Seems there isn’t much to say about Lobet den Herrn, alle Heiden, or BWV 230, historically. It is “Bach’s” only four part motet, and Bach is in quotes here because its authenticity is in question. Many scholars seem to think it is not by Bach, but perhaps by one of his sons or a student. According to Bach scholar Martin Geck in his book, Johann Sebastian Bach: Life and Work, it was likely written by Wilhelm Friedemann Bach or Johann Gottlieb Goldberg (as in "The Goldberg Variations"). Geck’s main argument is that the work sounds too modern, verging on the gallant style. Others claim it sounds too instrumental compared to the rest of Bach’s vocal works, and indeed it is one of the motets which explicitly calls for instruments that do more than just double the choir. Lobet den Herrn, alle Heiden was only first published in 1821 by Breitkopf und Härtel, and while the publishers claimed to have had access to the autograph score that autograph is long gone. Furthermore, just because it was in Bach’s hand doesn’t mean it was by Bach as he was known to make copies of works he particularly liked or needed to use. Nonetheless, it has been thought to be by Bach for long enough now that it has found its place among the other Bach motets and gets quite a lot of performances. For more historical information you can read this article from the Bach Choir of Bethlehem.
The text of this motet comes from Psalm 117, the only motet “by Bach” that uses only biblical texts, and is rather too celebratory to have been written for a funeral as most of Bach’s other motets were. We don’t actually know what occasion Lobet den Herrn was written for, but here’s the text in both German and English.
I have more to say on my shadow puppet concept for this motet. Lobet den Herrn, alle Heiden depicts “the pathway of light.” For more information on my concept for the puppet motets as a whole you can read my blog post here. The pathway of light does the most, I feel, to portray how united all of earth’s creatures are, and in my mind this is worthy of praise to our creator via the text of this motet.
The show starts with a single circle of light, then one by one rays of light are revealed around that circle. Stars with zodiac symbols in the center appear in those rays of light and remain rather static most of the time, as fixed stars. I used zodiac symbols as shorthand for the constellations they represent rather than to symbolize actual astrology. Personally, I am an astrological agnostic, but I wanted to show how we are all made from “star stuff,” and thus all connected to one another and to the rest of the universe. You will see a mixture that includes 8 six pointed stars and 4 eight pointed stars. Originally I made 12 pentagrams, but when we began rehearsing around Halloween it looked a little too satanic to perform in a church (one of my puppeteers remarked, "That was fun. We went to rehearsal and summoned demons!) However, there is a symbolism to the five pointed star that is relevant here. You can read more about it and its importance as a symbol to Pythagoreans here.
The ancient Greeks, saw each point of the five pointed star as representing an element: air, water, fire, earth, and spirit (or some say aether or ideas). Together these elements create humans, so the center of the star, or pentagram, represents humanity. This is a perfect symbol for my motet project as a whole since humanity is placed in the center with Jesu meine Freude and the rest of the motets each represent an element. However, now that I want to do seven motets the symmetry changes and a six pointed star would be more appropriate. My arrangement of elements would be: light, water, wood, earth, stone, and air which together create humans. So in my symbolic world the hexagram at the center of a six pointed star would represent humanity.
I'm also including 4 eight pointed stars that are meant to represent compasses since we are on a journey here and need something to keep us on the path.
Once the stars move on, black and white flowers appear and dance about the rays of light rather chaotically, getting bigger and smaller. Flowers and plants are light eaters, and we eat plants, so in a way we are also vicarious light eaters. All of life is nourished by light in myriad ways. The dance of the flowers ends with the slow section where a single seedpod appears in the central circle, visited by a lone bee. Petals of red and orange appear around the seedpod as more bees come out. The seedpod gives way to a big purple iris. Leaves appear over the petals, the petals disappear, and colorful butterflies come out. When the Alleluia starts the rays of light disappear and we see a labyrinth of intertwining vines and leaves. The same black and white flowers we saw earlier come back bigger and in color, dancing about for a second before all becoming one big bouquet with the iris at the center.
Hi, Juliana Brandon here. This is where I let you peek behind the scenes here at Paper Puppet Opera. See works in progress, rehearsal snippets, and learn more about the history behind each production.