Bach's cantatas are among the highest achievements of Western musical art, yet studies of the individual cantatas that are both illuminating and detailed are few. In this book, noted Bach expert Eric Chafe combines theological, historical, analytical, and interpretive approaches to the cantatas to offer readers and listeners alike the richest possible experience of these works. A respected theorist of seventeenth-century music, Chafe is sensitive to the composer's intentions and to the enduring and universal qualities of the music itself.
Concentrating on a small number of representative cantatas, mostly from the Leipzig cycles of 1723-24 and 1724-25, and in particular on Cantata 77, Chafe shows how Bach strove to mirror both the dogma and the mystery of religious experience in musical allegory. Analyzing Bach Cantatas offers valuable information on the theological relevance of the structure of the liturgical year for the design and content of these works, as well as a survey of the theories of modality that inform Bach's compositional style. Chafe demonstrates that, while Bach certainly employed "pictorialism" and word-painting in his compositions, his method of writing music was a more complex amalgam of theological concepts and music theory. Regarding the cantatas as musical allegories that reflect the fundamental tenets of Lutheran theology as established during Bach's lifetime, Chafe synthesizes a number of key musical and theological ideas to illuminate the essential character of these great works.
This unique and insightful book offers an essential methodology for understanding one of the central bodies of work in the Western musical canon. It will prove indispensable for all students and scholars of Bach's work, musicology, and theological studies.
"[A] truly remarkable achievement, at once expanding the depth of his inquiry and making his theories accessible to readers with relatively little knowledge of music theory...[C]hafe's approach bring attention to rich relationships within the music, and allows large works to make coherent statements in new ways...I know of no work that offers a more powerful or comprehensive picture of how the basic materials of music can serve the expression of
faith."--Books & Culture
"...Chafe has worked to push Bach studies beyond formalist analysis and to demonstrate how the composer represented Lutheran theology by means of musical language and structures...Perhap's Chafe most interesting contribution is the application of his own pioneering studies of modality in Monteverdi to Bach's compositions."--Theological Studies
"The book's observations are firmly grounded in the realm of the heard, or the felt. The results achieve the aim of all good analysis: a direct impact on the reader's musical encounter. Listeners, who now mainly experience Bach's cantatas in the context of the concert hall rather than the church, will find their hearing altered by their new awareness of the network of sacred meaning that Chafe brings to light."--The Eighteenth Century Current
"Chafe is a major Bach scholar, and this book will become a classic in the literature."--Choice
1: The Hermeneutic Matrix
2: The Lutheran "Metaphysical" Tradition in Music and Music Theory
3: Cantata 21, "Ich hatte viel Bekümmernis"
4: Modal Questions
5: Bach's Reflection on the Past: Moral Chorales in Cantata Designs
6: Two Chorale Cantatas
7: Cantata 77: The Theological Background
8: "Du sollt Gott, deinen Herren, lieben": An Analysis of Cantata 77
9: Epilogue: Cantata 60, "O Ewigkeit, du Donnerwort"