music in religion pre-reformation

Middle Ages 

  • plainchant sung by preists brought text of Latin liturgy to life.
  • over time harmony was added.

Notre Dame School of Leonin and Perotin


  • complex polyphonic textures introduced.
  • sung by trained choirs (due to dificulty).

Lassus  / Franco-Felmish polyphonic style 

emphasis had been on choral music and latin text - new tradition of congregational singing in German begun with reformation hence chorales being incorporated into elaborate vocal works e.g. cantatas

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Martin Luther

Martin Luther's 95 Theses 

expressed his rejection to the teachings/principles of Roman Catholic Church e.g. indulgences

he nailed them to the door of the Castle Church in Wittenerg

refused to denounce his writings (1521) an assembly of the Holy Roman Empire (called 'Diet of the Worms')

was exocimmunicated by the Pope and outlawed by Emporer Charles V

began the Protestant Reformation (1517-1648) - sought to involve ordinary worshippers in the medieval Catholic church more actively

by translating New Testament into German - accessible to congregation (whilst hiding near Eisenach by Elector Frederick III of Saxony

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Luther's Chorale

pioneered chorales - (German instead of Latin)

he appreciated the power of music to break down barrier between clergy and ordinary people-"Next to the word of God, music deserves the highest praise." 

wrote prolifically 

over 4,000 Lutheran hymns were published by end of 16th century

used his chorale melodies/texts to affirm his Protestant ideas


  • hymn tunes
  • in the vernacular
  • verse compositions set to simple tunes that resembled popular secular songs
  • designed to be sung by congregation during services
  • incorporated into cantatas
  • interspersed with solo arias and recitatives
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development of Luther's movement




over next 200 years Lutheran music changed

e.g. development of oratorio -added solos and instrumental passages

Heinrich Schutz

Dietrich Buxtehude 

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  • his work +Handel's = culmination of Baroque music
  • choral writer for Lutheran church in Germany, but also known for instrumental / keyboard music
  • wrote to please sacred and secular employers 


  • appointed as Cantor of Thomasschule which provided music for the Thomaskirche in Lepizig (and 3 other churches) e.g.'Passions', 'Bminor Mass''Christmas Oratorio'
  • had to prepare music for daily church services...
  • ...and an extensive Sunday programme (main service 7am-12pm + 3 short services) 
  • music involved : motet , Lutheran Mass, hymns and a cantata
  • had to direct 1st choir (most trained) church with more complex cantata


  • became director of orchestra (accompanied 1st choir)
  • well-trained (from the school,town and collegium musicum of the university)
  • comprised of 18-24 players 
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Italien verb 'cantare' = 'to sing'

CANTATA - vocal composition with instrumental accompaniment, typically with solos, choir and orchestra, in 7 movements- (different types ; church cantata / sacred cantata / secular cantata).

integral part of Lutheran liturgy 

some music for soloists and others for chorus

medium length rather than extended length of oratorios e.g. Handel's Messiah

either sacred OR secular 

had prominent place in Lutheran liturgy of Leipzig - churches required 58 cantatas a year + for Christian events

it was Germany where they became associated with the Lutheran Church 

subject matter = linked to content Gospel reading read before cantata in the service


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Bach's cantatas

  • Bach's Sacred Cantatas
    • composed 4 complete cycles of 60 cantatas in each (1723-29)
    • over 200 of his cantatas have been preserved 
    • early cantatas :used true expression/intergrity=response to correlating texts for each cantata
    • Leipzig cantatas (newly arranged/new) : less subjective in feeling+more regular structure
  • Secular Cantatas 
    • for royalty / public / private occasions 
    • OR for plot line written in opera buffa style 
  • Chorale Cantatas-church cantata based on Lutheran hymn text/melody-typical choral ending
    • wrote about 52 chorale cantatas 
    • wrote about 40 of these in Leipzig as the backbone of his cantata cycle
    • all cantatas of his 2nd cantata cycle are based on a Lutheran hymn tune
    • includes 'Ein feste Burg ist unser Gott, BWV 80'
    • soloist movements = aria OR recitative (also used in opera!-modernisation tendency in Lutheran church that'd begun in 17th century)
    • many based on chorales
    • composed for Sunday morning long servies in Leipzig, following the gospel reading and preceeding the Creed and the sermon
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'Ein feste Burg ist unser Gott , BWV 80' cantata

date of composition is unknown BUT we know he wrote it in Leipzig for Reformation Day (Oct 31st)

composed and first performed = 1727-31

performed by singers/instrumentalists of St Thomas Church + congregation join in m.8

rework of his earlier cantata 'Alles, was von Gott geboren' (in Weimar 1715/6 written for 4th Sunday after Easter) - also name for 2nd movement of cycle 'Ein Feste burg is in'

cantata consists of 8 movements: 

1. Chorus/Chorale fantasia - 'Ein feste Burg ist unser Gott' (also the name of the whole cantata)

2. Aria and duet - 'Alles was von Gott geboren'

8. Chorale - 'Das Wort sie sollen lassen stahn'

[chorale appears in 4 of the 8 movements]

cantata 80 originally concieved as a Lenten cantata in 1715 to a text by Salamo Franck

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Martin Luther 1529 hymn

familiar to Bach's congregation , recogniseable to them even when he added decoration in 1st movement  

Bach's cantata uses the text and music of this hymn in 4 of the 8 cantata movements 

this hymn has the same name as the cantata = 'Ein feste Burg ist unser Gott'

this technique includes a 'cantus firmus'/ 'fixed song' , which is a pre-exisiting melody (here it's bars 1-2 of Luther's hymn), that forms the basis of a polyphonic composition (here it's Bach's cantata)

melody starts with repeated tonic note (D major) before falling a 4th to dominant and rising back to the tonic 

9 phrases 

bars 1-4 are repeated in bars 5-8

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Movement 1 Intrumentation

SATB vocal solists                                                 NO DYNAMICS INDICATED

tutti orchestra:

  • 3 oboes - in unison to bring about chorale melody 
  • violin 1 + 2 
  • 'violoncello e cembalo'        this is the only Bach cantata to differentiate between continuo parts 
  • 'violone e organo' - violone plays only in canonic sections answering oboes at a lower octave, is the lowest instrument, completely independent of violoncello - organ provides harmonic support based on given figuring
  • sackbut - in this recording this is used to strengthen the lower part 
  • trumpet - Wilhelm Friedemann Bach (his son), later added this to give an additional sense of grandeur seeing oboes as not enough

vocal lines closely doubled by orchestra:

  • SAT double by v1,v2,violas
  • vocal B doubled by cellos OR presented in more ornate version (20-22)

violone plays firgured bass e.g. 4 and 3 bar 13 indicate G and F# must be played above bass Ds

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Movement 1 Texture

highly contrapuntal [evidence of phenomenal composition skill for which Bach has always been admired]


  • no instrumental prelude - tenors open with 1st phrase of chorale with added ornamentation doubled by instruments (imitated in fugal style building up from T, A, S then B)
  • Luther hymn heard in countersubject (bar 4 tenor based on Luther's hymn tune of 'ein gute Wehr') and cantus firmus in canon at the octave (oboes and 2nd continuo part, oboe always 1/2 bar ahead)
  • each phrase treated in this broadly similiar fashion =
    • imitative entries 1st with voices doubled by instruments
    • then, canon between oboes and violone
  • fugal style e.g. tenor (1-3) OR soprano (6)
    • phrases 1+3 use fugal expositions (entries on D,A,D,A) in 4-part vocal (instead of just imitation)
    • tonal answer on 5th degree of scale, down a 4th in alto (3) and in bass (8)

first appearances of phrases 2+4 in tenor (3 + 33) = countersubject to 2nd fugal alto entry (3 + 33)

heterophony - (20-22) simultaneous presentation of 2 versions of a melody = plain version sung by basses + ornate version in cellos)

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Movement 1 Melody

  • uses cantus firmus in turn - altered rhythms and added passing notes (melodic shape remains same)
    • conjunct (appropriate for congregation and cantata based on bars1-2 of Luther's 1529 hymn tune)
    • subject - cantus firmus :
      • repeated tonic notes in D falling 4th to dominant then rising back to tonic 
      • passed around voices in imitation e.g. found in oboe then basso continuo 2 beats later each time 
      • + ornamentation added e.g. tenor phrases 1+3 
    • answer - cantus firmus transposed down a 4th/up a 5th
  • small leaps of 4th/5th
  • ascending sequences - seqs used to build melody e.g. cello (1) sop doubled by v1s (10-11)
  • melismatic vocal passages (feature that makes it for trained choir)
  • wide range SATB:3 oboes in unison + violone + organ conclude vocal presentation of each phrase using a melodically plain version of the same phrase in canon (rhythm sometimes modified)
    • soprano=11th 
    • alto=12th
    • tenor=11th
    • bass=12th 
  • chromatic movement: (highlighted sinister/painful text)
    • rise+fall chromatics (97-99)
    • notes A#-B-Anat-G# (alto 85-6) = adpated+transposed from line 7 of chorale melody (sop 86-7)(C#-D-C#-B)


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Movement 1 Tempo / Rhythm / Metre

no tempo directions - performers expected to judge tempo from character of the music

4/2 - simple quadruple (NOT normal cut-common time 2/2 due to it being early music)

varying from semibraves to quavers

melismatic passages with continuous quavers (22-24)

tied notes to drive piece (in main theme)

occasional dotted rhythms

different rhythms patterns/values in different parts - to achieve textural clarity 

  • canon stands out due to long notes used
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Movement 2 Instrumentation

strong contrast in sonority with movement 1 [usual to have these differences between Bach's cantata movements]

Aria duet:

  • soprano - chorale melody + added ornamentation
  • bass - independant aria

string accompaniment -unison violons/violas and 'continuo' instrumental bass line for cellos (doubled at lower octave by violone)

solo oboe - doubles soprano line + added ornamentation 

organ provides harmonic support


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Movement 2 Texture

orchestral intro and postlude:

  • melody-dominated homophony 
  • upper strings play semiquaver triadic line 
  • lower strings accompany with off-beat leaps and walking bass

bass and soprano enter:

  • highly contrapuntal = combination of instrumental ritornello idea 
  •  + soprano sings embellished variation of cantus firmus 
  •  + bass sings ornate melody

soprano+oboe = heterophonic 

voices doubled by instruments - ornamental doubling of soprano part by oboe 

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Movement 2 Melody

  • soprano = ornate chorale melody e.g. word-painting melisma on most important word 'Macht' b11-12 - oboe's accompaniment mean congregation can still hear chorale 
  • bass = countermelody, highly scalic, melismatic running semiquavers, most ornate, extended melismas e.g. 'alles' at start with many notes resembling 'everyone' (BUT melismas usually for melodic development) e.g.9-10
  • stepwise 
  • scalic solo lines - some angular moments e.g. bold leaps (gives instrumental chracter to vocal)
  • few sequences (descending sequence 19 in continuo) - sequencess used to build melodic line
  • trills in oboe+soprano (26)
  • vocal range:
    • soprano = 9th
    • bass = nearly 2 octaves 
  • ornamentation more intense in this movement e.g. bar 10 soloist double by solo ornamented oboe  
  • unison upper strings - based on triadic shapes + repeated notes (gives of effect of 2 melodic lines combined, one high, one low)
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Movement 2 Tempo / Rhythm / Metre

no tempo directions - performers expected to judge tempo from character of the music e.g. semiquavers must be rapid / occasional demisemiquavers must be very quick but with clear articulation

4/4 - simple quadruple

'moto perpetuo' semiquavers - opening (violins/violas)

mainly semiquavers for bass soloist

intricate decorative passagework:

  • demisemiquavers
  • dotted rhythms 
  • syncopations

different rhythmic patterns/note values in different parts - to achieve textural clarity

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Movement 8 Instrumentation

SATB choir 

orchestral accompaniment - exactly doubles vocal lines (except from trumpets)

congregational song - would have known melody off by heart 

oboe d'amore = mezzo soprano OR alto oboe in A - gentler sound than ordinary oboe 

'taille' = tenor oboe in F 


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Movement 8 Texture

homophonic - typical of chorale 

unembellished chorale melody in soprano 

accompanied by alto, tenor, bass parts 

elegant bass line and inner parts with melodic interest - demonstrate his skill

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Movement 8 Melody

best resmbles Luther's original 16th-century hymn tune (rhythmically simpler)

typical hymn tune heard in it's fundamental form: (congregation would have known it)

  • conjuct
  • diatonic
  • occasional small leaps (cheifly between phrases)
  • syllabic
  • repeated notes 
  • equal length phrases (to match different syllable counts of different lines)

narrow vocal range:

  • soprano = octave  - congregational form - least melodic interest 
  • alto = 9th - melodic interest
  • tenor = 11th - melodic interest
  • bass = 2 octaves - most melodic interest 

some adventurous moments (TAB) e.g. bar 2 

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Movement 8 Tempo / Rhythm / Metre

no tempo directions - performers expected to judge tempo from character of the music

4/4/ - simple quadruple

begins with anacrusis 

pauses at end of each phrase (9 phrases) - cadence occurs and tempo halted (typical of chorale) 

mainly crotchets BUT quavers passing notes

much quaver movement in lower parts - except on last chords of phrases 

one pair of semiquavers in final phrase [most chorale harmonisations have few/no semiquavers]

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  • chords 
    • diatonical - to establish minor/major keys through V + I chords OR V-I cadences
    • functional
    • root 
    • 1st inversion 
    • few 2nd inversions 
  • frequent perfect cadences (confirm modulation to new key) 
  • BUT 1 imperfect cadence (bar10 m.8)
  • long tonic pedal notes (4 bars at end of m.1)
  • suspensions (4-3 sus bar 16 m.1)
  • secondary and dominant 7ths
  • non-triadic notes - enhances the harmony:
    • passing notes e.g. C#+E in bass and tenor on 'Das' (m.8)
    • passing notes role = produce additional rhythmic movement + melodic flow (rather than harmonic tension/dissonance)
    • suspensions e.g. 1st phrase of m.8 ; 7-6 suspension in alto (bar1 m.8) AND 4-(#)3 suspension in alto (bar2 m.8) 
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chorale fantasia

piece of music based on chorale

hasextended and elaborated melodies

polyphonic texture 

chorale melody within it appears as the cantus firmus 

Bach's chorale preludes in his Orgelbuchlein are also chorale fantasias for organ 

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Movement 1 (chorale base) Structure + Tonality

structure and depends cheifly on chorale melody 

9 phrases of chorale used throughout the movement:

  • 1 - tenor b1 - oboes b12
  • 2 - tenor b3 - oboes b24
  • 3 - tenor b30 - oboes b41
  • 4 - tenor b33 - oboes b54
  • 5 - bass b60 - oboes b69
  • 6 - alto b72 - oboes b79
  • 7 - tenor b82 - oboes b88
  • 8 - soprano b90 - oboes b96
  • 9 - tenor b100 - oboes b108

tonality linked to tonality of chorale melody - begins and ends in D major 

some melodic phrases capable of interpretation in more than one key

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Movement 1 Structure + Tonality

D major with important modulations and minor keys to colour text

1-30             D, hints of A (1-3), hints of G (21-24)

30-60           D, hints of A (31-32), hints of G (51-53)

60-72           minor keys - to set "old,evil enemy", Em (63-64), Bm (65-66), F# (67-68) - all related                        to the tonic D, hints of Dm (at end)

72-82          same minor keys as above, final D chord I sounds like G chord V

82-90          begins major: G, D, A in rapid succession, then same minor keys as above, ends in A

90-100        C#m, F#m, Bm, ends with long dominant F# pedal in Bm

100-end      mostly D

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Movement 2 Structure + Tonality


  • begins and ends with ritornello - for unison upper strings + continuo 
  • ritornello material heard throughout most of the piece in several keys

verse 2:

  • soprano soloist embellished version of chorale melody 
  • bass soloist busy florid melody with independent text to provide 'commentary'

chorale phrases:

  • ritornello             (1-9) D
  • phrase 1 + 3       (10-13) (24-27) D to A
  • phrase 2 + 4       (15-16) (29-32) D 
  • phrase 5             (37-39) D to A
  • phrase 6             (44-46) D to Bm
  • phrase 7             (48-50) A 
  • phrase 8             (54-56) Bm, touching on F#m
  • phrase 9 + ritornello (63-69) (69-77) D
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Movement 8 Structure + Tonality

chorale melody harmonised in homophonic style 

phrases 3+4 = repeats of phrases 1+2


  • 1,3  D to A (didn't end in D because then 1-4 would be monotonous)
  • 2,4  D - G# in tenor neutralised by Gnat in alto
  • 5     A
  • 6     D - Cnat in alto neutralised by C# in soprano - Cnat NOT a sign of G major
  • 7     A
  • 8     Em - touch of minor to provide effective contrast (this is why it's not harmonised in D)
  • 9     D
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