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Vocal: Cantatas BWV 1-224 | Motets BWV 225-231 | Latin Church BWV 232-243 | Passions & Oratorios BWV 244-249 | Chorales BWV 250-438 | Lieder BWV 439-524
Instrumental: Organ BWV 525-771 | Keyboard BWV 772-994 | Solo Instrumental BWV 995-1013 | Chamber & Orchestral BWV 1014-1080

Bach Books



Handbook To Bach's Sacred Cantata Texts



Texts & Translation

J.S. Bach Works:

BWV 1-224


Melvin P. Unger









HC: 780 pp


HC / Kindle


Scarecrow Press


ISBN-10: 0810829797
ISBN-13: 978-0810829794


The German church cantata of the 18th century was the culmination of a long tradition of Lutheran "sermon music" that used the proclamation, amplification, and interpretation of scripture to teach and persuade the listener. J.S. Bach's cantatas also served this didactic purpose and typically incorporate numerous allusions to scriptural passages or themes in their librettos. Unfortunately, many of these passages remain obscure to the twentieth-century musician because they demand a much closer familiarity with the Bible than is common today. The Handbook to Bach's Sacred Cantata Texts identifies scriptural references for the wording, imagery, and themes that J.S. Bach's listeners would have known. In addition, the religious or literary theme of each text is summarized within the specific context of the cantata as a whole. With interlinear translations and a full complement of indexes.


Buy this book at:

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Contributor: Aryeh Oron (November 2014)

Your opinion please, thanks!

Paul McCain wrote (January 12, 2001):
I have recently been considering the purchase of "Handbook To Bach's Sacred Cantata Texts" by Melvin P. Unger. It looks to be a most impressive work, but given my lack of scholarly expertise, I thought I would run it past this group for its opinion.

Richard Goodman wrote (January 13, 2001):
[To Paul McCain)]It is a FABULOUS resource. $100 is pretty steep, but you might check used book outlets such as got mine for half-price.

Teri Noel Towe wrote (January 14, 2001):
(To Paul McCain) Mel Unger is not only a lovely man but a fine and sensitive scholar. I have not as yet seen the book, but I intend to have a look at it, for sure.

Were it half the price, I'd buy it sight unseen, simply because of my high degree of respect and admiration for Unger's work.


Melvin Unger's "Bach Cantatas" book

Paul T. McCain wrote (August 27, 2005):
Could you folks let me know what you think about Unger's guide to Bach's cantatas. Would like to know before I hand over $100 for it to Amazon. Thanks.

Rianto Pardede wrote (August 27, 2005):
[To Paul T. McCain] I have Melvin Unger's book: Handbook to Bach Sacred Cantatas' Text. Is it the one you are referring to?

Paul T. McCain wrote (August 28, 2005):
[To Rianto Pardede] Yes, that's it. What do you think of it?

Rianto Pardede wrote (August 28, 2005):
[To Paul T. McCain] Well, the reason I bought the book in the first place is because it's in word-for-word translation format. It also provides, along with the translation, scriptural allusions related to the cantatas text. I thought that knowing which verses in the Bible that are alluded to would help me appreciating certain lines or thoughts in cantata librettos, and I really wanted to know the meaning of each word sung at any given moment while listening to the music. The book certainly does provide the help, and the convenience, for me.

Basically, each page in the book is outlined in two large columns. The left column is for cantata text and its translation. Placed at the right column, there are biblical passages to which the text's lines allude. Scriptural excerpts are taken from the Revised Standard Version. At some places within the excerpts, equivalent German words/phrases based on the 1545 edition of Luther's translation, are thrown in. There are some quotations from other sources included as well, e.g. Apocrypha and Josephus.


Melvin Unger: Short Biography | Baldwin-Wallace College Singers | Recordings of Vocal Works
Handbook To Bach's Sacred Cantata Texts

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Last update: Monday, September 11, 2017 13:29