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CHAPTER 40. Johann Sebastian Bach: Vocal Music in Leipzig.

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chapter 40

Johann Sebastian Bach:

Vocal Music in Leipzig

Bach moved to Leipzig in 1723 where he remained until his death in 1750. There he assumed the position of cantor (director of church music) at St. Thomas Church. Among his duties, those of organist, music teacher, and musical director in four churches in the city.
In Leipzig, Bach set about composing a cycle of cantatas for the entire church year. In a few years he composed five such cycles, nearly 300 cantatas in total (only two hundred survive today).
  • A cantata was the musical highpoint of the Sunday Mass. Following the reading of the Gospel, the cantata served as a musical elaboration upon the scriptural theme.
The typical structure of choral melodies is AAB. In the case of the choral Wachtet auf, the musical structure consists of seven phrases unfolding in a pattern AAB, specifically A (1,2,3), A (1,2,3), B (4,5,6,7).
Choral cantata: a sacred vocal genre that employs the text and melody of a preexisting Lutheran choral in all or several of its movements. In Bach’s choral cantata Wachtet auf, ruft uns die Stimme (BWV 140), the choral tune appears in the first, fourth and seventh movement.
Violino Piccolo: a small violin usually tuned a minor third higher than the normal violin.
  • Accompanied recitative: unlike simple recitative, a piece for voice and continuo accompaniment, accompanied recitative includes obbligato accompaniement parts for the orchestra.
  • Colla parte: literally “with the part,” a technique in which all instrumental parts double the vocal lines.
  • Passion: a musical depiction of Christ’s crucefixion as recorded in the Gospels, traditionally performed on Good Friday. Bach composed five passions, but only two survive: the St. John Passion and the St. Matthew Passion.
Collegium musicum: an association of musicians, usually university students, gathered to play the latest music. Bach assumed the directorship of the Leipzig Collegium Musicum in 1729, and with it he had the opportunity to compose and perform orchestral music.
Goldberg Variations: Bach’s virtuosic set of thirty variations for keyboard, based on simple air that precedes and follows them.
  • Musical Offering: Bach’s collection of one trio sonata, two fugues, and ten puzzle canons, based on a melody composed by King Frederick the Great of Prussia.
  • The Art of Fugue: Bach’s collection of fuges and canons, all derived from the same subject (Bach’s own) and all apparently intended for keyboard.
  • B-Minor Mass: Bach’s last composition, a complete setting of the Ordinary of the Catholic Mass. While Bach had composed the Kyrie and the Gloria years earlier, in 1748 Bach composed the Credo, Sanctus,and Agnus dei, in part borrowing from earlier compositions of his.