Lobet den Herrn, alle Heiden

Johann Sebastian Bach

Lobet den Herrn, alle Heiden


About this work

The Lutheran liturgy itself contained few opportunities for motets to be sung; Sunday morning services and Vespers featured conventional Latin texts. But funerals and other occasional services warranted more elaborate music. Johann Sebastian Bach's six German motets have traditionally been understood as intended for such use. Regulations from 1723 at the Thomasschule in Leipzig dictated that the choirboys and their Master assemble outside the home of the deceased fifteen minutes prior to the start of the Memorial services, and immediately commence singing. The forces required for such events often expanded the composers' available resources -- and additional singers and instrumentalists (depending on the fees provided by the deceased's family) were sometimes needed; Bach's motets often reflect these added capabilities. This motet is exceptional in using only four vocal lines and a continuo part added later. (This somewhat different compositional ethos from the other motets, and the fact that the earliest source is a printed copy from 1821, have led some scholars to doubt its authenticity.) The style of writing is almost unrelentingly fugal, with three main sections -- a double fugue (with two separate expositions and a mingling of the two subjects), a middle section of homophony followed by more fugal writing, and a concluding tripla fugue for the final "Alleluia." The scintillating affect of the trumpet-like opening subject and the final dance, as well as the jubilant nature of the text (from Psalm 117) suggest the possibility that the piece may have been adapted from a chorus, in motet style, from a lost cantata.