Music Essay Assignment

Music Essay Assignment
Johann Sebastian Bach is an outstanding German composer and organist. During his life he was well known as organist and harpsichordist and it goes without saying that his work was perceived by the contemporaries as addition to his practical performance activity, which was passing by in the typical for the musicians of the 17th 18th atmosphere of church, court and city. J. S. Bach spent his early years in Eisenach, Saxe-Eisenach, during 1695 – 1701 he was studying in St. Michael's School in Lüneburg, which was considered to be very prestigious. From the early years he played organic music, played organ, clavier, alt, was sinning in choir. He rapidly built his musical career and finally became music director in Leipzig and since 1729 he was the head of Collegium Musicum. Generally the investigators consider back to be an outstanding representative of the Word humanist culture. The creative activity of this great composer – Universalist should be noted for covering a wide range of musical genres (instead of opera), it summarized the achievement of musical art of the several centuries on the border of Baroque and Classicism. Bach is considered to be brightly national artists but the same time he united the traditions of the protestant choral with the tradition of Austrian, Italian and French musical school. The unity of polyphonic and homophonic, vocal and instrumental thing has become a typical trait for the Bach’s creative activity as he was unbeaten master of polyphony. That is why his creative works are characterized by deep mutual absorption between the different styles and genres.

The core genre of the vocal and instrumental creative activity of Bach is sacred cantatas: “Bach wrote more than 300 cantatas during his life, of which about two-fifths are lost. These losses are due to the fact that only one of Bach's cantatas was printed during his lifetime and to the circumstances and peculiarities of Bach's legacy. Bach wrote quite a few secular cantatas, but most of his cantatas were written for the Lutheran church service and, naturally, involve a lot of texts related to that service. They also involve pompous and moralistic poetry that is often hard to appreciate for us at the end of the twentieth century (see the title page of poems by Bach's Leipzig poet Picander on the left). Robert L. Marshall calls the cantatas "Bach's most "parochial" works" and further concludes that "...such compositions were not intended primarily for the "delectation" of a concert public, but rather for the "edification" of a church congregation." (In: On Bach's Universality). Even Alfred Dürr, the most dedicated scholar and connoisseur of the Bach cantatas of this century, is somewhat defensive about Bach's cantata oeuvre in the introduction to his great two-volume work on the cantatas . The general public has little opportunity to get itself acquainted with Bach's cantatas in the concert hall, which is not the most suitable setting anyway. Churches and the like, with some notable exceptions, hardly have the means nowadays to organize cantata performances on a regular basis” (Jan Koster, 1995). Bach created 5 year cycles of the sacred cantatas, which were divided according to the depending to the church calendar and due the text sources (psalm, choral strophes, “free” poetry), according to the role of choral and so on. Among the secular cantatas the most known are the “The Coffee Cantata ” (Germ. Schweigt stille, plaudert nicht, BWV 211) and Cantata Burlesque or “Peasant Cantata”. The dramaturgy principles developed within the cantatas found their realization in different masses, “the Passions”, “the High” mass h-moll, “the Passions of Johann”, “the Passions of Matthew” became the top point of centuries lasting history of these genres.

The cantatas by Johann Sebastian Bach are depicting the image of human not in the concrete understanding but within the symbolic understanding of certain ethical ideas. The same time music of the cantatas is free from the mysticism. The world vision of the composer is dealing with overwhelming feeling of endless beauty and joy of life. The expressive manner of cantatas performance, which embrace the wide range of ideas and sentiments, it goes without saying that it actually defined the imagery characteristic of the choir creative works by the outstanding German composer. It goes without saying that the top of vocal and dramatic music by Johan Bach are “the Passions of Matthew” and h-moll Mass. In “the Passions of Matthew” the audience get familiar to the last days of life and death of Jesus Christ, the unity of the wide range structural ideas in the whole composition is reached. The traditional plot structure is dealing with the lyric and psychological, epic and dramatic elements. The h-moll Mass could be defined as one of the most magnificent among Bach’s creative works, which are not suitable even for him. It could be characterized by the wide range of form creating ideas and understood like the free cycle of the plays with the united philosophical contents, with vivid music. Even due to its formal characteristics this outstanding magnificent composition violates the norms and demands of the Church mass.

Speaking about Bach’s cantatas are the vocal symphonic stories, which depict and comment the events from the life of Jesus Christ. These stories are represented in the form of the endless dialogues. Each cantata is a part of this dialogue, which the faithful soul is speaking to the Savior. Every thought, which is depicted in the Bible, could find a live reply in the soul of the believer. Every word of Jesus Christ is reflected in it with the new questions and emotional experience, it caused new thoughts.

The musical heritage left by Johan Bach is undoubtedly one of the most valuable things we have. With the help of musical imagery and choice of the contrasting figures he let the audience understand the deep beliefs and understanding the Bible by his contemporaries. Being himself a strong believer Bach used his outstanding talent to express with music what was hard to express by word and surely he reached the success. The Cantata No. 78 is the best illustration of Bach’s perception of Christian morality, which teach us to be ready for resurrection in sorrow and understand the grief during the joyful period of our life.


1. George Dadisman. Some Observations on Dispositio and Elocutio in Bach’s Wir eilen mit schwachen, doch emsigen Schritten from BWV 78. Musica – Poetica. Morgantown, West Virginia, 2007
2. Joyce Kelley. The Overlooked Richness of the Recitatives of Bach's Cantata 78. MCD. 1997
3. George Buelow. Expressivity in the Accompanied Recitatives of Bach's Cantata's. Bach Studies, ed. Don Franklin (Cambridge, 1989), p. 19
4. Jan Koster. General Introduction Cantatas. Haren. The Netherlands. 1995
5. Bischof, Walter F. BWV 78 Jesu, der du meine Seele. University of Alberta.
6. Richard Taruskin. Facing Up, Finally, to Bach's Dark Vision. Text and Act: Essays on Music and Performance New York: Oxford Press, 1995
7. Chafe, Eric . Analyzing Bach cantatas. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 2000
8. Dürr, Alfred. The Cantatas of J.S. Bach: With Their Librettos in German-English Parallel Text, Richard Jones (trans.), Oxford: Oxford University Press. 2006
9. Whittaker, William Gillies. The Cantatas of Johann Sebastian Bach: sacred and secular. 2 vols. London: Oxford University Press. 1978
10. Wolff, Christoph. The world of the Bach cantatas: Vol.1 √ Johann Sebastian Bach’s early sacred cantatas. New York: Norton. 1997

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