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Joneline T.

Music Theory 2

“Singet Dem Herrn”

Psalm 149
Praise ye the LORD. Sing unto the LORD a new song, and his
praise in the congregation of saints.
Let Israel rejoice in him that made him: let the children of Zion
be joyful in their King.
Let them praise his name in the dance: let them sing praises
unto him with the timbrel and harp.

This is the text of the German hymn composition by Johann Sebastian Bach.
It’sfascinating how 3 verses of this Psalm can result into this wonderful polyphony.
Bach really made the song characteristic of the text of the verse especially in verse
3 where it says: “Let them praise His name in the dance…”. The tempo of the
song is dance-like, with 6/8 as its meter. It is constantly moving and never losing
its energy.

The dynamics is generally mezzo-forte to fortissimo. There are few soft

spots but not too soft. Very much characteristic of the era from where this is
written: Baroque. The dynamics of the voice is often likened unto the instruments
of that time – harpsichords, violins, violoncello – which has no sustaining capacity.
This is also the reason why the texture of this piece is polyphonic. When there is a
rest in the upper 4 parts, there’s movement on the lower 4 parts and vice-versa.
This ensures a continuous movement especially along the melody line. Since the
timbre of this piece is mostly voice, continuity and smooth transitions are really
important. It makes the texture thicker and chunky. The main challenge of both
the singers and the accompanists is the contrapuntal complexity – bringing out the
main line and keeping the rest of the texture present but clear. But they overcame
that challenge and were able to execute the song smoothly.

The timbre is mostly voice composed of 8 parts; 2 for every voice range. But
there are also other kinds of timbre which can be heard but very faint – one seems
to be a string ensemble and an organ. They are there, I think, primarily, just to
support the choir. It seems that Bach wanted the choir to be more distinguished
rather than the instruments. The singers were also able to sing lightly and
incisively at the same time, which is also reminiscent of the Baroque era.

The melody is quite complicated because of the rhythm structure which is

generally composed of eighths and sixteenths. The highest note is G2 and the
lowest is f. There is also a lot of melisma – actually, almost all of it ismelismatic in
nature. The challenging rhythmic structure also requires textual clarity on the part
of the singers and dead-on precision when it comes to the cues and attacks.

I also noticed that there are a lot of accented notes, especially in the bass.
There are also accents here and there which helps emphasize the word and at the
same time, sounds like a percussion when they come all together.

On the last part of the piece, that’s when Bach let himself go. It almost went
“crazy” because of the alternate uttering of the word “Singet”, almost every other
beat. The dynamic levels went up and everyone has their own melody that when
you look at it as a big piece, you can almost see the intertwining of parts
altogether – like thin ropes spun together to create a bigger, stronger and more
complex rope. If you listen carefully, each of the melody can really stand alone.
And then slowly the melody melds them all together for the final cadence in the
end. Notice how Bach went from 8-parts of independent melody to a clear unifying
chord at the last cadence. Amidst that entire ruckus, the chords eventually lead
to a clean perfect authentic cadence.

Bach, through his complicated rhythms, challenging melody and upbeat

tempo, was able to keep the energy of the song from the moment it started until it
finished. He was able to bring out and draw a concrete picture of how should we
praise God and be joyful in His presence through music.