These days, the motet is unequivocally considered a genre of sacred music, synonymous with anthem but often used in a slightly different context. Anthems/motets are pieces of choral music used in church services, with texts that complement the themes of the occasion, but which are not essential parts of that occasion. Choral Evensong in a cathedral, for example, almost invariably does include an anthem but even if it doesn’t it’s still Evensong. On the other hand, without the ‘psalms for the day’ it isn’t, though it might still be an impressive devotional event. Such pieces, when they occur in a Eucharist/Mass/Holy Communion context are often referred to as ‘motets’ – optional adornments to the service. So the same piece of music might be an anthem at one day’s Evensong and a motet at the next day’s mass. Let’s avoid asking why!
But this broad definition of the genre is much as it was understood by Bach and Schütz – optional embellishments to a church service. Four of Bach’s six surviving motets were written for funerals when they would undoubtedly have provided some spiritual uplift but they were not essential to the liturgy. Surprisingly little research has been done into the performance context of Schütz’s music – perhaps because multiple wars have destroyed many of the relevant archives – but what we do know suggests that his music was mainly used as an optional elaboration of an event. Nice to have such an option available.
So join us on March 17th for some elaborate spiritual uplift, and remember that tickets are cheaper in advance than on the day!