Essay on The Overlooked Richness of the Recitatives of Bach's Cantata 78

Essay on The Overlooked Richness of the Recitatives of Bach's Cantata 78

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The Overlooked Richness of the Recitatives of Bach's Cantata 78

In "Expressivity in the Accompanied Recitatives of Bach's Cantatas," George J. Buelow writes that although many of the distinguishing properties of Bach's music have been studied over the years, few scholars have examined Bach's recitatives or have given them proper credit. He notes that these recitatives generally either are ignored by musical scholarship or are briefly discussed with "general errors" or "confusion." 1 For example, he cites Jack Westrup as stating that Bach's recitatives are "basically an adaptation of the idioms of Italian opera" (19), and he mentions others who term them "improvisatory" or unrelated to the text. Buelow asserts that "informed observations" about Bach's recitatives would lead to different answers; he agrees with Martin Ruhnke who writes that Bach's recitative style is "original," its melody not "subservient to the texts as practiced by Italian composers" or as "promulgated by German theorists" but "independent and richer" and also "more excited and dramatic" (19). Indeed, a closer look at Bach's recitatives discloses fascinating devices of text and narrative illustration.

In his article, Buelow explores these neglected recitatives of Bach's cantatas and discusses aspects of their originality, including their relationships between music and text. He notes how Bach chose for some of his recitatives to be accompanied and for others to remain "simple." Buelow writes that it seems likely that Bach often employed the accompaniment style because it required the singer to remain slightly more measured. He quotes Scheibe who writes in his Critischer Musikus that accompanied recitative "is more suited to rousing and increasing devotion"...


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...s and triumphs in his tones. As Buelow writes, the recitative "provides a glimpse into that still indefinable balance of musical genius, all-encompassing craft, and the indestructible faith and zeal of the German protestant" (35). Buelow has been right in turning our attention to this largely "ignored resource" in our study of Bach's sacred music; in any study of Bach's pairing of music to text, these cleverly crafted recitatives demand credit and attention.

1George Buelow, "Expressivity in the Accompanied Recitatives of Bach's Cantata's," Bach Studies, ed. Don Franklin (Cambridge, 1989), p. 19.

2Richard Taruskin, "Facing Up, Finally, to Bach's Dark Vision," Text and Act: Essays on Music and Performance (New York: Oxford Press, 1995) p. 310.

* Please use MCD 560, Das Kautatenwerk vol. 20 (Bach's Cantata's volume 20), kantate 78, "Jesu, der meine Seele," CD 2.

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