Johann Sebastian: A Tercentenary Celebration

By Seymour L. Benstock | Go to book overview

1
The Contemporizing of Scripture in the Cantatas of Johann Sebastian Bach

Howard C. Adams

There is much to be said and much that has been said about the use of Scripture in Bach's cantatas. Scholars have noted the constriction on the church composer by the strict use of the lectionary and have been amazed at the variety in Bach's creative use of assigned texts. Sometimes the texts are treated exegetically, with comments designed to throw light on the message. Sometimes the treatment of the text is almost homiletic, with the hearers exhorted to go forth into the world with a new sense of Christian commitment to a task. In other cantatas one passage of Scripture is pitted against another for the light and harmony that are emitted from them--an extension of the Lutheran practice of interpreting Scripture by Scripture. However, what is probably the most exciting element in the treatment of Scripture in the cantatas has been little noted: the continual and urgent move toward contemporizing biblical texts--toward treating ancient texts as if they were contemporary documents about contemporary life. I am not, of course, claiming this is new; anyone who has added a vocal and intellectual decibel to Johan Heermann's Herzliebster Jesu set by Johann Cruger knows it is not. Neither am I claiming a monolithic unity to the texts of the cantatas, which were written by many hands. However, they do have a unity to them in that they come from the Lutheran Pietistic tradition, and in that they were all chosen by the composer. It seems evident that many of the texts were selected for their emphasis on contemporaneity, since, as Bach's music interprets the words, this quality is both marked and moving.

The Cantatas contain a raft of short references that tie Scriptural passages to the contemporary congregations at worship. Cantata 64 answers the Scriptural proclamation, "Behold what manner of Love the father hath bestowed," with a Martin Luther chorale, "He has done all this to show his great love for us; may all Christendom rejoice over it." Cantata 4 looks backward to connect Easter with a Paschal Lamb of the Old Testament, and then identifies the lamb's blood with that of Christ "burned" on the cross in "hot love," and further brings the event into Bach's own century by affirming, "This blood identifies our door." When the bass cites the book of Revelation in Cantata 61, "Behold I stand at the door and knock," the soprano responds pointedly, "stand open, my heart: Jesus comes and enters in." The same Scripture receives short comment in the second person in Cantata 180 when the tenor urges: "Wake up: your savior is knocking. Open up your heart's door right away." The aria continues in rollicking melody exhorting the congregation to respond in "gebrochne Freidenworte"--"broken joywords." In Cantata 105, the choir's rendition of the 141st Psalm," Enter not into judgment with Thy servant, O Lord," is immediately personalized and contemporized by the alto, who responds with the plea, "Don't cast me away, my God, while I am bowing in humility

-5-

Notes for this page

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items
Notes
Cite this page

Cited page

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Note: primary sources have slightly different requirements for citation. Please see these guidelines for more information.

Cited page

Bookmark this page
Johann Sebastian: A Tercentenary Celebration
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Recent Titles in Contributions to the Study of Music and Dance ii
  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Preface ix
  • 1: The Contemporizing of Scripture in the Cantatas of Johann Sebastian Bach 5
  • 2: J. S. Bach: The Flauto and the Traverso 11
  • 3: An Odd Couple: J. S. Bach and A. S. Huxley 19
  • 4: Hemiola in the Eighteenth Century 23
  • Notes 32
  • Notes 122
  • Index 157
  • About the Editor and Contributors 161
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this book

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen
Items saved from this book
  • Bookmarks
  • Highlights & Notes
  • Citations
/ 165

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Search by... Author
    Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.