You are here
MUSI 112: Listening to Music
- Baroque Music: The Vocal Music of Johann Sebastian Bach
In this lecture, Professor Wright discusses the Baroque period through a detailed look at the life and music of Johann Sebastian Bach. He first takes the students through the basics of Bach’s life, showing slides of the towns and buildings in which Bach and his family lived. Professor Wright then discusses Bach’s music, and techniques of Baroque music in general, within the context of the composer’s life. The lecture concludes with a discussion of the Advent cantata Bach wrote based on the chorale “Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme.”
|Low Bandwidth Video
|High Bandwidth Video
MUSI 112 - Lecture 16 - Baroque Music: The Vocal Music of Johann Sebastian Bach
Chapter 1. A Brief Biography of J. S. Bach [00:00:00]
Professor Craig Wright: Today we’re going to start talking about music of the Baroque period, 1600 to 1750, exemplified by J.S. Bach. Today will be the first of two presentations about the music of Bach: one, today, dealing with Bach’s vocal music, the other coming in sections — yes, we have sections on Thursday, Friday and Monday — having to do with the instrumental music of J.S. Bach.
So we’re going to start now with Baroque music and Bach, and a word, first, about Bach’s biography. Bach came from a very long line of musicians. Indeed, ten generations of Bachs were musicians. It goes back to old Veit Bach in the sixteenth century and continues generation after generation into the nineteenth century. In the area in which Bach was born, this small town of Eisenach — you can see the town’s name up there and the date in which he was born, 1685 — in this area of Thuringia, the region in which Eisenach sits, the word “Bach” was eponymous. In other words, a Bach simply meant a musician just like we have the word “Kleenex,” for example, or we have the word “Xerox,” that begin to take on the connotations of an entire class. So to be a Bach in that area was to be a musician.
Johann Sebastian Bach was simply the most talented of this long-lived clan of musicians. From the age of nine, J.S. Bach was orphaned. Both his parents had died by that time, so he was raised for the most part by his older brother, Johann Christoph Bach, who was a student of our Johann Pachelbel. So there is this connection between the Bachs and Pachelbel, and for the most part, J.S. Bach was self-taught.
How did he teach himself music? Well, he copied music. He copied music for two reasons: One, to learn the musical style and two, to get music, because you simply couldn’t go to a photocopying machine and copy this — the music of Corelli or the music of Vivaldi. You had to copy it down yourself by hand. You couldn’t go to a music store and buy edited editions because, for the most part, that didn’t exist. So much more of it was simply music copied by one musician after the next. So Bach learned his craft by copying, literally, Corelli. And we have run into Corelli, of course. Anybody remember a piece by Corelli that we performed? Frederick.
Student: “La Folia.”
Professor Craig Wright: “La Folia,” excellent, and he copied Vivaldi. What’s Vivaldi’s most famous composition? Frederick again.
Student: The Four Seasons.
Professor Craig Wright: The Four Seasons.. So he copied that and he also copied some other concerti grossi of Vivaldi — oftentimes surreptitiously by moonlight when he was supposed to be in bed.
Bach’s devotion to his profession was legendary. When he was a young man he sort of went AWOL from his first job and walked from the town of Arnstadt — which you see up there — walked from Arnstadt in the center part of Germany all the way up to the Hanseatic city of Lubeck on the North Sea up there, a distance of about two hundred fifty miles, in order to be able to sit at the feet of a very famous organist and composer there in Lubeck, and then he walked back. It would be like one of us wanting to learn something from a congressman or something and walking from New Haven to Washington, D.C., and back.
In his day Bach was legendary not so much as a composer oddly enough, but as what? What was Bach known for in his day? We touched on this before. Angela.
Professor Craig Wright: He was an organist. Okay. So he was an organist. He was the great virtuoso organist of central northern Germany in this period. Now, we have met an organ piece of Bach before. What was that? The name — Michael?
Professor Craig Wright: Mitch. Okay. Yes. What was that, please?
Student: G Minor Fugue.
Professor Craig Wright: G Minor Fugue. Can you sing any of it? Could anybody sing any of it? Hey, we got some takers down here, Chris and A.J., together, a duet. Gentlemen, please.
Professor Craig Wright: Excellent. Oh, wow. Bravo. Okay. [plays piano] I think that’s sort of the key that they sang it in. We’ll come back to that idea in just a minute because I have found myself tripping over that fugue subject and another one that I want to talk about this morning as I was trying to think through these. There’s another famous piece — organ piece of Bach — that we might have heard recently. It should be track one. Let’s listen to a toccata by Bach written in Arnstadt early in his career. [music playing]
Okay. We don’t have that queued. I’m sorry, but you probably heard it at the concert the other day. [sings] It’s a big organ piece in D minor, kind of spooky music that begins every Halloween show. Well, that’s more organ music by J.S. Bach. We may be able to resurrect that after a while. We’ll find out. And again, a piece that he composed as a young man here in the town of Arnstadt, roughly 1705 or so.
So there he is, first job, and we won’t say “fresh out of college” because Bach did not go to college, but he went to a very high-standing prep school in the northern part of Germany, just graduated, has his first job at Arnstadt. Let’s take a look at — Raoul — here is the picture of our great man, but let’s go on to our first real slide there, and I think —
That’s the organ in the church at Arnstadt where Bach worked. The organ is still there. The essential parts of the pipes and all are still there. That’s the very organ that Bach played, but they’ve sort of modernized it over the centuries and they took out the original console — so Raoul, if we could have the next slide, please — and there is the console. This is kind of the central processing unit, if you will, for Bach’s organ.
So you can see — does that look like a big organ or a small organ to you by our standards? Yeah, kind of on the smaller side. There were bigger ones, actually, up to the north, but you can see here — some of you did that extra-credit project on the organ — two keyboards and a pedal board down here to be played, obviously, with the feet. And what do you suppose these things are lurking all around it? What would we call those? We’re going to pull one of those.
Student: A stop.
Professor Craig Wright: A stop, okay. And it brings into play an extra rank of pipes, pipes of a particular sound, and we have this expression, “Oh, I’m going to pull out all the stops.” Well, of course that has to do with organ technology. So this is Bach’s — the console, in effect, of Bach’s original organ. Bach eventually left Arnstadt and moved on to the larger city of Weimar where he stayed, as you can see there, from 1708 to 1717, and he functioned as an organist and a court musician there.
In 1717, he decided to leave that position in Weimar and move on to another town, Coethen, and the Duke of Weimar, Duke Wilhelm, summarily had Bach thrown in jail. Bach was thrown in jail for a month, sat in jail, languished in jail. We think he started the “Well-Tempered Clavier” while in jail.
Why did the duke have Bach thrown in jail? Any ideas? Well, he hadn’t obtained a release from the duke, and this tells us something about the status of musicians in the eighteenth century. They were little better than indentured servants. No such thing as free agency here, not like baseball players or whatever today. If you wanted to take another position, you had to get your present employer to say, “Okay. It’s all right if you go.” Imagine that today. You want to quit your job and move on to a better job. Well, you can’t leave until the present boss says you can go. But that was the case and Bach had violated that modus operandi and there he languished in jail for a month. Finally the Duke of Weimar relented and off Bach and his family went to the town of Coethen.
Let’s take a look at the next slide, please, the town of Coethen, again, sort of central Germany. This is an engraving of the mid-seventeenth century, and we can see here the court — building of complexes where Bach worked there in the center. Now we’re going to go to the front of that next slide as it stands today. It’s rather heavily damaged after communist occupation after World War II, rather — not in the best state of repair. You go inside the courtyard there. Next slide, please. Going in you can see it’s something of a mess because they are fixing up that room and indeed have fixed up that room up above. Let’s have the next slide, please, and here is that room up above, the so-called now Crystal Room of the palace at Coethen, and this was where Bach performed. And when you go to sections this week you will watch a wonderful video of a performance of the Bach “Brandenburg Concerto” No. 5 performed right in this hall, and you’ll see those same windows there. This is Bach’s music performed in the environment for which Bach had created it.
In 1723, Bach moved again. He was an aggressive, ambitious person, J.S. Bach. He moved this time to the city of Leipzig, a little bit to the south of Coethen, and he spent the rest of his career in Leipzig. He moved to Leipzig in 1723 for two reasons, and we’ll come back to those two reasons. But while I have this slide up here let’s just put this in context a little bit. You can see where Berlin is there. You can see where Lubeck is where he walked, all the way at the top. This is central Germany here and these towns aren’t too far apart. Here’s Coethen. Here’s Leipzig.
So in 1723 he goes to Leipzig and he goes there for two reasons: One — next slide. One, because his family will be given, by the standards of the time, rather large quarters here. Actually, by our standards they were very small — nine hundred square feet. Bach ultimately had twenty children and they were living in nine hundred square feet. Ask yourself — do you know how many square feet are in your parents’ apartment or home? A lot more than nine hundred, but that — this was thought to be big digs back in the eighteenth century, in these cities that were encased by military fortresses. In any event, we can see Bach’s working area and living area right here in this building. And I want you to count the number of stories because it will become important later on. One, two, three and then the roof begins.
And I also want you to — it’s hard to see on this slide but there’s a group of choirboys walking out here. How do I know they’re choirboys? ‘Cause they’re arranged by height. Ever look at choirboys? That’s how they arrange them when they walk in procession, the young kids first, the older ones toward the back. We’ll come back to that point in just a minute.
Another reason Bach moved to Leipzig was it was a university town, so he’d get a free university education for his numerous sons. What about his numerous daughters? Did they get a free education at the university? No, because women did not go to the university in this period. The first woman to receive a degree, a college degree, in a Western university was a woman enrolled in philosophy at the University of Padua in 1676, so it would be unprecedented, really. I mean, there was one precedent in Bach’s day for women to go to university. It was assumed that just the men would go to university.
In any event, let’s talk about Bach’s standing here in the town of Leipzig. Bach had to petition for this job. He wanted this job because it had these advantages, as mentioned, and he was not the first choice of the town council of Leipzig. There was another composer who was their first choice, Georg Philipp Telemann. He declined the position. They offered it to somebody else named Graupner. He couldn’t get a release from his employer so he couldn’t take it. And so, as the town minutes of the town council — the minutes of the town council — say, since good musicians can’t be had we’ll — mediocre ones will have to suffice. And they turned at that point to Bach, which I guess calls us to ask how many misjudgments are we making in our lives? Maybe A.J. doesn’t realize that sitting right next to him, Chris there, is really a genius and we should pay more attention. How many geniuses are sort of sneaking around in our midst unrecognized today?
Anyway, Bach was anything other than the grande artiste when he arrived in Leipzig. Here I’ve made some Xeroxes out of my [copy of the] book called The Bach Reader. When Bach got there, he had to take an oath of office. He had to swear to do the following: “One, I shall set the boys a shining example of honest and retiring manner of life, serve the school industriously and instruct the boys conscientiously. Two, bring the music in all the principal churches of the town into good estate to the best of my ability. Three, show the honorable and most wise council all proper respect and obedience.” And so on it goes. Here are a few more things: “Faithfully instruct the boys not only in vocal music but also in instrumental music,” and he had to teach them Latin as well, ” — arrange the music that it shall not last too long,” [laughs] ” — and shall be of such a nature as not to make an operatic impression but rather incite the listeners to devotion.” So they didn’t want Bach’s music to go on too long, which is very important, and they didn’t want it to be very operatic. They wanted sort of conservative music there. Here’s number twelve: Not to go out of town without the permission of the honorable Burgermeister. Number thirteen: Always walk as far as possible with the boys at funerals.
So Bach here in Leipzig is sort of a glorified scoutmaster. He’s not this kind of nineteenth-century image of the genius or the — of the grande artiste as mentioned. Okay, the point being, once again, that Bach in his day was recognized and valued not so much as a composer but as a performer. Well, what was the matter with Bach’s music? Why were they already at the outset here, sort of clipping his wings, telling him what style not to write in? Well, Bach had this proclivity for writing music that’s very sort of rigid, very chromatic, very contrapuntal and very long, and it is long and contrapuntal, as we will be seeing in particular in sections this coming week. If we compare, for example, two concerti grossi: the first movement of Vivaldi’s Spring Concerto, it lasts three minutes and ten seconds; Bach writes a first movement of a concerto grosso. You’re going to watch a video of it. It runs for nine minutes and ten seconds. So it’s three times as long, three times as dense, in a way.
Chapter 2. Bach’s Music and Characteristics of Baroque Style [00:16:49]
Okay. Let’s go on to talk about the kinds of things that Bach composed here, and for that we’ll take a look at the board. Bach’s works: Some of these we’ve talked about already. Preludes and fugues for harpsichord or keyboard; “The Well-Tempered Clavier.” We’ve talked about the G Minor organ fugue. We can talk about “The Art of the Fugue.” Let’s — Raoul, let’s have the next slide. I think I’ve got a slide of that here. No, wrong piece. Okay. Sorry. This is the Bach “Brandenburg.” I’ve brought in the wrong slide. I’m sorry. But “The Art of Fugue” is an interesting composition that Bach wrote very much toward the end of his life; sonatas for flutes and violin; dance suites for orchestra. You may know the “Air on a G String” — beautiful, beautiful solo violin writing there, with basso continuo underneath; solo concertos for violin and harpsichord; the concerti grossi that we’ll be talking about; the “Brandenburg Concertos.” We’ll be working with No. 5. Then he wrote a lot of religious vocal music: the B Minor Mass. I was playing parts of the Sanctus of the B Minor Mass when we came in.
Let’s just listen to a little bit of — we listen to this on the fly this morning, but let’s just listen to a bit of the Sanctus of the B Minor Mass to give you a sense of the monumental quality that Bach can create. [music playing]
So pretty impressive stuff. But it goes on for a long time and it’s filled with imitation and fugal subjects that recombine and different kinds of permutations. It can be inverted and go backwards and forwards and upside down, and this is what Bach would do. If somebody would write a set of variations that had ten variations in it, he would write a set of variations with twenty variations in it. If somebody would write one canon, he would write ten canons — as he does, for example, in “The Goldberg Variations.” Whatever he did, he prosecuted maniacally, and what he ended up with was stuff that’s very dense, very compact, that’s really the best sort of craftsmanship but it’s not necessarily the most popular sort of music in that regard. But, as you heard, it can be very grand and quite spectacular, as we heard from the Sanctus of the B Minor Mass there.
When Bach arrived in Leipzig, it was a town of thirty-five thousand, and was one of the biggest in Germany. Does that sound like a big town to you, thirty-five thousand? No. I mean, Hamden probably has thirty-five thousand people living in it. But this was a big city in Bach’s day, and he was called there to run music really for all of the Lutheran churches in that town. Now we’re talking here Leipzig, which is not far from Wittenberg where Martin Luther was active, so we’re talking about kind of the home ground of Lutheranism here. And Leipzig enjoyed complete freedom of religion. You could attend any church — of course, this was all Christianity. You could attend any church that you wished. There were a dozen or so of them in this city. The only kicker was that they were all Lutheran churches. You could go to this Lutheran church or that Lutheran church, whatever one you want, but they were all Lutheran churches.
So Bach’s job was to organize the music for these churches, particularly the principal church, which was this Saint Thomas Church, and what he wrote for this Saint Thomas Church was this thing called the cantata. What’s a cantata? Well, literally it’s a “sung thing” as opposed to a sonata, “sounded thing.” So this is a sung thing. What can we say about the cantatas that Bach wrote? How would we summarize them? Well, they are multi-movements — recitative, aria, chorus — multi-movements. They go on for about twenty-five to thirty minutes. They are religious in subject matter and of course they are written in the German language, and Bach wrote about three hundred of these cantatas. He wrote them in cycles of fifty. When he arrived there in seventeen twenty-three, he starts writing one cantata for each Sunday. At the end of the year, he’s got about fifty of these things; next year he starts all over again. So he ended up with about three hundred cantatas. Then he got exhausted from the process and stopped about 1729, 1730 or so.
Now on the board up here you see the layout of a typical cantata. It is “Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme,” “Arise, a Voice is Calling,” and here’s — I hope you can see this okay. Here’s how it shakes down. We have seven movements in this cantata, seven movements. And they are arranged chorus, then recitative. What’s a recitative? Somebody tell us what a recitative is. We haven’t talked about it but maybe you know from other context. Jacob.
Student: It’s a short, conversational piece.
Professor Craig Wright: Yeah. Okay. It’s not much music, more sort of spoken dialogue accompanied a little bit by a basso continuo. Anybody tell me from the reading what a basso continuo is? Well, I think if you look on your text in about page one hundred fourteen, you’ll find a discussion of it, but a basso continuo is an ensemble that plays a bass line, and because a number of instruments are involved in it — it’d be the left hand of the harpsichord, maybe a cello, maybe also a bassoon, two, three instruments playing a bass line. It makes for a very heavy, very powerful bass line, and this is something that is typical of Baroque music. So a recitative will be — and indeed all the arias — will be accompanied by basso continuo. The choral stuff will be accompanied by basso continuo. Continuum — it’s just always going, so it’s a strong bass that’s always going. It’s different from the basso ostinato because what happens in a basso ostinato? Yong.
Student: It keeps repeating.
Professor Craig Wright: It keeps repeating over and over and over again so a basso ostinato would be a particular kind of basso continuo, a kind of species of basso continuo. But basso continuo, a bass that’s always going on and is very strong. So we have sort of spoken dialogue with a strong bass, then an aria, and I’m going to say something about this — these arias in this period. They are Da Capo arias in the Baroque period.
What does a Da Capo aria mean? Anybody peeked ahead at that — in the discussions in — around pages one hundred fifty, one hundred sixty or so in the text — or know that from other contexts? What would a Da Capo aria be? Well, literally “Da Capo” sounds like a film score, the capo or something. It means the head guy or in this case the beginning of the music, the head of the music. It means you take it from the beginning of the music. So you do one section, an A section, and then you have a contrasting section and then you get this sign that says DC, “Da Capo,” and then you go back and do the A section all over again. So what form do we end up with when we have a Da Capo aria then obviously? Ternary form. Okay?
So the arias in here are usually structured in the Baroque period in Da Capo form, and then we have the choruses: chorus one, chorus four, chorus seven. And in each of these choruses we are making use of this thing called a chorale tune. What’s a chorale? What’s a chorale tune? Well, a chorale tune is just what other Christian denominations would call a hymn or what we hear at Yale — whether we’re Muslim, whether we’re Jewish or whether we’re Christian, we’re going to have to sing [plays piano] and so on it goes. I think it’s called “Duke Street,” “Oh, God, beneath the — oh, God, above the rising stars thy exiled fathers cross the sea.” It was actually written here in New Haven, so it’s kind of the Yale hymn, if you will, or maybe the Yale chorale.
So these chorales were sort of old melodies, old religious melodies. Some of them were remakes of Gregorian chants. The Lutherans just took old Catholic chants and turned them in to chorale tunes. Others were newly composed, going all the way back to the sixteenth century. Martin Luther himself composed chorale tunes. Can anybody name a chorale tune or a hymn tune by Martin Luther? I bet you — [sings] Anybody know the name of that? Yes. Kristin, is it? Okay. Nice and loud, please, Kristin.
Student: “A Mighty Fortress is Our God.”
Chapter 3. Bach’s “Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme”: Discussion and Analysis [00:28:09]
Professor Craig Wright: Okay. “A Mighty Fortress is Our God.” It’s a Reformation — so the Reformation chorale, and musicians have used that frequently over the centuries. So we’re going — not going to be working with “A Mighty Fortress.” We’re going to be working with a different chorale tune, “Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme,” which was a couple hundred years old by the time Bach got his hands on it, and you have it here. So on your sheet — Everybody got the sheet for today?
So here is a chorale tune and it’s in lots of phrases. Right? What about this? [plays piano] Do you think that’s a tonal melody? Does that sound pretty secure for you or does that sound sort of weird? Roger, what do you think?
Student: I think it sounds secure —
Professor Craig Wright: Sounds secure. It is tonal, and why would you imagine it sounds secure? If you look at the downbeat of each measure, almost every measure, what notes do we have there? They’re notes that form [plays piano] a triad, a major triad, [plays piano] so we mustn’t forget all that stuff we studied early on. So here’s Bach borrowing a chorale tune; he is foregrounding a major triad in a big way, and who has to sing this? Well, ultimately the full congregation. Everybody has to sing these chorale tunes to show that you are a — in this case, a good Lutheran, I suppose, so everybody was expected to sing them, and because of that, they tended to be rather step-wise. So we should all sing this. Right? Today we’re all going to be good Lutherans, no matter what our real religion is, assuming we have a real religion, so let’s [plays piano] start here. We’re just going to sing “la.” Here we go. [sings] Okay. Great. Now this is not working so well, and why is it not working so well?
Student: It’s too high.
Professor Craig Wright: It’s too high. So what would Bach have done in those days? The only person here that can sing this is Lynda — Lynda and Santana ‘cause they’re sopranos and I could hear them, but that was about all I could hear. It’s too high so what would they have done in Bach’s day? Stopped singing it? I don’t know. Lightning bolts would come down on the church or something. I’m not quite sure. No, they couldn’t stop singing it. They had to transpose it, just take it down. We’ll, make it lower. [plays piano] We’ll go to a different key. Here we go. Ready, sing. [plays piano] [sings] Rest. [plays piano] [sings] Louder. [plays piano] [sings] Okay. We’ll stop there.
So Bach’s got this chorale and then he’s going to do something with it. And what he does is write a first movement, so that takes us back over here to movement one of our chorale cantata. We’re going to talk now about the text with regard to this particular chorale. What’s the text calling about? Well, here’s what — here’s the translation of it: “Awake, a voice is calling, from the watchman from high in the tower. Awake Jerusalem; midnight is the hour. They call us with a clarion voice. Where are the wise virgins? Get up. The bridegroom cometh. Stand up and take your lamps. Alleluia. Provide yourself for the wedding. Go — you must go out — go forth to meet him.”
Now in Bach’s day, this chorale would have been sung. It’s the major musical portion of the cantata, which is the major musical portion of the whole service, and it was sung right after the reading of the gospel. So they’d come in and there’d be some introductory chorales and prayers and that kind of thing. Then they would have a reading of the gospel, the thesis of the day. Now this particular cantata is written for Advent. So what’s Advent? Who can tell me what Advent is? Don’t necessarily — Muslim, Jew, Christian, whatever, you may — probably know what Advent is. Thaddeus.
Student: It’s the days before Christmas.
Professor Craig Wright: It’s the days before Christmas. So we have the English word “adventitious,” something coming, something about to arrive. It’s the birth of Christ in this particular case. So it’s, I think roughly the four weeks before Christmas. Think maybe late November, early December, up to Christmas. So that’s when this cantata would have been appropriate. It would have been sung say, on the — on the Sunday, the first of December, something like that, and as I say it’s preceded by the gospel of the day.
So to get our heads in this we have to understand what Bach’s message is here. We have to know what the gospel is. So I’ve asked Chris — I gave Chris the textbook here. I put it in the textbook and asked Chris to read the gospel for today. So stand up and — or — yeah. Are you going to stand up?
Student: “Then shall the kingdom of heaven — “
Professor Craig Wright: Oh, good. I like that, nice and loud, the voice of God.
Student: “ — be likened unto ten virgins, which took their lamps and went forth to meet the bridegroom. And five of them were wise and five were foolish. They that were foolish took their lamps but took no oil with them, and at midnight there was a cry made. Behold, the bridegroom cometh. Go ye out to meet him. Then all those virgins arose and trimmed their lamps, and the foolish said unto the wise, ‘Give us of your oil for our lamps are gone out,’ but the wise answered, saying, ‘Not so; lest there be not enough for us and you, but go ye rather to them that sell and buy for yourselves.’ And while they went to buy the bridegroom came and they that were ready went in with him to the marriage and the door was shut. Watch therefore, for ye know neither the day nor the hour wherein the son of man cometh.”
Professor Craig Wright: Okay. Excellent, and that’s the King James version of that so the syntax is sometimes difficult and the verbiage is a little bit unexpected there. But what does all this mean? What is this? Roger?
Student: It’s the second coming of Christ.
Professor Craig Wright: The second coming of Christ. Okay. And what are we supposed to do? We, good citizens of Leipzig, what are we supposed to do?
Student: Be ready.
Professor Craig Wright: Be ready, get our spiritual house in order because Christ is coming, so Bach has this idea of this powerful figure coming into the midst of Leipzig. And he creates the following kind of music. We start out here with [sings] and then it begins to move a little bit in pitch. It’s a good example of something that we’ll talk about in a moment, but if we want to have the sense of the inexorable march of something, what better way than a repeating bass line?
Then we have a melody begin [sings] and then we didn’t have time — we have a C motive that we wanted to put up here — [sings]. So when you read your textbook there, I interpreted this as follows. You will hear someone saying, i.e., me saying, that this is the inexorable march of the Lord coming to the citizens of Leipzig. They get very excited and they begin to run in his direction, and this is the — Bach didn’t write all this down; I’m kind of interpreting it this way, but I can’t help but think back on the early session that we had talking about the musical Chicago and that number in Chicago, “get the gun, the gun,” [sings], and it gets faster and faster and the texture gets denser and denser. Well, that’s exactly what Bach is doing here. Whether it’s Broadway or Bach, the modus operandi is going to be the same.
So let’s listen to just a little bit here. This is the opening movement of Bach’s cantata “Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme.” [music playing] Okay. We’re going to stop it there.
That’s just the opening phrase. The crowd’s coming in there with little fugal expositions underneath that, “who?”, “where?”, coming where?, sort of this busy counterpoint underneath. I used to use this as a Listening Exercise but it didn’t work. It was too — I couldn’t get — the students couldn’t — I don’t know. It just was too complex and in a way it told me something. Bach’s music is very complex.
So I went on to a more straightforward movement and that’s what we’re going to do now, the fourth movement that incorporates the chorale. So we have the chorale, sort of like the voice of God, up here on top.
Let’s go on to the fourth movement that you may well recognize. It’s one of Bach’s most famous compositions, and I have four questions for you here. What’s the bass doing? How many voices are there? How many lines, strands, do you hear in the texture? And where is the chorale tune? Who’s singing the chorale tune? So this is movement four of cantata “Wachet auf.” [music playing] And then the ritornello starts again; this refrain theme starts all over again. [music playing] All right. Let’s pause it there.
So what kind of bass do we have here? It’s called walking bass. Right. We’ve talked about that before, and, once again, it gives a very sort of secure foundation. So we have a basso continuo playing a walking bass, [sings] [plays piano] something like that, just going on and on sort of with the same note values, tends to be step-wise, have the same note values. What else did we need to know there? What happened to the chorale? Well, first of all, what about the texture? How many strands did you hear in that texture? Brian and Nicole, you want to huddle up there and figure out what the answer to this one is? What do you think? Nicole, how many strands? How many lines did you hear there? Okay. Well, we’ve got the bass in there and we had that lovely, lovely melody, [sings] which you have on your sheet there, so that’s two, and what was the third one? Well, the chorale tune [sings] but what was different about the chorale tune this time? It was easier to hear. Why? ‘Cause all of the male voices were singing it together in unison. It wasn’t distributed in all this counterpoint in all of the voices. All of the lines — all of the voices were singing it together.
And if you have this sheet here, I think the miracle of this particular sheet is that this guy had this one melody [sings] and he said, “Gee whiz, if I went [sings] I could have that go against this melody.” He thought — he had one nice melody and he thought up an even more beautiful melody that could interweave with his given melody. So that’s the gift here, to be able to hear one thing and size up its implications, to know what it could become. I guess that’s what [being] a great creative artist is all about, to know what something can become. All right.
So we have that particular movement and I think that’s the basis of your Listening Exercise twenty-two for next time. Now we’re getting toward the end of our hour and I want to ask you — well, we’re going to do two more things. One, we’re going to come back at the end — to the end of the cantata, but I want to ask you a question about — just try to put yourself in Bach’s shoes here for the moment. You got this job as a composer and you got to generate all this music. Right? You got to generate twenty-five to thirty minutes of new music every week. Well, that would be like — all right. So presumably you get Sunday afternoon off, watch football, whatever you want to do. Then Monday morning you start all over again, and by next Sunday morning you got to have twenty-five to thirty minutes of music ready to perform. Why is that really hard? What’s the hard part of this? What’s the time-consuming part of all of this? I see Roger and Elizabeth. Elizabeth, go with it.
Student: Writing it out.
Professor Craig Wright: Writing it out, yeah, probably not composing it. I think these composers just have this stuff spewing out of their ears nonstop. I don’t think it was thinking it up and maybe not rehearsing it, though that would take some time. But before the days of photocopying machines, it would be very laborious to copy the full score and all of these parts [by hand], maybe fourteen different lines simultaneously, and multiple copies of the violin parts and the cello parts and this kind of thing — so it’d be very time consuming.
How did he do this? Well, let’s see if we can go back to the next slide here and we’re going to talk about this just for a bit. How did Bach execute this and the next — Raoul, I think there was the — yeah. So we’re going to go back into our church here and we’re going to see Bach’s church where his — the floor plan here and then we’re going to — next slide, please — take a look at the inside of it where the sermon was preached and take a note of the high altar up there. Next slide. We’re going to go through these quickly now. There we have the west end up there where the organ is. That’s where the cantata would be performed. Next slide. The organ up there. Here’s a question for you. Is this an organ from Bach’s day? Next slide. Does that look like Bach’s organ? No, too many mechanical — kind of mechanical contrivances there so that’s a organ from the beginning of the twentieth century, and Bach’s organ would have looked far more like this and we’re going to talk about this in section a little bit later on.
Moving on, let’s go back to this, because this is the building that we saw before, the place where Bach lived. If we look at it now and start counting up, we see that now there are five stories before we reach the roof line. In 1731, Bach petitioned the town council because of his large family to take the roof off of this building and provide him with more space, more space because he had all of these children, he had relatives and he had students living in these quarters, and what did they do to earn their keep? Well, they copied music for him. So this is sort of, if you will, the corporate headquarters of Bach, Inc. This is where all this great music is being generated from. His wife, Anna Magdalena Bach, was his principal copyist. All right. So that’s what — where they lived.
Chapter 4. Bach’s Legacy in Musical History [00:46:14]
Now Bach, of course, as mentioned, died in 1750. Historians are profoundly grateful to him for that because it gives us a nice, clean cut-off by which to end the Baroque era — end of Bach, end of Baroque. Died in 1750 of a stroke at age sixty-five. At the time he wasn’t thought to be particularly important, so they relegated Bach’s remains to an outlying parish church.
As Mozart played Bach, Beethoven played Bach, Felix Mendelssohn played Bach, people began to realize that, lo and behold, they’d had a genius in their midst. So they exhume Bach to see if he was a genius. Let’s take a look at this. This is what they did in 1895. They dug him up and they photographed him because this was the period in which there was a theory of genius — interestingly enough, that the genius had a smaller brain than the normal human being — not a larger brain but a smaller brain. In any event, Bach’s brain turned out to be just completely normal and this [theory] was presumably a lot of nonsense, but when they dug him up then they repositioned him. And they repositioned him at the high altar and this marker here is now where the remains of Bach are situated. And they tore out the south-side bank of glass in the church and constructed based on the portrait that you saw at the beginning of our hour — that portrait — they constructed stained glass windows with titles of some of Bach’s works there, so that the musical tourists such as myself — or I hope you, someday — will go to Leipzig to enjoy the wonderful music of this city and the wonderful music of Bach.
Now the last thing we’re going to do on our way out — the way the cantata would end is that the entire congregation would stand up and everybody together would sing the chorale tune. We’re not going to do that ‘cause you already did that, but we’ll just play this music as you go out to give you a sense of how the service would end. [music playing]
[end of transcript]Back to Top