Record of the day: Johann Sebastian Bach, "Motets"

Record of the day: Johann Sebastian Bach, “Motets”

Johann Sebastian Bach
“Motets” (EMI CDC 7492042)

Within the vast catalogue of works composed by Bach, the “Motets” are some of the most sublime creations, cloaked in an aura of absolute, transcendent perfection. The incredible beauty that comes from listening to these masterpieces cannot be translated into words, and represents one of the greatest experiences that one can have in one’s life.
With each listening, one is renewed in one’s amazement at how Bach manages to achieve this through complex contrapuntal formulas and
rigorous formal proportions that take into account the Fibonacci series and the Golden Section such a moving depth of expression, entirely worthy of Michelangelo’s frescoes in the Sistine Chapel and Dante’s Paradise.

The Motet is one of the oldest polyphonic forms, developed in the Middle Ages by composers of the School of Notre Dame; it took its name from the French term mot, meaning “word”, given that it is characterized by a very close interpenetration between text and music.
In this type of composition one of the initial objectives of the writing was precisely to make the listeners understand
the meaning of the words, so as to convey the religious message as clearly as possible.
Later, with the musicians of the Flemish and Venetian Schools, the ornamentation of the writing becomes much greater and this “didactic” role (so to speak) of music is more overshadowed.

The Venetian 8-voice model which was called the «Cori Spezzati» is the one Bach refers to in writing his
Motets (almost all composed during the period in which he was Kantor at the church of St. Thomas in Leipzig); once again he
he creates a wonderful example of synthesis between different traditions, managing to combine the severity of writing of ancient practice with the resources of the counterpoint of his time, also using the greater freedom of distribution of the voices typical of the Venetian style.

Performed by the Hilliard Ensemble and the London Baroque Ensemble (plus the splendid children’s voices of the Knabenchor)
(of Hannover) Bach’s “Motets” are not frequently performed in concert in Italy, perhaps because of their great difficulty to perform; one more reason to listen to this beautiful recording.

Carlo Boccadoro, composer and conductor, was born in Macerata in 1963. He lives and works in Milan. He collaborates with soloists and orchestras in different parts of the world. He is the author of numerous books on musical subjects.

This text is taken from “Lunario della musica: Un disco per ogni giorno dell’anno” published by Einaudi, courtesy of the author and the publisher.