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Bach’s Dramatic Music:  Serenades, Drammi per Musica, Oratorios
Author: William Hoffman (August 2008)


Northern Germany:  Abendmusiken and Passion-Oratorio
Bach’s Calling Pursued:  Mühlhausen and Weimar
Royal Court at Köthen:  Serenades
Leipzig:  Church Music, Parodies and Passions
Leipzig:  More Serenades
Bach’s Drammi per Musica
Transition, 1725-29: Sacred to Secular and Beyond
Leipzig:  1730s:  Kapellmeister, Dresden Court
Oratorios, Congratulatory Cantatas
Italian Music, Opera, Poetic Passions
Dance, Singspiel, Passion Pasticcios
Selected Bibliography



In 1730, Johann Sebastian Bach, having extensively fulfilled his calling to create a “well-regulated church music,” turned his energies to the wider goal of collections of instrumental and secular vocal music.  Foremost was the so-called dramma per musica which he presented throughout the decade.  This form enabled Bach to deploy the full instrumental resources of his Leipzig Collegium musicum in accessible public venues, meanwhile selecting effective texts and utilizing the so-called progressive galant style, particularly involving dance.

As the decade progressed Bach exploited opportunities not only to fulfill various civic commitments but also to turn many of his compositions into further opportunities through the process of parody or the substitution of new text to fit the poetic scheme.  Music conceived for so-called worldly or profane occasions, especially for royalty, was transformed into works to the glory of God, primarily Passion and feast-day oratorios.  Movements from sacred cantatas were parodied through contra-faction into the Latin text for the Mass.  While proscribed in his work contract as Leipzig music director from presenting operatic or theatrical music, Bach continually challenged the boundaries of the conflict between the sacred and secular through the production of dramatic music.

At the heart of this dramatic music were his occasional secular cantatas.  For the essential ingredient of text, Bach relied on three accomplished poets:  Weimar Court poet Salomo Franck (1659-1725); Köthen court poet Christian Friedrich Hunold (pen-name Menantes, 1681-1721); and Leipzig poet Christian Friedrich Henrici (pen-name Picander, 1700-1764).  They easily fashioned librettos for cantatas in Weimar, serenatas in Köthen, and drammi per musica in Leipzig.  These texts of choruses, arias, and recitatives enabled Bach to present varied forms of entertainment and static dramatic compositions.

The genesis of Bach’s dramatic music evolved over a period of twenty-five years.  It began in 1705 in northern Germany with Bach’s initial encounter with the two types of oratorios, or static opera forms, involving contemporary observances and Passion histories.  Both were directly influenced by the successful secular Hamburg opera at the Theater am Gänsemarkt, founded in 1678, where operas centered on the activities of biblical, mythical, and allegorical figures.  At the same time in nearby Lübeck, the static opera as oratorio, called Abendmusiken (Evening Music) was formalized by noted organist and composer Dietrich Buxtehude.  It was presented annually during Advent at St. Mary’s Church and flourished.  About 1704, two new oratorios on Passion histories were presented during Holy Week at church services by the Hamburg Opera director, Reinhard Keiser.

This genesis in Bach’s dramatic music coalesced at the court in Weimar with the Italian operatic cantata form introduced early in the second decade.  While the sacred oratorio progressed, the secular form developed along a parallel course, moving into the dramatic and symbolic arena at the court in Köthen.  There, Bach presented celebratory serenades between 1718 and 1723.  Finally, these strands culminated in Leipzig into the extended and varied drammi per musica from 1725 to 1742, primarily for the reigning Dresden Court.  Meanwhile, Bach presented the Bruhns-Keiser St. Mark oratorio Passion in Weimar about 1713 and his own Passion oratorio in nearby Gotha in 1717.  Between 1723 and 1731, Bach perfected the oratorio Passion with the major works according to the Evangelists Matthew, John, and Mark.  In the 1740s he turned to the assembly of so-called Passion pasticcios with secular overtones.

At each stage in this genesis, Bach expanded his performing forces, presented varied styles compatible with the available resources and requirements, elaborated the types of movements, and solicited more subtle, engaging yet learned libretti.


Northern Germany:  Abendmusiken and Passion-Oratorio

In early December 1705, Bach encountered first-hand the so-called Abendmusiken of Dietrich Buxtehude (c1637-1707).  Two extended dramatic oratorical presentations in five parts with large performing forces were given.  These were held in church public concerts in progressive Lübeck, not far from the popular Hamburg Opera.  The featured works were Evening Music “as a musical entity, with its own specific type and of his own making, as a dramma per musica, ‘eine geistliche Opera,’ an oratorio, but with insertion of chorales” for the congregation, says Leo Schrade in Bach: Sacred and Secular Conflict, p. 34 (Merlin Press, New York, 1946).

Later, Bach’s works for the Dresden Court “employed many of the same musical components that Buxtehude had, including the aria, the love duet, chorale settings intermingled with arioso, and the use of trumpets in connection with the nobility,” observes Kerala J. Snyder in “Oratorio on Five Afternoons: From the Lübeck Abendmusiken  to Bach’s Christmas Oratorio,” paper presented at “Bach and the Oratorio Tradition,” Biennial Meeting of the American Bach Society, May 8, 2008, Bethlehem PA.

The elaborate performing forces for the works commemorated the death of Holy Roman Emperor Leopold I (Castrum Dolores) and celebrated the accession of successor Joseph I (Templus honoris), writes Snyder in her biography, Buxtehude, p. 69 (Schirmer, New York, 1987).  Instruments, according to the libretto, included trombones, “two choruses of trumpets and timpani. . .two choruses of concretizing horns and oboes, and twenty five unison violins.”  Vocal forces around the organ involved a double chorus, large single choruses and solo voices “assigned to (allegorical) roles….  There is no dramatic action in either work.”  No music survives.

Buxtehude was a “father figure” and major role model for Bach, according to Christoph Wolff, “Buxtehude, Bach, and Seventeenth Century Music in Retrospect,” Bach:  Essays on His Life and Music, p. 45 (Harvard Univ. Press, 1991).  Buxtehude was an “autonomous composer,” “his own impresario (who) organized and financed perforof large scale Abendmusicken,” creating a “new oratorio type” and who “published the librettos. . . .”   He “conducted his organist office very much in the style of a municipal capellmeister. . . .”

Also in Hamburg in 1705, two librettists employed at the opera produced texts for two distinct types of Passion histories.  Hunold’s poem “Der blutige und sterbende Jesus” (The Bleeding and Dying Jesus) “represented the first transference of madrigal verse to the realm of Passion composition.  Thus Hunold may be regarded as the originator of the Passion oratorio,” observes Friedrich Smend in Bach in Köthen (p.144).  At the same time, Christian Heinrich Postel (1658-1705) produced lyric verses to accompany John’s Gospel, Chapter 19, in the so-called Oratorio-Passion form, first introduced in Hamburg in Thomas Selle’s St. John Passion in 1643.  Postel’s poetry, with music formerly attributed to Handel, uses the biblical account verbatim, in the old historia tradition.  On the other hand, the verse-only Passion Oratorio paraphrases the four summa Gospel stories, interspersing lyric commentary in a more dramatic, theatrical fashion.

The result of the progressive Hamburg experience was to breakdown the barriers between the so-called sacred and secular worlds, or as critics could say, to “secularize the sacred.”  Music in Hamburg embraced strands of French dance, Italian opera, and German celebratory music. As the northern confluence of European trade and culture (Venice was the southern crossroads), Hamburg nurtured an eclectic music which, at the same time, influenced and was influenced by the contest or conflict between the spiritual and profane.


Bach’s Calling Pursued:  Mühlhausen and Weimar

By 1708 Bach had composed in the old style some eight sacred cantatas for church special occasions such as memorial services, weddings, and the installation of the town council.  That year, Bach annunciated his calling to reform church music, says Schrade, in his resignation  letter at Mühlhausen as he moved on to the orthodox Lutheran court at Weimar.  Pietists forces had continually challenged elaborate sacred music at Bach’s residences in Erfurt and Mühlhausen, according to Schrade.  Bach responded by aligning himself with royalty, especially in the succeeding 15 years at the courts of Weimar and Köthen, where he first composed so-called worldly cantatas.   In the first five years at Weimar as chamber musician and court organist, Bach intensely studied Italian operatic style, particularly the cantata form involving arias, choruses, and recitatives.   

At Weimar, Bach’s first documented secular work was Cantata BWV 208, the secular, so-called Hunting Cantata, described as “Tafelmusik” (table-music) for the Birthday of the Duke of Saxe-Weißenfels, February 23, probably in 1713.  “Was mir behagt, ist nur die muntre Jagd!” is a substantial work containing 15 movements.  These involve six recitatives (Bach’s first) alternating with six arias, followed by a chorus, three arias and a closing chorus.  The soloists are mythical deities, Diana and Pales (sopranos), Endymion (tenor), and Pan (bass).  Diana’s soprano, a virtuoso part, was “presumably interpreted by a singer from the Weißenfels opera, suggests Alfred Dürr in Bach Cantatas (2005 ed., p.803).  Reinforcing the decidedly pastorale mood, the congratulatory work was probably preceded by an elaborate orchestral Sinfonia in F Major, BWV 1046a-1071, the earliest version of the Brandenburg Concerto No. 1.  The three movements are Allegro, Adagio and Menuetto and the instrumentalists were the same as the ensuing cantata: pairs of hunting horns, recorders and oboes, as well as a hunting oboe, bassoon, strings, and Basso continuo.  The text was written by Salomo Franck and the work was repeated for the same birthday occasions in 1720 and 1729.  It also was presented at Weimar for the birthday of Duke Ernest August, April 19, 1713 or 1716, with only a name change of the honoree, and as BWV 208a with a revised text possibly by Johann Elias Bach, for the name day of Dresden monarch August III, August 3, 1742, with a new preface title, “Verlockender Götterstreit.”  

While Bach proceeded at Weimar to compose church year cantatas, beginning monthly in 1714, he produced virtually no new music for special court occasions, except for one work.  The extended sacred funeral cantata for Prince Johann Ernst was presented on April 4, 1716, titled “Was ist, das wir Leben nennen,” BC B-19, with a surviving text possible by Salomo Franck.  No music is extant but the work contained 22 movements.  These involved three choruses, four chorales, six recitatives, two ariosi, and seven arias.  Bach also may have set Franck’s texts to two court cantatas, for the wedding of Ernst August, January 24, 1716, titled “Diana, Amor, Apollo, Ilmene,” and a birthday cantata  for his new Duchess Eleonore from Köthen, on May 18, 1716, titled “Amor, die Treue und die Beständigkeit,” (cited by Wolff and Smend).  No music survives. 

Bach’s most popular solo soprano wedding Cantata BWV 202, “Weichet nur, betrübte Schatten” (Vanish Now, Ye Mournful Shadows), probably was composed at Weimar, says Dürr (Bach Cantatas p. 893f).  Surviving in a score from 1730 with antiquated notation, its secular libretto appears to be by Franck and its musical style has Weimar features in its recitatives and arias.  As for specific wedding occasions in Weimar, Köthen, and Leipzig, none have been found.


Royal Court at Köthen:  Serenades 

In late 1717, Bach accepted the post of capellmeister in Köthen and turned his energies primarily to instrumental music.  Among his major responsibilities was the production of two annual celebratory, congratulatory cantatas, called serenatas, for the birthday of Prince Leopold on December 12, and for New Years Day for his realm, with texts initially provided by court poet Hunold-Menates.   

The Serenata, as Grove Music explains, is a dramatic cantata for two or more singers with orchestra, performed at public events outdoors with artificial light at night.  Buxtehude’s “Evening Music,” was mistakenly linked to serenatas, associated incorrectly with “sera” (evening).  “Serenata: is a catch-all term, like, “opera” and “oratorio.”  Following the development of the generic Italian operatic cantata, with its arias, recitatives and choruses, these specialized occasional works were sometimes called “dialogues,” “debates” or “contests,” “festivals” or “tributes,” and pastorales.  These occasional works celebrated weddings, birthdays, name days, official visits, academic events, and civic events such as fairs.  

“The serenata shares important features with the chamber cantata, oratorio, and opera,” says Grove Music.  Like the cantata, it was most often a private court entertainment, although learned societies such as Collegium , presented them.  Dramatically, serenatas resemble oratorios since they often have allegorical figures personifying attributes of duty and honor, with a decidedly moralizing air.  The musical style and resources imitated opera and the serenata grew in popularity as its accompanying orchestra developed.  Extended serenatas with separate acts were called drammi per musica, with increasingly elaborate costumes and settings to celebrate specific events, including weddings.  The result, depending on the purpose and multiplicity of styles, was that some serenatas, like drammi per musica, came to resemble a hybrid in name only, involving diverse music..   

Some of the best-known serenatas are:  Handel’s Aci, Galatea e Polifemo, Serenata a tre for the wedding of the Duke of Alvito (1708); Heinichen’s simple Zefferio e Clori (2 voices, Venice, 1714), and his elaborate Diana sull’Elba for the Saxon Court celebrations and completion of the Court Theatre in 1719; the Hamburg Kapitänsmusiken civic celebrations of Keiser and Mattheson; and Telemann’s oratorical Deutschland grünt und blüht im Friede for the birthday of the Habsburg Kaiser Prince in Frankfurt in 1716. 

Three Bach associates or predecessors with strong opera backgrounds, may have influenced  his serenata compositions: the previous Köthen capellmeister, Augustin Reinhardt Strickler (16??-c1719), the Dresden capellmeister Johann David Heinichen (1683-1729) and Leipzig music director Georg Melchior Hoffmann (1679-1715).   

Strickler, who came to the Köthen Court in 1714 with other noted musicians dismissed by the Prussian Court in Berlin, produced six Italian solo secular cantatas in 1715.  Two specific  elements also found in Bach, according to Christoph Wolff’s Johann Sebastian Bach:  The Learned Musician, p. 201, were the basic three-movement “prototype,” aria-recitative-aria, and the obbligato violin or oboe.  Stickler is best known for producing collaborative pasticcio stageworks (Bühnenmusik) with composers Heinichen and Gottfried Finger at the Prussian Court (1706-08) and at the Palatine Court at Neuberg (1717-18). 

Hoffmann and Heinichen had gained their reputations as directors of the Leipzig Collegium musicum, the vehicle for opera, serenata and dramma per musica presentations.  Hoffman had followed the ensemble’s originator, Telemann (served 1701-05), and continued until his death in 1715.  He also was Telemann’s successor as managing director of the Leipzig opera and music director at the University New Church.  Heinichen directed the group and produced operas in Leipzig in 1709-10 before moving to Italy.  Bach’s relationship with Heinichen  began in 1717 when he made his first visit to Dresden. At the Dresden Court, Heinichen as capellmeister wrote serenatas, cantatas and sacred works. 

Central to the development of the German serenata vocal music were librettists first associated with the opera in progressive Hamburg.  Both poets, Postel and Hunold-Menates, weighed in early with descriptions of the serenata.  While not achieving consensus on its definition, they found that it most resembled a piece from an opera, according to Telemann biographer Richard Petzoldt (pp. 162-66).  

Petzoldt (p.163) cites Hunold, writing in 1707:  “Lately, however, this name (serenata), has been applied to all theatrical poems which are not excessively long.  Yet they are not always to be seen in the theatre; rather they can be presented as table-music . . .  a serenata or table music exactly resembles a piece from an opera.”  Hunold says further: “recently these cantatas have been written so that the recitative style alternates with the arias.” “A cantata looks like a scene from an opera.”  Texts to oratorios, cantatas, serenatas, and other musical forms are found in his Theatralische, galante, und geistliche Gedichte (Theatrical, Galant and Sacred Poetry, 1706) 

Short operas, staged without scenery could fit Postel’s definition of serenata, according to Petzold (p.166).  In 1700 Postel became acquainted with the Arcadian movement of Italian neo-classicism, especially the pastorale emphasizing rural characters and settings in simply song and dance.  A learned lawyer, Postel was a prolific librettist with full characters in simple yet expressive and colorful language. His lyrics in the 13 reflective arias in Keiser’s St. John Passion of 1705 reveal these qualities.  Especially noticeable is the soprano aria “Bebet, ihr Berge, zerberstet ihr Hügel” (Quake, ye mountains; splinter, ye crags), which influenced Bach’s tenor aria, “Zerschmettert mich, ihr Felsen und ihr Hügel” (Cover me, ye rocks and hills).  This aria first appeared in his Weimar/Gotha Passion of 1717, BC D-1, and was repeated in the 1725 version of the St. John Passion, BWV 245

Continually, the Hamburg opera composers stretched the boundaries between religious and civic music, beginning with the oratorio form (Petzold, p.160f).  Mattheson cites an oratorio he wrote in 1709 for the feast of St. Peter, eliciting a financial reward from the Town Council.  Telemann at Frankfurt composed an oratorio (now lost) about David and Jesus in 1718 for the local Collegium musicum.  These civic works could include allegorical figures such as Peace and Justice, interspersed with biblical scenes and even an occasional chorale.  Previously, Mattheson and Keiser had presented a gala evening double-bill of an occasional oratorio for the Hamburg Drill-Hall banquet (table-music) and a serenata for the civic ceremonies.  These double-bills of oratorio and serenata also were presented at weddings. 

Telemann’s 1716 serenade of festive music, “Germany Greening and Blooming in Peace,” runs the length of an oratorio with 41 numbers interspersing arias (with choruses), recitatives, choruses, and ensembles. The soloists represented allegorical figures Germany, Irene, Mars, the City of Frankfurt, Mercury and Fate.  The orchestra included oboes, bassoons; three each of trumpets and horns with timpani, a separate brass contingent of three “clarini piccolo” and three hunting horns, as well as the customary strings and continuo.  The librettist was Georg Christian Lehms and the performance took place in the Drill-Hall.

Between 1718 and 1721, Hunold-Menantes, who taught poetry and rhetoric at nearby Halle University, published many cantata texts in Auserlesene und theils noch nie gedruckte Gedichte unterschiedener Berühmten und geschickten Männer  (Selected and in Some Case Not Yet Printed Poems by Distinguished Famous and Skilled Men).  They are the source of Bach’s first congratulatory birthday (December 10) and New Year’s cantatas at the Köthen court.  This collection of homage texts includes a lengthy ode of 80 alexandrines “that Bach presented to his sovereign on behalf of the court orchestra on the occasion of his birthday on December 10, 1719,” says Smend iBach in  Köthen (Appendix A, Eng. Ed. 1985).  Five works are documented as Hunold-Menantes texts to Bach Köthen Cantatas BWV 66a (12/10/18) and BWV 134a (1/1/19) (called “Serenatas”), and (no music surviving) to BWV Anh. 5-7:  the first a sacred work (12/10/18); the last a “Pastoral dialogue” (12/10/20), and BWV Anh. 6 (5 movements, 1/1/20).  

Alfred Dürr (Bach Cantatas, p. 21f) says the Köthen works “chiefly belong to the ‘serenata’ type,” “a species of mini-opera with modest dramatic action,” with possible scenic representation.  They consist almost entirely of dialogue for allegorical characters, “gods or shepherds, who praise the excellence of the prince and unite at the end in general good wishes.”  Musically, they “assume the lightly draped, cheerful character of their poetic texts. Dance-like melodies are often heard.”  The dramatic nature of the serenata, says Dürr, involves duet passages, musical design involving the choir division into concertists and ripienists  in BWV 66a and BWV 134a, and recitative narrative introducing arioso lyrical reflection. 

Significant is the element of dance in the five Hunold-texted works as well as another five composed after his death in the summer of 1721.  The poet is unknown but the music survives in three works parodied as sacred cantatas in 1724 in Leipzig, Bach’s first known efforts at text substitution.  All five extant cantatas have dance-like character in their arias and closing tutti “choruses”:  BWV 194a, ?1/1/1723 (pastorale, gavotte, gigue, minuet); BWV 66a, 12/10/1718 (gigue-passapied, pastorale), BWV 173a, 12/10/1722 (gavotte, minuet, bourree, gavotte, polonaise), BWV 184a, ?1/1/1722 (minuet, polonaise, gavotte); and BWV 134a, 1/1/19 (gigue, minuet, gigue).  Only some of the performing orchestral parts survive in the parts sets of the parodied sacred counterparts to BWV 184a and BWV 194a.  Cantata BWV 194a (?1/1/1721), has a French Overture and four arias derived from an instrumental dance suite, as well as BWV 184a (?1/1/1722), and BWV 173a (12/10/22). 

Another characteristic is the demanding music for both the vocal soloists and the orchestra.   Wolff points out (JSB:TLM, p. 198) the solos and elaborate duets in the form of allegorical dialogues between Fame and Fortune in BWV 66a, and Divine Providence and Time in BWV 134a.  The lost pastoral dialogue, Cantata BWV Anh. 7 has three allegorical figures in Hunold’s text: the shepherdess Sylvia, the huntsman Phillis, and the shepherd Thyrsis.  This 10-movement work (no music survives) alternating recitatives and arias, including a terzett and a closing tutti, was probably performed on December 10, 1720, and was Hunold’s last collaboration with Bach.  Wolff also notes the challenging orchestral music for four-part strings and pairs of oboes or flutes (Bach’s first use in place of recorders).  There is no surviving music or texts for New Year’s Cantatas BWV Anh. 197 (?1/1/1718 or 1722), and BWV Anh. 8 (?1/1/1723), a “Musicalisches Drama.”  

As an addendum to Bach’s Köthen experience, there were other opportunities for him to have composed other occasional music.  Besides possibly setting some of the Hunold lyrics in the birthday ode dedication for December 10, 1719, Bach also probably composed Italian secular Cantata BWV 203, “Amore traditore” in Köthen , according to Wolff (JSB:TLM, p.201f).  Wolff speculates that bass virtuoso J.G. Riemenschneder might have sung the three-movement work, “another hint at the incalculable riches we are missing from Bach’s musical oeuvre.”   

Court records show singer Riemenschneider was paid on April 8, 1719.  During that time, the same records show (Friedrich Smend, Bach in Köthen, 1985 Eng. ed., p. 190) that guest instrumentalists (violinists, a lutenist, horn players) were employed, as well as “Diskantists” (falsettists) and “The Castrato Ginacini” (paid March 21, 1719).  Bach may have engaged Ginacini to sing Francesco Conti’s “operatic” solo devotional cantata, “Languet anima mea,” during Holy Week in the  Köthen castle chapel, according to program notes in the CD recording by Magdalena Kožená and Reinhard Goebel.  Bach apparently transcribed the music in Weimar, added 2 oboes  at Köthen, and a basso continuo organ part for church service in Leipzig in 1724.   

Other Köthen  court events for which Bach may have provided music include the weddings of Prince Leopold and the Princess of Anhalt-Bernberg, December 11, 1721, as well as his wedding to Anna Magdalena on December 3, 1721, and music on the death of Leopold’s consort, Princess Frederica Henrietta (the so-called “Amusa”), on April 4, 1723.  In addition, Bach may have presented music or participated in other performances elsewhere during his Köthen period (1717-1723):  a homage cantata for Friedrich II of Saxe-Gotha, August 2, 1721; a church performance at the Schleiz Court of Heinrich XI Count von Reuss, around August 10, 1721; and a birthday cantata, O vergnügte Stunden, BWV Anh. 194, for Prince Johann August of Anhalt-Zerbst, July 29, 1722, or August 8, 1722.   Wolff also lists (p. 208) other Bach extensive travels from  Köthen to Berlin, 1719; Carlsbad, 1718 and 1720; Halle for failed attempt to meet Handel, 1719; and Hamburg audition, 1720. 


Leipzig:  Church Music, Parodies and Passions

When Bach assumed the post of Director of Music in Leipzig in mid-May 1723, his major creative responsibility was to present annual cycles of sacred cantatas for the some 60 services of the church year, based on his 1708 goal of a “well-regulated church music.”  He also was required to present Oratorio Passions annually.  In the first year, Bach was able to recycle virtually all of the 30 sacred cantatas composed in Weimar, reducing his workload.  He also parodied the five extant Köthen serenades into sacred service cantatas.  In the second year he composed new works for the entire circle involving some 45 chorale cantatas and 12 others at the end of the cycle.  He then took a break during the entire Trinity season of the last half of 1725, and renewed his interest in instrumental and secular vocal music. 

At the same time, Bach began to address his secular vocal composing responsibilities for the ThomaSchool, the University of Leipzig, and the Saxon Court in Dresden as well as other courts he continued to serve at Saxe-Weißenfels, Saxe-Gotha, and  Köthen.  He also would come to compose occasional music of homage for local notables, weddings and funerals, and all manner of other events.  He would assume the directorship of the local Collegium musicum for weekly public concerts, publish collections of keyboard and composing studies, and actively participate in special events. 

Bach’s secular cantatas composed in Leipzig, involve certain common characteristics.  They used the Collegium musicum with its full compliment of instruments, especially ceremonial brass and drums.  They emphasized the newer Galant Style with its emphasis on melody and enlivened dance with balanced phrases, involving Arcadian-influenced pastorale music.  Much of the extant music was usually designed either to be parodied into sacred oratorios or cantatas without further use, or to be repeated as part an available repertory presented on two or more occasions.  The significance of Bach’s secular composition is the subject of “Bach’s Secular Cantatas – A New Look at Sources", by Hans-Joachim Schulze (Bach  21, No. 1, Spring 1990, pp. 26-41   Major characteristics involve Bach’s deliberate effort, especially after 1730, to fashion a usable secular repertory available with little notice, to adapt other music for different uses, and to transform substantial core music (arias and choruses) into new parodied, large scale sacred works, specifically a passion and at least three oratorios  

In Bach’s first week in Leipzig, he encountered a serendipitous situation.  Before he was officially to assume his responsibilities at the churches and schools, beginning on Trinity Sunday, he was able to present a Pentecost Sunday cantata at the University New Church, where the Collegium musicum performed.  Then, he also adapted two of his Köthen serenades, BWV 173a, “Durchlauchster Leopold” (Most Illustrious Leopold) and BWV 184a for the succeeding Monday and Tuesday of the three-day Pentecost festival.   

Cantata BWV 184 is among the five sacred “Shepherd Cantatas” with pastoral music Bach composed for the Pentecost Tuesday and the Second Sunday after Easter.  For Pentecost Tuesday, the two Shepherd Cantatas, BWV 184, “Erwünschtes Freudenlicht“ (Desired Light of Joy) and 175, “Er rufet seinen Schafen mit Namen” (He Calls His Sheep by Name), are based on the Gospel of John, 10:1-11, Jesus as the true Shepherd.  Cantata BWV 184 preserves the three Köthen dance-forms:  minuet, polonaise, and gavotte.  Cantata BWV 175 of 1725 has two pastorales, a newly-written aria, and a parodied aria from Köthen Cantata BWV 173a/7. 

For the Second Sunday after Easter (Misericodias Domini), the three Shepherd Cantatas are based upon the Gospel of John 10: 12-16, “I am the Good Shepherd,” and the Epistle Lesson, I Peter 2:21-25, the biblical illusions to one sheep led astray, as well as the Collect, the deliverance from peril.  The three cantatas are BWV 104, “Du Hirte Israel, höre" (You Shepherd of Israel, Give Ear), composed in 1724 with an opening pastorale chorus and a siciliana bass aria; Cantata BWV 85, “Ich bin ein gutter Hirt” (I am a Good Shepherd), composed in 1725, with a pastorale tenor aria; and BWV 112, “Der Herr ist mein getreuer Hirt,” with a pastorale alto aria and a bouree soprano-tenor duet. 

Besides BWV 184 there are four other Köthen serenatas, parodied as church cantatas in the first cantata cycle, 1723-24.  They are: BWV 66a, “Der Himmel dacht auf Anhalts Ruhm und Glück” (The Heavens Resound in Anhalt’s Glory and Fortune), for Easter Monday; BWV 134a, “Die Zeit, die Tag und Jahre macht” (The Time, the Day, the Year Make”), for Easter Tuesday; BWV 173, “Durchlauchster Leopold” (Most Serene Leopold), for Pentecost Monday; and BWV 194, “Höchsterwüschtes Freudenfest” (Most Highly Desired Festival of Joy), for Trinity Sunday. 

In the tempus clausum of Lent 1725, Bach began a transition from sacred cantatas to reviving or creating instrumental music, first composed in Köthen, and newly-composed secular vocal works, both becoming his emphasis in the 1730s.  He began his first active collaboration with Picander, with his dual composition of secular celebratory Cantatas BWV 249a, the “Shepherds” Cantata (actually a serenade), and its parody sacred sister, BWV 249, the Easter Oratorio.  Instead of composing a new Passion for Good Friday, Bach repeated the St. John Passion, BWV 245, adding primarily chorale insertions from his Gotha Passion of 1717.  At the same time, Bach rejected Picander’s text for a poetic Passion Oratorio in the style of the Brockes Passion, BWV Anh. 169, entitled “Erbauliche Gedancken auf den Grünen Donnerstag und Charfreytag über den Leiden Jesum.  In einem Oratorio, entworffen” (Edifying Offering for Palm Sunday and Good Friday on the Suffering of Jesus. Designed as an Oratorio). 

All this was the beginning of a major shift by Bach from sacred cantatas to composing secular cantatas and a large-scale sacred Oratorio Passion.   Bach also ceased composing chorale cantatas to complete his second cycle and turned to less demanding works for the final 12 services from Easter Sunday to Trinity Sunday.  Meanwhile, he also engaged Picander to write texts for two other secular cantatas:  BWV 36c, “Schwingt freudig euch empor” (Soar Joyfully Aloft), during the April-May 1725 12-services gap for the birthday of an unknown Leipzig University professor, and later BWV 205, “Der zufriedengestellte Aeolous” (Aeolous Placated), Bach’s first dramma per musica, for the name day of a Leipzig University Professor, A.F. Müller on August 3, 1725.  Picander would become Bach’s most active librettist of secular cantatas, eventually providing the lyrics for at least some 23 of 50 works.  In many cases, he provided parody texts, as in the case of BWV 36c, with three parodies:  BWV 36a, “Steigt freudig in die Luft,” birthday of the Köthen Princess Charlotte on November 30, 1726; BWV 36, same title as BWV 36c, sacred Advent cantata, 1731; and possibly BWV 36b, “Die Freude reget sich”, a congratulatory cantata for the Leipzig learned Rivinius family in 1735. 

During this time, the last half of 1725, when Bach composed virtually no new sacred cantatas, he also may have turned his attention to the large-scale Oratorio Passion.  Picander’s 1725 poetic Passion text, BWV Anh. 169, contained phrases which were used in the St. Matthew Passion, BWV 244 of 1727, in the opening and closing choruses and five arias.  The text also includes a chorus with the allegorical figure of Zion summoning her daughters to witness the Saviour’s martyrdom and a closing Chorus of the Faithful singing:  “Wir setzen uns bey deinem Grabe nieder.”  Picander also provided the parodied text for Bach’s Funeral Music for Prince Leopold, BWV 244a, on March 3, 1729.  That work, like the Funeral Ode for the Polish Queen in 1727, BWV 198, is also considered a secular composition since its text contained no biblical references or chorales.

Meanwhile, Bach resumed regular church service composing only during the last half of 1726, producing cantatas for the entire Trinity Season to finish his third and final complete cantata cycle.  In the following three years, Bach only composed some six church cantatas each year and presented virtually no reperformances.  During the rest of the time until 1729, he continued to compose secular pastoral music such as shepherd cantatas, serenades or drammi per musica for civic celebrations and began to parody music from them into sacred oratorios for the major feasts of Easter, Ascension Day, Christmas, and quite possibly Pentecost.  Bach also parodied the 1727 secular funeral Cantata BWV 198, commission from a Leipzig University student, for the Saxon Queen of Poland, text by Gottsched, into the core lyrical music for his chorale Oratorio Passion, St. Mark, BWV 247, of 1731.


Leipzig:  More Serenades 

There are 11 Leipzig compositions for various occasions that are considered serenades.  Four are commissions from Leipzig University students (BWV Anh. 195, BWV Anh. 9, BWV 215, and BWV Anh. 13).  Three are for the birthday of Saxon court adviser and leading Bach patron Count von Flemming (BWV 249b, BWV 210a, and BWV Anh. 10).  Five have texts by Picander.  Bach’s music for three works is completely lost:  BWV Anh. 195, BWV Anh. 9, and BWV Anh. 13.  Only one, the dramma per musica BWV 215, survives intact.  Seven were parodied substantially as secular cantatas for other occasions and the Easter Oratorio (BWV 249), or movements were parodied in sacred oratorios for Christmas and Ascension Day and the B-Minor Mass, BWV 232.  One cantata, BWV 193a, had its chorus and both arias, originating in an unknown Köthen serenade, parodied in the 1727 sacred Town Council cantata, BWV 193.  The 11 documented Leipzig serenades are: 

*BWV Anh. 195, June 9, 1723; “Murmelt nur, ihr heitern Bäche“ (Murmur Now, You Serene Brook); text, Acta Lipsiensium Academium; serenade for Leipzig attorney, J. F. Rivinius,  University professor installation, student commission; performance at University Church with Collegium musicum. (music lost). 

*BWV 249a, February 23, 1725, “Entfliehet, verschwindet, entweichet, ihr Sorgen” (Flee, disappear, escape your sorrows); Shepherds Cantata, text by Picander; congratulatory work for the birthday of Duke Christian of Saxe-Weißenfels (music lost, parodied in BWV 249, Easter Oratorio, and Cantata 249b).  Shepherd characters:  Doris, Sylvia, Menalcas, Damoetas. 

*BWV Anh. 196, November 27, 1725, “Auf, süß entzückende Gewalt“ (Arise, Sweet Charming Authority); text Gottsched; serenade for Leipzig wedding (music lost, two arias parodied in BWV 11, Ascension Oratorio: alto aria also parodied in Agnus dei, B Minor Mass, BWV 232, the other aria, a soprano pastorale).  Characters:  Nature, Modesty, Fate, Virtue.

*BWV deest (Neumann 25), “Auf! zum scherzen, auf! zur Lust” (Arise to jests, arise to delights), for the birthday of the Honorable “J.W.G.D.,” presumably a Leipzig notable, on August 15, 1726, with text by Picander for a dialogue Arcadian serenade between Mercurius and Astraea and a chorus of “Grazien” (graceful-ones), music lost.  The closing chorus possibly was parodied and expanded to open the Ascension Oratorio, BWV 11, in 1735. 

*BWV 249b, August 25, 1726; Die Feier des Genius:  “Verjaget, zerstreuet, zerrüttet, ihr Sterne“ (The Celebration of Genius:  Drive away, Scatter, you stars); dramma per musica, text Picander; congratulatory serenade for Count von Flemming; music lost, survives as parody in BWV 249; characters: Genius, Mercurius, Melpomene, Minerva. 

*BWV Anh. 9, May 12, 1727; “Entfernet Euch, ihr heitern Sterne” (Remove Yourself, Ye Clear Skies); dramma per musica, text C.F. Haupt; evening music commissioned by Leipzig University students for the birthday of Augustus II; May 12, 1727 (first surviving Bach work for the Dresden Court); music lost; characters:  Philuris, Apollo, Mars, Harmonia. 

*BWV 193a, August 3, 1727; Ihr Häuser des Himmels, ihr Scheinenden Lichter” (Ye Shining Heaven, Ye Shining Lights), a dramma per musica, text by Picander; for the name day of Augustus II, probably parodied from a Köthen serenade; characters: Providence, Fame Welfare, and Pity; original Köthen materials (chorus, two arias) parodied in the August 25, 1727, Town Council Cantata, BWV 193, “Ihr Töre (Pforten) zu Zion” (Ye Gates [Portals] of Zion).  No text or parts survive from Köthen and its origin is unknown. 

*BWV 210a, “O angenehme Melodei” (O pleasing melody), soprano solo homage serenade (three versions); originally composed as a homage to the Duke of Saxe-Weißenfels, January 12, 1729; for the birthday of Count von Flemming, August 25, 1729-30; and repeats for him and unknown patrons (through text revisions) between 1735-1740; and finally, parodied as the extant secular wedding cantata, “O holder Tag, erwünschte Zeit” (O glorious day, longed-for time), 1738-41 (no librettist identified for any version). 

*BWV Anh. 10, “So kämpfet nur, ihr muntern Töne“ (So battle now, ye courageous sounds); text by Picander, serenade for the birthday of Count von Flemming, August 25, 1731; opening chorus parodied to open Part 6 of Christmas Oratorio, BWV 248; closing chorus parody of Cantata BWV 201, closing chorus, and parodied likewise in Cantata BWV Anh. 19, Thomas School welcome, 1734.   

*BWV 215, October 5, 1734; “Preise deine Glücke, gesegnetes Sachsen“ (Praise Thy Good Fortune, Blessed Saxony); text by J.C. Clauder; dramma per musica for birthday visit of August III (evening serenade music commissioned by Leipzig University students); aria (No. 7) parodied in Christmas Oratorio, BWV 248V/5; opening chorus parodied in BWV 232, Osanna; two arias (Nos. 3, 5) parody, original unknown.   

*BWV Anh. 13, April 28, 1738, “Wilkommen!  Ihr Herrschenden Götter der Erden!”  (Welcome, Ye Ruling Royalty of Earth); text Gottsched, homage cantata for August III visit and celebrate wedding of Princess Anna Amalia (evening serenade music commissioned by Leipzig University students).  (None of the music survives and most regrettably because this work was cited in Lorenz Mizler’s defense against Scheibe’s attack on Bach’s old-fashion style, “written in accordance with the latest taste and was approved by everyone” (NBR No. 46).


Bach’s Drammi per Musica

Bach’s first dramma per musica, BWV 205, was composed in 1725 to a text by Picander.  The term “dramma per musica” is a catch-all term, like, “serenade,” “opera” and “oratorio.” It was used by Picander to describe an expanded Bach serenade, usually with four characters, acquiring special meaning and usage.  “Later, the term ‘serenata’ died away and was replaced by ‘dramma per musica’, a name that still more clearly denotes a usually modest plot, often ending in general congratulation of the person honoured in the festivities,” observes Dürr in Bach Cantatas, p. 9.  Generically speaking, it was a phrase found on the title page of many Italian librettos in the 17h century to designate a “text expressly written to be set by a composer . . .  and by extension also to the composition,” says Grove Music. 

Bach’s particular brand of dramma per musica, in contrast to his German contemporary opera composers -- Telemann in Hamburg, Hasse in Dresden and Carl Heinrich Graun in Berlin -- involved opening and closing choruses, the alternation of recitatives and arias, and Italian-style of music but with German texts, says Alberto Basso in his “Oper und ‘Dramma per Musica’ chapter in the World of the Bach Cantatas, pp.48-63 (summary translation by Thomas Braatz in BCW, citations below).   Bach’s more elaborate drammi per musica contained between 10 and 15 movements each. 

Dramma per musica was the closest Bach’s compositions came to opera in Leipzig, says Basso.  Bach faced two obstacles:  the lack of an opera house and “the hindrances caused by Gottsched [who despised all opera] and his theater reforms”  Bach had experienced opera in Hamburg at the beginning of the 18th century and later had considerable encounters with opera in Dresden, beginning with his first trip to Dresden in 1717, and especially in the 1730s.  From the Dresden experience, Bach between 1727 and 1742 performed 10 subtitled dramma per musica, commissioned by Leipzig authorities for public performances honoring the elector’ family.  In all, Bach composed 16 works that his librettists subtitled dramma per musica.  The nine Dresden cantatas are:  BWV Anh. 9 (BC G 14), BWV 193a (G 15), BWV Anh. 11 (G 16), BWV 213 (G 18), BWV 214 (G 19), BWV 205a (G 20), BWV 215 (G 21), BWV 207a (G 22), BWV 206 version 1 (G 23) and BWV 206 version 2a (G 26).  The remainder are:  BWV 249b (G 28), BWV 30a (G 31), BWV 205 (G 36), BWV 207 (G 37), BWV 201 (G 46) and BWV 211 (G 48).   


Transition, 1725-29: Sacred to Secular and Beyond

During the 1725-29 transition, Bach explored various forms of occasional music for different audiences and occasions, says German musicologist Rudolf Eller in his 1975 article, “Thoughts on Bach’s Leipzig Creative Years,” translated by Stephen A. Crist for Bach, Vol. 21, No. 2, Summer 1990, pp.31-54.  Bach began received more commissions, especially for civic events, special celebrations, university activities, and weddings.  Besides the serenades and BWV 205 listed above, Bach produced the following works in the second half of the 1720s: 

*BWV 207, December 11, 1726; “Vereinigte Zwietracht der wechselnden Saiten” (United Discord of Changing Strings), dramma per musica, text probably by Picander; for installation of University law professor Gottlieb Kortte; music extant, parodied as BWV 207a, August III name day, 1735; opening chorus is vocal adaptation of Brandenburg Concerto No. 1, BWV 1046/3 from Köthen;  characters: Fortune, Gratitude, Diligence, Fame.     

*BWV 195(a), 1727; title unknown, was an apparent comic tribute to a Leipzig couple.  Later it evolved into a sacred wedding cantata “Dem Gerechten muß das Licht immer wieder aufgehen” (On the Righteous Must Light Always Break Anew), presented on January 3, 1736 in Ohrdruf, for Naumberg Mayor Heinrich Ripping and the Johanna Eleonore Schutz, daughter of a St. Thomas pastor.  Still later, in 1748-49 in one of Bach’s last efforts, it remained a sacred wedding cantata, with plans (surviving text only in the hand of son J. C. Bach), never realized, for a substantial second part after the wedding proper, restoring an original aria and opening (now supposed closing) chorus parodied in Cantata BWV 30a, a 1737 dramma per musica tribute. Instead, Bach simply replaced these with a plain four-part wedding chorale.  The work requires a large ensemble with separate parts written out for concertists and ripienists.

*BWV 216, February 5, 1728; “Vergnügte Pleißenstadt” (Pleasing Pleiße-Town); wedding cantata for Leipzig couple, text by Picander; parodied as BWV 216a, “Erwählte Pleißenstadt” (Chosen Pleiße-Town); secular town council tribute, August 29, 1729 or later; only the soprano-alto voice parts survive. 

*BWV 201; 1729, possibly on October 1; Der Streit zwischen Phoebus und Pan: “Geschwindet, ihr wirbelnden Winde!” (The Dispute Between Phoebus and Pan:  Quickly away, ye whirling winds); dramma per musica, text by Picander; six characters:  Momus, Mercurius, Tmolus, Midas, Phoebus, Pan; repeated 1736-39 during the Scheibe controversy, and 1749. 

There are three secular cantatas in 1729 for which only texts exist; music is lost.  They were found in the Bückeburg Court Library, according to Hildegard Tigemann, “Unbekannte Textdrücke zu drei Gelegenheit Kantaten J. S. Bach’s aus dem Jahre 1729” (Unfamiliar Printed Texts to Three J. S. Bach Occasional Cantatas From the Year 1729), Bach Jahrbuch 1994.  None have BWV listings and apparently no music survives.  

+July 5, “Dort wo der Pleißern Urn' und Fluss” (There Where the Pleiße Swirls and Flow),  Artopae Härtel wedding.  

+July 21, “Des Zephyrs Atem rauscht und fliegt“ (The Zephyrs’ Breath Rushes and Flies; text Conrad Benedict Hulse; tribute for Prince August Ludwig of Anhalt-Köthen (brother and heir of Prince Leopold). 

+September 12, “Erschallet mit doppelter Anmut und Schöne“ (Resound With Double Charm and Beauty), name day of Leipzig University law professor Gottlieb Kortte; see BWV 207 above, congratulatory serenade for his appointment, December 1726.


Leipzig:  1730s:  Kapellmeister, Dresden Court 

In the spring of 1729, Bach abandoned composing regular performances of his church cantatas. Instead, he embraced secular cantatas and became director of the Leipzig Collegium musicum.  Rudolf Eller suggests that one of Bach’s motives for this “far-reaching reorientation” (p.31) was the desire for more visibility and “participation in the flourishing middle-class life of Leipzig” (p.40).  In addition, Bach secured court composer titles at Saxe-Weißenfels in 1729 and the Saxon Court at Dresden in 1736. 

The bulk of Bach’s secular cantatas from 1730 to 1742 were composed for the visiting Dresden Court.  He resumed using the title Kapellmeister as his primary identity, as the leader of a major musical establishment.  He directed the Collegium musicum in secular performances, including virtually all of his worldly cantatas, until 1742, with a break between 1737 and 1739.  The ensemble of learning musicians was the forum for Bach to present his works in public venues ranging from coffee houses and banquet halls to outdoor gardens and city squares, reports Andreas Glöckner in “Bachs Leipziger Collegium musicum und seine Vorgeschichte” in Die Welt der Bach-Kantaten (Vol. 2, Johann Sebastian Bachs weltliche Kantaten, Editors Christoph Wolff/Ton Koopman, pp. 105-117, summary translation by Thomas Braatz, BCW).  Bach had spent the 1720s in Leipzig creating a well-regulated church music through three church service cycles of sacred cantatas.  He devoted the 1730s to composing secular works for special occasions while completing his sacred calling through the task of transforming some of the occasional works into sacred oratorios for major feast days and Good Friday, parodying selections from mostly sacred works into four Lutheran Masses (Kyrie-Gloria, BWV 233-236), and composing the great Catholic Mass in B Minor, BWV 232 for the Dresden Court. 

Beginning in 1732, Bach produced some dozen mostly drammi per musica cantatas for Dresden Court visits on the occasion of name days, birthdays, and other events.  He began with a celebratory work for the name day of August II (August the Strong) in 1732, BWV Anh. 11, text by Picander.  Only three numbers survive.  The opening chorus, which also opened the 1734 Cantata BWV 215 (see above) for the visit of his son and heir, August III, and was later parodied as the Osanna in the B-Minor Mass (BWV 232).  The central gavotte-like aria became the echo aria with new text in the Christmas Oratorio New Years Cantata, BWV 248/4.  The dance-like closing aria did double duty later in Bach’s 1737 dramma per musica homage to a Saxon electoral official, BWV 30a (see below), his last dramma per musica and a veritable pastiche from several Bach cantatas, and then became  sacred cantata BWV 30 for the feast of St. John the Baptist in 1738.  


Oratorios, Congratulatory Cantatas

Bach submitted the Kyrie-Gloria of his B-Minor Mass (BWV 232) to August III on July 27, 1733, with a request for a royal court title, which he received in 1736.  A week later, Bach presented BWV Anh. 12 for the August III name day, August 3, 1733, a parody of BWV Anh. 18, which was a 1732 festive cantata for the dedication of the remodeled Thomas School.  The opening chorus common to both works later was parodied as the glorious opening of the Ascension Oratorio, BWV 11, in 1735.  One other number survives:  the opening dance-like aria was parodied in both versions of Cantata BWV 30(a) as well as Cantata BWV 195 (see above).

There followed a series of three newly-composed drammi per musica designed originally for royal visits in 1733-34, BWV 213-BWV 214-BWV 215,  respectively, on September 5 and December 8, 1733, and October 7, 1734.  These three survive and also were parodied into the core lyrical music (choruses and arias) in the Christmas Oratorio of 1734-35.  Meanwhile, on February 19, 1734, Bach parodied the 1725 dramma per musica, BWV 205 (see above), into the August III coronation work, BWV 205a

For the 1734-35 church year, Bach parodied mostly secular music for his oratorios for the major feasts of Christmas, Easter, Ascension, and perhaps Pentecost, as well as possibly presenting sacred cantata reperformances during the Easter Season.  For the six services of Christmas (texts perhaps Picander), Bach parodied the core lyrical choruses and arias from the drammi per musica, Cantatas BWV 213-BWV 214-BWV 215, into the Christmas Oratorio, BWV 248.  For Easter, he updated his Easter Oratorio (texts perhaps Picander), BWV 249, from 1725, parodied from the serenade Shepherd Cantata, BWV 249a.  On Ascension Day 1735, he presented his Ascension Oratorio, BWV 11, parodied from BWV Anh. 18 (opening chorus, 1732 Thomas School remodeling) and two arias from the serenade BWV Anh. 13.

For a possible Pentecost Oratorio, no text or music survives.  It is possible that the opening chorus comes from the same movement in BWV 206, dramma per musica for the August III birthday, 1736.  Hans-Joachim Schulze in "Bach’s Secular Cantatas, a New Look,” shows that Bach began the work in 1734 but replaced it with BWV 215.  Says Schulze (p. 34):  “ . . . it seems likely that  between October 1734 and October 1736, this first movement had become part of another cantata, presumably a cantata with a text differing from the original one and referring to matters other than the elector’s birthday or name day.  The whereabouts of such a hypothetical cantata are unknown except for the traces in the source material (score and parts) of Cantata BWV 206.”  Another dramma per musica Bach might have utilized is BWV 205(a).  “Remarkably, only one of this cantata’s movements (soprano aria “Angenehmer Zephyrus”) was transferred into Bach’s church music (BWV 171/4) at any time,” says Schulze (p.31).  Other possibilities could come from BWV 207(a) and BWV 201.   

On August 3, 1735, the name day of August III, Bach parodied the 1726 academic dramma per musica, BWV 207, into BWV 207a.  For the birthday visit of August III on October 7, 1736, Bach produced a new dramma per musica, BWV 206, which he originally started in 1734 but replaced with BWV 215.  Bach repeated BWV 206 in 1740 for the August III name day.  During the late 1730s, Bach composed two cantatas for August III visits, BWV Anh. 13, discussed above with serenades, and Bach Compendium BC 25, a birthday homage cantata, music and text lost, for October 7, 1738.  Finally, in 1742, Bach came full circle, reviving his oldest known secular work, BWV 208a (see above), originally composed for the court at Saxe-Weißenfels in 1713 and repeated there in 1729 and at the Weimar court, in 1713 or 1716.  This time, BWV 208a, for the August III name day in August, 1742, with a new preface title, “Verlockender Götterstreit” (Tempting Godly Argument). 

This series of semi-annual drammi per musica eventually persuaded August III to grant Bach the designation of court composer (Electoral Saxon and Royal Polish Court Compositeur) on November 19, 1736.  Previously, Bach also had composed three birthday serenades (on August 25) for Saxon court adviser and leading Bach patron Count von Flemming (BWV 249b, 1726; BWV 210a 1729-30 and 1735-40; and BWV Anh. 10, 1731).  In 1737 he assembled a dramma per musica homage to Saxon electoral official, Count Johann Christian von Hennicke, BWV 30a, “Angenehmes Wiederau, freue dich in deinen Auen!” (Pleasing Wiederau, rejoice in thy meadows) parodied from several Bach cantatas, which then became a sacred cantata for the feast of St. John the Baptist in 1738.   The work has four allegories:  Time, Happiness, Fate, and the river Elster, which flows through the count’s estate.  It is a composite work, with parodied music from similar works with pastorale-style music:  opening chorus and gavotte-style alto aria from Cantata BWV 195/6, 8; bass aria possibly Cantata BWV Anh. 11/9; and tenor aria from BWV 210/8.   

For other occasions, in addition to the eight cantatas for academic events (Leipzig University or Thomas School), cited above, are two composed almost together in the mid-1730s:  BWV Anh. 210, “Wo sind meine Wunderwerke?”, farewell cantata for Thomas School rector Johann Mathias Gesner, on October 4, 1734 (poet unknown, music lost); and BWV Anh. 19Thomana saß annoch betrübt” (Thomas Cheers Yet Grieves), in November 21 1734 for Gesner’s successor, J.A. Ernesti (poet J.A. Landvoigt; only surviving music, closing chorus, parodied from BWV 201/15. 


Italian Music, Opera, Poetic Passions

There also survive three secular solo cantatas with obscure origins and applications:  BWV 203, “Amore Traditore” (Love, Thou Traitor), for bass, discussed above as a possibly originating in Köthen; Bach’s other Italian-language cantata, BWV 209, “Non sa che sia dolore” (He Knows Not What Is Pain), for soprano, possibly for a scholar’s departure (?J. M. Gesner in 1734); and BWV 204, “Ich bin in mir vergnügt” (I Am Content with Myself), 1726-27, soprano work, probably for the Bach home, with a 1713 text by Hunold-Menates, with two arias possibly parodied in BWV 216/6 and the St. Mark Passion (BWV 247).  The authenticity of the last two Italian cantatas has been questioned, the authors are unknown, and they contain no dance-styles. 

Bach’s activities with the Collegium musicum in the 1730s not only involved his drammi per musica and other profane works but also various Italian solo cantatas by other noted composers as regular fare at Zimmermann’s Coffee House.  These works are described in Andreas Glöckner’s Neuerkenntnisse zu J.S. Bachs Auffuehrungskalendar (New Knowledge of J.S. Bach’s Performance Calendar), Bach Jahrbuch 1981, pp. 63-71) and Wolff’s Johann Sebastian Bach:  The Learned Musician (pp. 333, 501).  The sources of the music is from the Collegium musicum Library of Bach’s successor, Carl  Gotthelf Gerlach (1704-1761) in his estate purchased by Leipzig printer Breitkopf.  They are:  Handel, G. F. (1685-1759):  cantata “Armida Abbandonata,” HWV 105, 1731; Popora, Nicola (1686-1768):  cantatas “Dal primo foco cui penai,” “Sopra un colle fiorito,” and “Ecco l’infausto lido”, c.1734; and Scarlatti, Alessandro (1660-1725):  cantata “So amor con un contento,” 1730-37.   

The original source of these solo Italian cantatas is probably the Dresden Court.  Bach made at least four visits to Dresden from 1731 to 1741.  On September 13, 1731, he probably attended the gala premiere of Hasse’s “Cleofide,” featuring his wife, noted soprano Faustina Bordoni,  They made several visits to Dresden during the 1730s, staying at the Bach quarters and she probably sang many of these cantatas.  Bach also visited Dresden in 1736, May 1738, and November 1741, his last documented trip to the Saxon Court.   

While Bach probably was knowledgeable about opera, particularly Hasse’s Second Neopolitan School perfecting opera seria, few of his arias in content show overtly Metastasio’s concept of the affective expression of the soul, involving arias of rage, anger, jealousy, and the Seven Deadly Sins.  Bach seemed content to dwell on the pietistic elements of simple yet often graphic, direct expression, also found in the Berthold Brockes lyrical dramatic Passion arias, ariosi, and soliloquies.  These involve the various phases of passion:  suffering, anger, intensity, and love. 

The most telling music is possibly the arias which Bach composed apparently for his 1717 Weimar/Gotha Oratorio Passion, BC D-1/2-4 (no complete text survives).  In one aria, he mixes the element of the sacred chorale with profane literary influences.  The three arias, BWV 245a,b,c, are found only in the second (1725) version of the St. John Passion (BWV 245):  bass aria “Himmel reiße, Welt erbebe” (Heaven crumbling, mountains tumbling), influenced by C. H. Postel, with the soprano chorale “Jesu, deine Passion”; tenor aria (“Zerschmettert mich, ihr Felsen und ihr Hügel” (Crush me, ye rocks and hills), influenced by Salomo Franck, and tenor aria “Ach windet euch nicht so, geplagte Seelen” (Ah, writhe thou in pain, tormented spirit), also influenced by Postel.  In the definitive version of the St. John Passion, BWV 245, the influence of Handel’s Brockes Passion text is found in several arias, especially alto aria “Von den stricken meiner Sünden” (From the snare of my sins), “Eilt, ihr angefocht’nen Seelen” (Haste, ye troubled souls); bass arioso “Betrachte, meine Seele” (Consider, my soul); and tenor aria “Erwäge, wie sein blutgefärbter Rücken” (Behold, how his bloodstained back).  


Dance, Singspiel, Passion Pasticcios

Another secular element prominent in Bach’s worldly cantatas is the dance.  Movements with dance character, primarily arias, are found in all tsecular cantatas, including BWV 201-216, except for the two Italian-language works, BWV 203 and BWV 209.  The dance character of the pastorale dominates the Leipzig works while the most predominant dance styles are the bouree, gavotte, minuet and gigue.  According to Doris Fincke-Heckinger in Tanzcharakter in J.S. Bach’s Vokal Musik (1970, Werk-Register, pp. 155-159), these cantatas and their movements are:  BWV 201/1,7,9,13,15; BWV 202/3,7,9; BWV 204/2,6,8; BWV 205/3,5,9,11,13; BWV 206/3,11; BWV 207/2,4,11; BWV 208/2,7,13-15; BWV 210/2,4,8; BWV 211/4,8,10; BWV 212/1,2,4,6,8,10,12,14,20,24; BWV 213/1,3,5,9,11,13; BWV 214/1,3,5,7,9; BWV 215/1,5,9; BWV 216/5,7.  The other secular works with dance-character are: BWV 30a/1,3,5,7,9; BWV 36(a,b,c)/3,7,9; BWV 66/1,3; BWV 134a/2,4,8; BWV 173a/3,4,6-8; BWV 184/2,4,6; BWV 194/1,3,5,8,10. 

While Bach often utilized Italian musical styles and influences in his earlier Leipzig works, as well as pervasive French dance styles, he increasingly added more progressive, Germanic elements in his profane compositions, beginning in the 1730s, with the pronounced influences of the Dresden Court and the collaboration with the Collegium musicum musician collective.  These particularly bore fruit with his two quasi-operatic cantatas, BWV 211, Coffee Cantata, introduced in the summer of 1734; and BWV 212, Peasant Cantata Burlesque, homage work, August 30, 1742.  These two are the only secular cantatas to have people from real life as their subjects, also found in intermezzi and opera buffa, in contrast to mythological or allegorical figures.  These watershed works, “already form part of the background of the German Singspiel,“ says Eller, p. 47. 

Bach continued to challenge the worlds of the sacred and secular, to exploit simultaneously elements from both.  In the late 1740s, he was involved in the creation of two lyrical Pasticcio Passions which may have been presented in a secular context at Zimmermann’s or elsewhere.  They are the Pasticcio Passion Oratorio after C.H. Graun (plus music of Telemann, Altnikol, Kuhnau, and Bach chorale-chorus BWV 127/1 and arioso BWV 1088), dated to around 1743-48; and the later Keiser-Handel Pasticcio Oratorio Passion of 1748-49.  Bach also may have participated in the church presentations of the poetic Passion Oratorios of Telemann’s “Seliges Erwägen” (?1740s), Handel’s “Brockes Passion” (1746-47) and a lost Graun Passion Oratorio with chorales (before 1750).  In effect, Bach had come full circle from the 1705 Keiser Hamburg Oratorio-Passions.  These works are discussed in Andreas Glöckner’s “Bach and the Passion music of his contemporaries” (Musical Times, Vol. 116, 1975, pp. 613-16).  All of these composers had produced serenatas, drammi per musica or oratorios, and most importantly, operas – and had contemporary public visibility greater then the Leipzig Music Director.   Bach personally knew Telemann and Graun, according to son C.P.E. Bach in his father’s Obituary (1754, BD III, No. 666). 

While Bach’s activities in the creative dramatic realm diminished greatly after 1742, he remained quite active and engaged in the wider, increasingly secularized and “enlightened” world, with important travels, projects, and publications.  Meanwhile, he continued to present Town Council cantatas annually and Oratorio Passions on Good Fridays.  The latter involved the poetic Passion Oratorios cited above; his St. Matthew and St. John Oratorio Passions, BWV 244-BWV 245; and the Keiser/Bruhns St. Mark Passion and the J.M. Molter St. Luke Passion, BWV 246.  All required large forces from the resources of the Collegium musicum.  In addition, Bach completed his well-regulated church music with the completion of the B-Minor Mass, BWV 232.  As a result, Rudolf Eller concludes that Bach’s Leipzig works “were born out of a unity of imaginative power and the will to order things, a unity of the art of invention and the art of reasoning” (p. 46). 


Selected Bibliography

BC Schulze, Hans–Joachim and Christoph Wolff. Bach Compendium, Analytisch-bibliographisches Repertorim der Werke Johann Sebastian Bach. Leipzig and Frankfurt. 1986.

BD III Schulze, Hans-Joachim, editor. Dokumente zum Nachwirken Johan Sebastian Bachs 1750-1800. Bach-Documente, III. 1972.

NBR David, Hans T. and Mendel, Arthur. The New Bach Reader: A Life of Johann Sebastian Bach in Letters and Documents. Revised and expanded by Christoph Wolff. New York: W.W. Norton & Company. 1998.

Basso, Alberto. “Oper und ‘Dramma per Musica’”. Die Welt der Bach-Kantatan: Der Komponist in seiner Welt. Editors, Christoph Wolff, Ton Koopman. Stuttgart: Metzler and Kassel: Bärenreiter. 1997.
Summary translation, Thomas Braatz, BCW.

Dürr, Alfred. The Cantatas of J. S. Bach, English Edition. Revised and translated by Richard D.P. Jones. New York: Oxford University Press. 2005.

Eller, Rudolf. “Thoughts on Bach’s Leipzig Creative Years.” 1975. Translated by Stephen A. Crist. BACH, Vol. 21, No. 2. Summer 1990.

Fincke-Heckinger, Doris: Tanzcharakter in J.S. Bach’s Vokal Musik. Trossingen: Tübinger Bach-Studien 6. 1970.

Glöckner, Andreas. “Bach and the Passion music of his contemporaries.” Musical Times, Vol. 116, 1975, pp. 613-16).

Glöckner, Andreas. “Bachs Leipziger Collegium musicum und seine Vorgeschichte.” Die Welt der Bach-Kantaten: Johann Sebastian Bachs weltliche Kantaten. Editors: Christoph Wolff, Ton Koopman. Stuttgart: Metzler and Kassel: Bärenreiter. 1997.
Summary translation, Thomas Braatz, BCW.

Petzoldt, Richard. Telemann. London: Ernst Benn. 1974.

Schrade, Leo. Bach: Sacred and Secular Conflict. New York: Merlin Press. 1946.

Schröder, Dorothea. “Lamento” Liner notes to Musica antique Köln recording of Francesco Conti’s “Lanuget anima mea”. Hamburg: Deutsche Grammophon. 2005.

Schulze, Hans Joachim. “Bach’s Secular Cantatas – A New Look at Sources. BACH 21, No. 1. Spring 1990.

Smend, Friedrich. Bach in Köthen. 1951. English Edition. John Page, Editor. St. Louis: Concordia. 1985.

Snyder, Kerala J. Buxtehude: Organist From Lübeck. Schirmer: New York. 1987.

Snyder, Kerala J. “Oratorio on Five Afternoons: From the Lübeck Abendmusiken to Bach’s Christmas Oratorio,” paper presented at “Bach and the Oratorio Tradition,” Biennial Meeting of the American Bach Society. Bethlehem PA: May 8, 2008.

Tigemann, Hildegard. “Unbekennte Textdrücke zu drei Gelegenheit Kantataten J. S. Bach’s aus dem Jahre 1729.” Bach-Jahrbuch 1994.

Wolff, Christoph. “Buxtehude, Bach,and Seventeenth Century Music in Retrospect.” Bach: Essays on His Life and Music. Cambridge MA: Harvard Univ. Press. 1991.

Wolff, Christoph. Johann Sebastian Bach: The Learned Musician. New York: W.W. Norton & Company. 2000.


Contributed by William Hogffman (August 28, 2008)


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Last update: Sunday, May 28, 2017 14:17