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The Lutheran Liturgy Readings Bach Cantata Essay

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Updated: May 7th, 2019

Bach cantata is a famous term named after a great German composer, Johann Sebastian Bach. Approximately, only 200 cantatas of his greatest works can be found nowadays while the others are lost. A part of his duties included performing a church cantata on holidays and every Sunday.

These compositions were based on the Lutheran Liturgy readings. Bach loved his work, and every week, he composed new pieces of work during his first stay in Leizpig. As part of the church service, he performed in the orchestra. The number of cantata cycles that have survived amounts to three.

This is a great loss for people who honestly love his works. For wedding ceremonies, Bach composed sacred cantatas while for other occasions, such as anniversaries, he performed secular ones. Despite the popularization of the name cantata, Bach rarely used it when composing or performing his works (Dürr 2006).

Structure of a Bach Cantata

A traditional Bach Cantata has the following themes.

  • Coro
  • Aria
  • Recitativo
  • Chorale

At the very beginning, there is a polyphonic chorus. The contrasting part of musical fragment is also presented by the orchestra first. Most arias use the A da capo which is the most common form that is adopted. After the arias, the part before the middle section is usually repeated.

The homophone setting usually has a melody that is performed in the chorus finale. Bach never followed strictly any scheme. However, the way he expressed his words is the same way he composed. Cantatas, such as the BWV 76, is an example of a cantata that has a chorus with an opening that is purely instrumental.

Due to the calmness and almost silence of the first, a solo movement commences in the BWV 120. Bach was known to use soloists in the final chorale especially when he was in Weimar. The compositions sounded like chamber music. The closing chorale is set in four parts. Obligatory instruments were used in the chorale final as accompaniments (Arnold 2003).

Singers and instrumentation

Some choirs were divided in four parts and utilized voices, such as bass and alto. Thus, especially for a traditional cantata composed by Bach, they were able to find singers for all the parts without any limitations. The composer preferred to use the various voices to dramatize some of the situations.

For instance, he would use the sopranos to show innocence while the altos were used to show the feelings that should have been motherly touching. The instruments that are dominant in the orchestra are the string instruments. Baroque music uses the rule of a bass that is continuous. Whenever it is absent, then it has a reason behind it; such as the description of fragility (Kennedy 2006).

Wind instruments are used to define single movements or characters specified in the cantata. Wind movements usually featured the bassoon. Festive occasions utilized many richer instruments. When Bach utilized some instruments, such as trumpet or some other, he usually used them to display a meaning that was symbolic and the audience was supposed to feel and understand its real meaning. In his earlier compositions, Bach preferred to use instruments that were old fashioned.


A parody is a process that is used to revise and improve an earlier composition. Bach sometimes used earlier compositions through a process of parody. He preferred to use parodies to perform some pieces for Christmas, Easter, and other holidays. Examples of cantata movements include parodies of Bach’s short masses.


These are basically just cantatas that are expanded. Bach preferred to perform them in church during the service. An evangelist is used to tell a story from the Bible, but cantatas are also used to narrate the wordings from the Bible. The Christmas oratorio performed during Christmas usually has three parts all of which are showcased for six days during the Christmas season. Each of the six parts is usually composed like cantata. This means that it includes the opening chorus and a chorale for the closing.

Analyses of BWV 200 Bekennen will ich seinen Namen

This is, perhaps, one of Bach’s compositions that are among the last ones that he managed to write. His lovers are greatly disappointed because most of the other parts of the piece have been lost. This aria has a tune that is mellow and common to his other works. The principle of ritornello forms the basis of this aria.

There is an A section ending at the cadence. Some musical echoes can be heard instead of the reprise that was proper. However, recent reports show that Bach only adopted this aria. It is worth noting that this piece was originally composed by Stolzel. The musical quality of the works must have been what attracted Bach to adopt it in the first place.

Bwv 1045

The four voices in this piece are registered by the autograph score which qualifies it to be listed as a cantata despite it being an incomplete movement. Many people believe that this aria began as a violin that was lost in a concerto. However, many people have expressed doubt as to whether this could be the case. The solo violin twice oddly stopped is an indicator for a movement that is radical mainly due to the key board solo movement (Timms 2001).

BWV 50 Nun ist das Heil und die Kraft

The features in this piece are different from all the other choruses. There is a counterpoint that is busy which is meant to suggest armies that are massing and ready for the battle to begin. In addition, eyes of the audience symbolically raise heavenly due to the low and high registers which help to construct the main theme. In c130, these traits are less obvious. The permutation fugue has simple principles. The four themes do not follow any particular order.

The second exposition is usually the only indicator that is signaled by bar 68 at the middle. The same piece is repeated with a few adjustments such as beginning of the piece from the lowest entries to the highest ones. Bach composed this piece as a chorus that was divided into four parts. This explains the movement and the fact that it was composed for St. Michael’s day. It was later arranged for another purpose in a double chorus. Most of the parts of the piece, however, were lost (Chafe 2003).


Johann Bach still remains as one of the best composers that have ever lived. Even those few pieces of music that managed to survive to our days are used for musical reviews in institutions of higher learning. He composed cantatas for weddings and other special occasions, such as Easter.

Works Cited

Arnold, Frederick T. The art of accompaniment from a thorough-bass: as practiced in the XVII and XVIII Centuries. New York: Courier Dover Publications. 2003. Print

Chafe, Eric. Analyzing Bach Cantatas. New York: Oxford University Press. 2003. Print.

Dürr, Alfred. The Cantatas of J. S. Bach: With Their Librettos in German-English Parallel text. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 2006. Print

Kennedy, Michael. Cantata: The Oxford Dictionary of Music. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006. Print

Timms, Colin. Cantata 2001, The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians. London: Macmillan Publishers. 2001. Print.

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