Posted in Project 3: A Bach Chorale

Research Point 3.2: A Review of Vivaldi Recomposed by Max Richter.

The aim of this research point is to write a 400-word review of a recording of Vivaldi Recomposed, looking into contextual information regarding both the original and the recomposed renditions and their creators. In total, this post is substantially longer, being around 1000 words. Before I delve more concretely into the task, it might be good to begin with a note on the classical music recording and publishing label Deutsche Grammophon (Fig. 1), whose 2014 reissue version of the piece I’ve listened to and selected for this task. Interestingly, the label came up with the idea to reinterpret musical classics, naming the series Recomposed. The production began by inviting different contemporary artists to create their own rendering of iconic works in the canon, giving dance and electronica musicians access to their catalogue. (Smith, 2010) However, while the previous invitees reworked the classics by using catalogue recordings as samples, mostly remixing or creating hypertextual translations, Max Richter, who was classically trained, chose to quite literally provide a full recomposition of Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons (1723) directly from the score. It is only on top of this rewriting, which filtered the original notation through the postmodern and minimalist lens, that Richter adds a touch of light electronics. As such, Vivaldi Recomposed is unique in its blend of the old and new notation, live and prerecorded performance.

Fig. 1. Deusche Grammophon label logo
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Exercise 3.5: Bach’s Cantata No. 140

The task for this exercise is to listen to the whole Cantata No. 140 by Johann Sebasian Bach, Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme (‘Awake, calls the voice to us’), known as Sleepers Wake, first without and then with the score. The aim is to research the cantata to discover how it is structured and the way the chorale melody and words inform the composition, as well as to look at the full text. Although the brief mentions writing 300 words about the newly acquired knowledge on the piece and its impact, my research, as usual, ended being quite detailed. As such, this post is almost 1.500 words long, altogether with a short reflective conclusion.

Firstly, cantata originated in Italy as a lyrical counterpart to the dramatic and epic sister-genres of opera and oratorio. (Durr, 2005: 3) Originally, the term denoted a vocal composition with accompaniment, contrasting the purely instrumental genre of sonata. (Britannica, 2017) The typical Italian form was usually written for solo voice with continuo and later, orchestral accompaniment, consisted of succession of contrasting sections or movements, normally two arias, each of which is preceded by a recitative. (Grove, 2001) Spreading to the neighboring countries, it reached a high point in the Protestant Germany, where it was transformed from being a predominantly secular genre into a major feature of scared Lutheran music. While influenced by the Italian models, the development of the German cantata was largely independent, drawing from the local tradition and its use of chorus, and the important role of chorale – the German Protestant congregational hymns that often served as cantus firmus for new compositions. (Apel, 1969: ) Contrasting the more homogenic Italian solo cantata, the heterogeneous German choral form combined the biblical prose, chorale lines, aria stanzas, madrigalian poetry, recitative and dialogue elements, as well as concertato and contrapuntal styles, resulting in a varied multi-sectional structure. (Krummaher, 2001)

Bach’s (Fig. 1) cantatas, centered around the chorale texts and music, represent the culmination of the German choral cantata genre with several different types. Wachet auf, as a part of Leipzig chorale cantatas, belongs to the group which retains the first and last strophes of the chorale, with others replaced by aria and recitatives.

Fig. 1. A portrait of J. S. Bach (Haussmann, 1746)
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