Bach (1685-1750) is one of the greatest composers of the Baroque period.
Most of his compostitions are sacred and were produced for the church.
In 1723 Bach moved to Leipzig to be the Cantor of St Thomas Church where he remained for 27 years.
A canata is a vocal composition with instrumental accompaniment and includes movements. Cantatas were written using both sacred and secular texts but in the Baroque period became most associated with the Lutheran Church.
Ein Feste Burg (A mighty fortress is our God) was composed whilst he was in Leipzig. Both the music and lyrics were based on Martin Lurther's hymn.
It used a cantus firmus (fixed song) and is a pre-existing melody forming the basis of a polyphonic composition.
This was written for Reformation Day: a feast day in the Protestant church.
Melody - J.S Bach
The melody is very closely related to the cantus firmus with altered rhythm and the addition of passing notes but the melodic shape is the same.
- Starts with repeated tonic notes in the key of D major before falling to the fourth to dominant and then rising back to the tonic.
- Melody is predominantly conjunct with only small leaps of a fourth or fifth.
- The theme is transposed down a fourth to provide an answer to the subject.
- There are some ascending sequences in bar 11 in violin 1.
- Melody is mostly diatonic with some chromaticism in bar 99.
- Soprano - 11th (D above middle C to G)
- Alto: 12th (G below middle C to D)
- Tenor: almost two octaves (E below middle C to D)
- Bass: 10th )A to E)
Melody - J.S Bach
The soprano soloist sings an ornamented version of the chorale melody but the melodic line is still distinct.
- Soloists' lines are scalic, although there are some more angular moments (bars 51-52 in bass)
- Bass line is highly scalic with melismatic running semiquavers and is more ornate than soprano.
- Examples of sequences in bar 19 in continuo.
- Trills occur in the oboe and soprano is bar 26.
- Soprano sings embellished version of cantus firmus bar 15.
- Bass sings independent aria.
- Soprano: 9th (D above middle C to E)
- Bass: 13th (F# to D)
Melody - J.S Bach
The melody in this movement is the most similar to Luther's original hymn tune.
- The melody is conjunct.
- The melody is also diatonic with occasional small leaps.
Both these points are typical of a hymn tune.
- Soprano: Octave (D above middle C to D)
- Alto: Octave (A below middle C to A)
- Tenor: 13th (E below middle C to C)
- Bass: 10th (A to E)
Texture - J.S Bach
- The texture is highly contrapuntal and written in a fugal style.
- Fugal entries are presented in a layered manner building up from tenor, alto, soprano and bass.
- The subject is presented in the tenor part, bars 1-3, and again in the soprano in bar 6.
- The answer is present on the fifth degree of the scale, down a fourth in bar 3 and the bass in bar 8 which is slightly altered to allow the music to flow.
- There is a countersubject which is based on the second phrase of Luther's hymn tune in bar 4 in the tenor.
- Orchestral introduction has a melody-dominated homophony.
- Soprano and bass parts enter to form a highly contropuntal texture.
- Soprano and oboe often create a heterophonic texture.
- Typically of a chorale, the texture is homophonic chordal.
Performing Forces - J.S Bach
The score is written for SATB choir and tutti orchestra. The vocal lines are doubled by the orchestra. Soprano - Violin 1, Alto - Violin 2, Tenor - Viola, Bass - Cello follows the line.
The aria is a duet for soprano and bass with string accompaniment and solo oboe. The oboe essentially doubles the soprano line, which provides the chorale melody with additional ornamentation. The bass sings an entirely independent aria.
This chorale is for four-part SATB choir with orchestral accompaniment which exactly doubles the vocal lines.
Harmony - J.S Bach
There is similar harmony used in all 3 movements.
- Chords are diatonic and functional.
- Perfect cadences are frequent and are often usedc to confirm the modulation to a new key.
- Example of imperfect cadence in bar 14 of the eigth movement.
- Long tonic pedal note for 7 bars at the end of the first movement.
- Typical of Baroque period, suspensions occur and an exdample of a 4-3 suspension can be found in bar 16 first movement.
- Secondary and dominant sevenths occur frequently.
- Most chords are in root position of first inversion, although a second versions are used occassionally.
Tempo, Metre and Rhythm - J.S Bach
- Rhythms vary from semiquavers through to quavers.
- Melismatic passages contain continuous quavers in bars 22-24.
- Tied notes occur in the main theme and give a forward drive to the music.
- There are occasional dotted rhythms.
- Moto Perpetuo semiquavers used in the opening.
- The rhythms are predominantly semiquavers for the bass soloist.
- Intricate decorative passagework includes demisemiquavers, dotted rhythms and syncopation.
- Starts on an anacrusis.
- Pauses are present at the end of each phrase where the cadence occurs. This halts tempo.
- Predonminant rhythm is crotchet and quavers occur where there are passing notes.