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Funerals & Weddings

Douglas Cowling wrote (December 17, 2010):
Evan Cortens wrote:
< Another issue is how one defines "secular." Typically wedding music is assigned to the secular category, but one can justify this by noting that in the Lutheran church, marriage wasn't a sacrament. (Was it still performed in a church, or with clergy involved? I don't know...)
What of funerals, I wonder? Sacred still, perhaps, but not part of the regular church year. >
Perhaps it's more precise to say works with sacred texts. All of Bach's wedding and funeral cantatas have sacred texts.

Funerals were largely domestic affairs: the casket was never brought to the church. The choir met the mourners at the home and conducted the casket directly to the grave - this was Luther's reform to prevent the multiplication of paid requiems sung for the repose of the dead. After the interment, the mourners might return to the church for a sermon and, if a notable citizen, a cantata or motet. Stiller notes that for prominent citizens, the Sunday cantata might be replaced by memorial music: presumably major works like "Jesu Meine Freude" fall into this category. Lutheran funeral texts never address the deceased: rather they admonish the living to goodly lives in the face of human mortality.

Weddings were performed in the church on Monday afternoons. There were two classifications: half-weddings and full-weddings. Half-weddings had the choir singing chorales only. Bach orchestrated simple settings of the three wedding chorale. Full-weddings had a commissioned cantata. There were not many during Bach's tenure in Leipzig.

The one exception to the funeral music is the Funeral Ode (BWV 198) which stands apart because it does not have a religious text: God is not mentioned at all! The music's direct address to the deceased princess and the classical formalism of the panegyric would indicate that such a "secular" work was not performed in a church service but rather in the stand-alone commemoration at the University Church.

It's interesting to note that the Ode's text seems to guard the propriety of the church location by never introducing conventional classical allusions to mythology. I would still suggest that Bach had a well-regulated set of criteria which informed his reuse of music. He just never wrote it down for us.

Julian Mincham wrote (December 17, 2010):
[To Douglas Cowling] I think that in the case of funerals the difference may be bewteen music written for the actual funeral and that written to commemorate the event of a death---which was the case of BWV 198 which was done by the university at the request of a student, NOT for the actual funeral itself.

There are also great differences between the wedding cantatas as well, a point which I think may be explained by the differences in status and position of the people who commissioned the works.

Ed Myskowski wrote (December 18, 2010):
Evan Cortens wrote:
< Another issue is how one defines "secular." >
I think Brian McCreath ( made a nice point, several weeks ago, to the effect that in Bachs world view, there was not the same distinction between secular and sacred that we now make. That is, to Bach, they were one and the same. As Doug notes, many (most?) of the so-called secular cantatas have texts with sacred references.

OTOH, to Bach the musician (perhaps): you get longer notice for a wedding than for a funeral.

God rest ye merry, Gentlemen. Let nothing you dismay.

Julian Mincham wrote (December 18, 2010):
[To Ed Myskowski] Following my email of yesterday it occurred to me that BWV 198 might be more accurately placed (by contemporary commentators at least) as one of the works of homage rather than as a funeral cantata.

This puts it with BWV 208, BWV 205, BWV 173, BWV 173a, BWV 207 and BWV 207a. It also links up with another present list thread as the last two of these begin with an arrangement of the 3rd movement of Brandenburg 1, which I have suggested elsewhere, is one of the most interesting choices of paraphrase of Bach's earlier concerto compositions.

Douglas Cowling wrote (December 18, 2010):
Julian Mincham wrote:
< Following my email of yesterday it occurred to me that BWV 198 might be more accurately placed (by contemporary commentators at least) as one of the works of homage rather than as a funeral cantata. >
That captures the essence of the work. It's really in the literary "tombeau" tradition which creates a scene of lament at the tomb of the great and the good whose virtues are extolled. The absence of conventional classical mythology is very cleverly contrived to avoid pagan references for performance in a church but not within a service, a kind of "concert spirituel." The concluding chorus where the choir sings the epitaph on the sepulchre in an angular unison melody is one of the great moments in all of Bach, one which he reused as the conclusion of the St. Mark Passion at the tomb of Jesus.

And speaking of hommage to Bach's princely patrons, you may enjoy this link to the German documentary series, "The Germans." This program, "Augustus the Strong and Love," interleaves historical commentary with recreated royal trysts. Lots of nice footage of Krakow and Dresden, especially the restored churches which Bach would have known: ZDFmediathek


Bach and 9/11

Douglas Cowling wrote (September 12, 2011):
Today's NY Times:

Ed Myskowski wrote (September 12, 2011):
[To Douglas Cowling] Thanks for the convenient link. Yo YO MA playing a movement from the cello suites was also a highlight of the televised ceremonies.


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Last update: ýSeptember 23, 2011 ý12:27:33