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.Continue reading “Exercise 3.5: Bach’s Cantata No. 140”