Singet dem Herrn ein neues Lied (Sing unto the Lord a
new song), BWV 225 is a motet by Johann Sebastian Bach.
It was first performed in Leipzig around (probably)
1727. The text of the three-movement motet is in
German: after Psalm 149:13 for its first movement, the
third stanza of "Nun lob, mein Seel, den Herren" (a
1530 hymn after Psalm 103 by Johann Gramann) for the
second movement, and after Psalm 150:2 and 6 for its
This eight-voice motet may have been composed to
provide choral exercises for his students. The motet's
biblical text would have been suited to that purpose.
The final four-part fugue is titled "Alles was Odem
hat" ("All that have voice, praise the Lord!").
Six of Bach's motets (BWV 225-230) survive, all from
his time in Leipzig. These are long works, far longer
than the Renaissance ancestor of this genre. Four,
including Singet dem Herrn, were written for double
chorus without instrumental accompaniment, although in
Bach's day he sometimes doubled the voices with
instruments for additional support. (Instrumental parts
in Bach's hand do survive, but Bach himself indicated
that he preferred to use them only as a "crutch.")
Singet dem Herrn was likely written in 1727 for the
Leipzig city and university festival celebrating the
birthday of King August, who visited the town after
having survived a grave illness. There is, however, a
good deal of dispute over the original intention for
the work,a well as for the actual date of origin.
Handwriting analysis (by Alfred Dürr) reveals that the
work clearly comes from 1726 or 1727. The watermark on
the paper, however, is consistent with those seen on
Bach's Cöthen instrumental music, which makes scholars
wonder whether Bach actually wrote the work earlier, or
whether the paper was simply left over from an earlier
Scholar Steven Daw places the work in late 1727. Daw
believes that Bach wrote Singet dem Herrn for a
memorial service for the Queen of Poland. Awfully
cheerful piece for such an occasion? Yes, but consider
the circumstances of her life: she spent the last
thirty years of her life in exile from the Polish court
after she, unlike her husband, refused to renounce
Lutheranism for Roman Catholicism. She was seen by many
German Protestants - Bach included - as a Lutheran
martyr. Bach's use of a chorale tune (the actual source
is unknown) may be the hint here, as well as his
insistent repetition of the words "Wohl dem, der sich
nur steif und fest auf dich und deine Huld verlässt"
(happy the man who firmly and steadfastly puts his
trust in You and in Your grace). Is this a message for
the congregation to follow the queen's lead? Of course,
we might still see this as Bach's personal message.
Whether the motet was written in celebration of the
King's recover, the Queen's steadfast belief in the
Lord, or some other even unknown to modern audiences,
Bach's own unflappable faith is evident in that text,
and throughout the entire motet.
The text for Singet dem Herrn is derived from Psalm
149, Psalm 150, and Johann Gramann's hymn "Nun lob,
mein Seel, den Herren"Robert Marshall writes that it is
""certain" that this motet was one heard by Wolfgang
Amadeus Mozart when he visited Leipzig's Thomasschule
in 1789. Johann Friedrich Rochlitz, who graduated from
the Thomasschule and remained in Leipzig to study
theology in 1789, reported ten years later that Johann
Friedrich Doles (a student of Bach, who through 1789
was cantor of the Thomasschule and director of the
Thomanerchor) "surprised Mozart with a performance of
the double-choir motet Singet dem Herrn ein neues Lied
by Sebastian Bach.... he was told that the school
possessed a complete collection of his motets and
preserved them as a sort of sacred relic. 'That's the
spirit! That's fine!' [Mozart] cried. 'Let's see them!'
There was, however, no score... so he had the parts
given to him, and ... sat himself down with the parts
all around him.." Rochlitz also reports that Mozart
requested a copy, and "valued it very highly...".
The motet in 3 movements is scored for two four-part
choirs (Soprano, Alto, Tenor & Bass)
es_Lied,_BWV_225) and Bach.org
I created this arrangement of the opening Chorus:
"Singet dem Herrn ein neues Lied!" (Sing to the Lord a
new song!) for Flute, Oboe & Strings (4 Violins, 2
Violas & 2 Cellos).