the singers of chorus I along with it. One more downward sequence follows with decorative melismas on the word 'Reihen' [dance]. After such dazzling counterpoint, the relative simplicity of the second movement is welcome. The beautifully harmonized chorale (‘Nun lob, mein Seel, den Herren’, verse 3) sung by chorus II seems almost childlike. Each phrase of the chorale is interspersed between contrasting texts sung by the first chorus (today, a quartet of soloists). The last movement – in two parts – opens with a robust declamation of the text 'Lobet den Herrn' [Praise the Lord]. The writing for the two choruses is purely antiphonal and much less integrated and complex than that of the first movement. The way is cleared for a brilliant four-voiced fugue on the last two lines of text to conclude the motet. Here again, Bach dispenses with the double chorus altogether and both choirs sing as one.

© Michael Beattie

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