Ryan Turner, Artistic Director. John Harbison, Principal Guest Conductor. Musician's Spotlight. About Community Connections. Current Fellows. Past Fellows. Emmanuel Music in the News. Press Releases. Mailing List Contact Us. The term 'cantata', invented in Italy in the 17th century, refers to a piece of music written for voice or voices and instruments. It applies broadly to works for solo voice, multiple soloists, vocal ensemble, and with instrumental accompaniment of keyboard or instrumental ensemble.
It can be a single movement work or consist of multiple movements, and the text can be either sacred or secular. It tended to replace the older terms and forms of the motet and the madrigal, more popular in the Renaissance, and in general reflected a preference for the solo voice. By Bach's time , cantatas were generally works that contained several movements or distinct sections with tempo and key changes. If a work did not feature a solo voice at any point, it was usually called a motet instead of a cantata. The composers in Germany were quite familiar with the Italian cantata, and copied its structure.
Bach's immediate predecessors, including Buxtehude and earlier generations of the Bach family, were active creators of cantatas — generally sacred works based on Biblical texts, or sometimes on choral texts from the previous century.
These types of cantatas were usually performed during a Lutheran church service. A vocal ensemble or chorus generally began and ended the piece, unless it was preceded by an instrumental sinfonia — a movement for orchestra alone, generally meditative, using musical material unrelated to subsequent movements.
The Lutheran church services during the early 18th century were lengthy by our standards — running close to three hours including readings, a sermon, and hymn chorale singing. Luther was an advocate for music as an art form that inspired spiritual devotion, so musical settings of Psalms and other Biblical passages were popular interludes during the service. But by he begins to use librettos — pre-existing poems written by contemporaries which expand on a Biblical or liturgical theme and explore some of the personal implications for the believer.
These libretti generally consist of five or more movements, including recitative and aria sections. The numbering of these works have nothing to do with either the date of composition or the liturgical calendar, but rather reflects the order in which the works were officially cataloged. Prior to Bach's appointment in Leipzig in he had written less than 35 cantatas. When he arrived in Leipzig he undertook a project to compose a new cantata for every Sunday and feast day of the church year. During the first five years of this project he composed some cantatas; however at least a third of these have been lost.
Bach's total output of vocal works includes the six motets; three Passions and several oratorio-length pieces; and a number of secular cantatas written for public occasions of mourning or celebration. A Lutheran chorale is a hymn intended to be sung by the congregation during a service. These works are based on tunes from the early 16th century, or even earlier, which were adapted by early Lutherans for the new faith.
The chorale texts, sometimes running to 20 verses, also largely date from the Renaissance. Many of the texts were authored by Martin Luther, but there were many chorale writers and composers, and often several sets of texts were associated with the same tune.
The most common use of chorales was as a conclusion to the piece, generally in a four-part harmonization where the tune would be prominently audible. But Bach incorporated the melodies and the texts in many different ways — there is an entire cycle of cantatas based entirely on chorales, where the chorale is featured in every movement.
Clearly the use of chorales enabled Bach to reach out to his listeners in a very immediate way —a familiar phrase could automatically recall the rest of the content and add a layer of meaning to the music. An aria is a movement for a solo voice or sometimes, duet or trio and instrumental accompaniment. The Bach aria was composed to a section of the libretto in a regular meter, generally with symmetrical rhyming lines.
Bach arias sometimes feature a solo obbligato instrument, and sometimes are written for the full orchestra to accompany. A recitative, invented in 17th century Italy by the pioneers of opera, is a sung movement that is meant to resemble speech. It generally has very sparse accompaniment keyboard and bowed bass instrument and the singer has many words to sing on short note values.
The structure of a recitative is much more fluid than that of an aria; it is not built out of melody but rather a harmonic progression. The voice part outlines and embellishes this progression, while declaiming the text in natural speech rhythms.
The recitative sections of the libretti were more narrative or dramatic than the arias, focusing on explaining or preaching a concept to the congregation. They were generally longer than the aria texts, and not as tightly structured in their meter, rhyme scheme, or overall line count. Some Bach recitatives are constructed as duets — dialogues between two voices, sometimes given actual character names such as Jesus and the Soul; some are composed with full instrumental accompaniment, and are called accompagnato.
These orchestrated movements tend to be more emotionally elevated than the plain, secco [dry] recitatives. The tradition of performing Bach cantatas weekly during the Episcopal church service at Emmanuel Church began in , under the direction of founding Music Director Craig Smith. The cantata service has continued for more than 40 years, through the present day, from September through May, and the cantata is presented after the Eucharist but before the final prayer, as a meditation.
He frequently used his musical ideas to illuminate, deepen, and sometimes contradict the message found in the text. Every musical device available to an 18th century composer is put into service, and Bach invents countless new ones in order to startle his listeners into engagement with the subject.
The complexity, ambition, and harmonic daring of the greatest Bach cantatas have absolutely no rival among Baroque composers, and were probably puzzling and disturbing to his first listeners, as they can also be to us today. Material is tightly linked together by Biblical references. Assigned to compose one cantata a month, Bach flourished and began to find his true compositional voice.
Many of these pieces were later recycled into liturgical cantatas in Leipzig. Sometimes the melody would be present throughout, other times only the opening and closing movement would feature the tune; but the libretto would be thoroughly imbued with the concepts and text of the chorale. At the end of this cycle come a number of sophisticated doctrinal works related to the Gospel of John, with libretti mostly by Christiane Marianne von Ziegler. Either repeats of earlier pieces or the works of other composers were the norm with very few new pieces.
By this time Bach was rather disheartened by the level of playing in the orchestra and began to feature the organ as the principal instrument. Also by this time his son Carl Phillip Emmanuel was old enough to be playing keyboard continuo. Those pieces that were first performed at this time are, however, a great but small group. The B-minor Mass, the Xmas Oratorio, and many secular and instrumental works date from this period.
Fewer and fewer church cantatas were being composed, and some were reworkings of earlier material. Buy Tickets Contribute. Community Connections. Emmanuel Music in the News Press Releases. Buy CDs. What is a Cantata? What is a Bach cantata? Where did Bach get his texts? How many cantatas did Bach write?
What is a chorale? What is an aria? What is a recitative? How does Emmanuel Music perform Bach cantatas? What makes a Bach cantata special?