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 

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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)

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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wrote to please sacred and secular employers 


  • appointed as Cantor of Thomasschule which provided music for the Thomaskirche in Lepizig (and 3 other churches) 
  • 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).

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

Sacred Cantatas

  • composed 4 complete cycles of 60 cantatas in each (1723-29)
  • over 200 of his cantatas have been preserved 
  • early cantatas : used some true expression and intergrity in response to correlating texts for each cantata
  • Leipzig cantatas (newly arranged/new) : less subjective in feeling and 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's text and melody

  • 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'
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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)

first performed = 1727-31

rework of his earlier cantata 'Alles, was von Gott geboren' (in Weimar 1715/6) - 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]

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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 

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 

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Movement 1 Intrumentation

SATB vocal solists 

tutti orchestra:

  • 3 oboes
  • violin 1 + 2 
  • 'violoncello e cembalo'        this is the only Bach cantata to differentiate between continuo parts 
  • 'violone e organo'
  • 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

vocal lines closely doubled by orchestra

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Movement 1 Texture

highly contrapuntal 

fugal style 

no instrumental prelude - tenors open with 1st phrase of chorale wiht added ornamentation (imitated in fugal style)

Luther hymn heard in countersubject (bar 4 tenor) and cantus firmus in canon (oboes and 2nd continuo part)

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Movement 1 Melody

uses cantus firmus - altered rhythms and added passing notes (melodic shape remains same)

  • subject - cantus firmus      passed around voices - found in oboe then basso continuo 2 beats later each time 
  • answer - cantus firmus transposed down a 4th/up a 5th

conjunct                     appropriate for congregation and reflecting original shape of Luther's hymn tune 

small leaps of 4th/5th

ascending sequences 

melismatic vocal passages               feature that makes it for trained choir 

wide range SATB:

  • soprano=11th 
  • alto=12th
  • tenor=11th
  • bass=12th

diatonic BUT some chromaticism 

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Movement 1 Tempo / Rhythm / Metre

4/2 - simple quadruple

varying from semibraves to quavers

melismatic passages with continuous quavers

tied notes to drive piece (in main theme)

occasional dotted rhythms

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Movement 2 Instrumentation

Aria duet:

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

string accompaniment -unison violons/violas and continuo

solo oboe - doubles soprano line 

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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
  • soprano sings variation of cantus firmus 
  • bass sings ornate melody

soprano+oboe = heterophonic 

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Movement 2 Melody

soprano = ornate chorale melody e.g. word-painting melisma on most important word 'Macht' b11-12

bass = highly scalic, melismatic running semiquavers, most ornate

scalic solo lines - some angular moments

few sequences 

trills in oboe+soprano

vocal range:

  • soprano = 9th
  • bass = nearly 2 octaves 
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Movement 2 Tempo / Rhythm / Metre

4/4 - simple quadratic

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

many semiquavers - bass

intricate decorative passagework:

  • demisemiquavers
  • dotted rhythms 
  • syncopations
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Movement 8 Instrumentation

SATB choir 

orchestral accompaniment - exactly doubles vocal lines 

congregational song - would have known melody off by heart 

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Movement 8 Texture

homophonic - typical of chorale 

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Movement 8 Melody

best resmbles Luther's original hymn tune 

typical hymn tune:

  • conjuct
  • diatonic
  • occasional small leaps 
  • syllabic

narrow vocal range:

  • soprano = octave
  • alto = 9th
  • tenor = 11th
  • bass = 2 octaves
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Movement 8 Tempo / Rhythm / Metre

4/4/ - simple quadruple

begins with anacrusis 

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

mainly crotchets BUT quavers passing notes

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  • diatonical 
  • functional
  • root 
  • 1st inversion 
  • few 2nd inversions 

frequent perfect cadences (confirm modulation to new key) BUT 1 imperfect cadence (bar 10 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

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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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