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Bach Cantata Choruses: Why don't we hear them today?

Bach’s sacred cantatas are widely regarded as among the greatest religious choral works ever written, yet with the exception of a small number of movements they are seldom performed in church services today. Why is this the case? The following might be contributing factors:

     1.  Many choir directors are not sufficiently familiar with the cantatas to know which movements
             to choose for stand-alone performance;
     2.  The vocal lines can be challenging;
     3.  The theology of some of the texts seems inappropriate today;
     4.  Many of the choruses are too long to be sung as an anthem in today’s services;
     5.  The cantatas require an orchestra, often of a significant number of players;
     6.  The works are in German.

These editions seek to remove the first five of these roadblocks to modern liturgical performance by choosing choruses with the following characteristics:

     1.  They work both textually and musically as stand-alone anthems;
     2.  The vocal lines are approachable for an average, non-specialist choir;
     3.  The texts are suitable in the context of modern theology;
     4.  Each of the selections can be sung in under five minutes;
     5.  The original orchestral accompaniment has been reduced (not transcribed - there is a difference!) for organ
             alone (or organ and 1 or 2 obbligato instruments), so as to be useful in most churches.

Even for a choir just beginning to sing in German, the chorus “Wir danken dir, Gott” is a good place to start, as it contains only eight words!

Selections in our Choruses for General Use series come from cantatas written for a variety of occasions, ranging from a Christmas cantata to a Pentecost cantata to a cantata to inaugurate a new town council. But the text for each chorus included here is general, rather than suggestive of the occasion for which the cantata was originally written, and can be sung at most times in the liturgical year.  

Selections in our Choruses for Feasts and Seasons series address the seasons of Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, Lent, and Easter, with works for specific occasions forthcoming. Choruses will be added to both on a regular basis, so stay tuned!

A copy of our new Bach on a Budget brochure can be downloaded here.


IBC Editorial Philosophy

Our approch to editing the cantatas of Bach originated in a single statement made around 1980 by Dr. Gerre Hancock (1934-2012) during an improvisation lesson. We were discussing the accompaniment of "Also hat Gott die Welt geliebt," the opening chorus of Cantata 68. Almost off-handedly, Dr. Hancock said "You should take a more comprehensive look at the accompaniment of Bach's cantata choruses. You'd be surprised how often the essence of the orchestra can be successfully reduced to three voices or fewer."

This began what has become a decades-long exploration of these works, and of discerning where the kind of treatment Dr. Hancock discussed could be successfully employed. It turns out he was right! A significant number of choruses, arias, and duets in Bach's church cantatas can be effectively accompanied by employing a solo stop with continuo-like accompaniment, by a trio sonata texture, or by a single-manual reduction.

All our Bach scores carry a dedication to Dr. Hancock, the inspiration for this venture. As we verify in performance that a given chorus, aria, duet, or complete cantata works when performed from our edition, we will add scores to this page for download, as well as to our page on Aryeh Oron's wonderful Bach Cantatas website (http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Scores/IndexScores-IBC.htm).

Gary Harney, 2015


Currently Available Scores

The following scores are provided without charge and may be copied and performed freely. We only ask that they not be sold or republished without our permission. Click on the work's title below to access the file.


Choruses for General Use

"Sei nun wieder zufrieden" (from S. 21)
SATB chorus and organ
Performance time: 4:30
Moderately easy

"Nun lob, mein Seel" (from S. 28)
SATB chorus and organ
Performance time: 3:30
Moderate

"Wir danken dir, Gott" (from S. 29; original key)
"Wir danken dir, Gott" (from S. 29; transposed down a step)

SATB chorus and organ
Performance time: 2:30
Moderately easy

"Also hat Gott die Welt geliebt" (from S. 68)
SATB chorus and organ
(Based on the text of John 3:16)
Performance time: 5:00
Moderate

"Wer an ihn gläubet" (from S. 68)
"Wer an ihn gläubet" (from S. 68; transposed down a step)

SATB chorus and organ
(Based on the text of John 3:18)
Performance time: 3:30
Moderate

"Nun danket alle Gott" (from S. 79; original key)
"Nun danket alle Gott" (from S. 79; transposed down a step)

SATB chorus and organ
Performance time: 2:00
Easy

"Glorie, Lob, Ehr und Herrlichkeit" (from S. 106)
SATB chorus and organ
Performance time: 2;30
Moderate

"Was willst du dich betrüben" (from S. 107)
SATB chorus and organ
Performance time: 4:00
Moderately easy

"Herr gib, daß ich dein Ehre" (from S. 107)
SATB chorus and organ
Performance time: 2:30
Easy

"Jesus bleibet meine Freude" (from S. 147)
SATB chorus and organ
Performance time: 2:30
Easy

"Sei Lob und Preis mit Ehren" (from S. 167)
SATB chorus and organ
Performance time: 2:30
Easy

"Siehe zu, daß deine Gottesfurcht" (from S. 179)
SATB chorus and organ
Performance time: 2:15
Moderately Easy


Choruses for Feasts and Seasons

"Das neuegeborne Kindelein" (from S. 122)
Christmas
SATB chorus and organ
Performance time: 3:15
Moderately easy

"Aus tiefer Not schrei ich zu dir" (from S. 38)
Lent
SATB chorus and organ
(Based on the text of Psalm 130:1-3)
Performance time: 4:15
Moderate

"In this thy bitter Passion" (adapted from S. 161)
Passion
SATB chorus and organ
Performance time: 1:30
Easy

"Halt im gedächtnis Jesum Christ" (from S. 67; original key)
"Halt im gedächtnis Jesum Christ" (from S. 67; transposed down a step)

Easter
SATB chorus and organ
Performance time: 3:15
Moderate


Solos

"Mein gläubiges Herze" (from S. 68)
Soprano aria with organ
General
Performance time: 2:15

"Beglückte Herde, Jesu Schafe" (from S. 104)
Bass aria with organ
Good Shepherd/Death/General
Performance time: 7:30

"Jesus macht mich geistlich reich" (from S. 75)
Alto aria with organ or harpsichord
General
Performance time: 2:30

"Gelobet sei der Herr" (from S. 129)
Bass aria with organ or harpsichord
General
Performance time: 3:45


Duets


Full Cantatas

Christ lag in Todes Banden (S. 4)
Violin part
Cello part
Soprano, Alto, Tenor, Bass, Chorus, Violin, and Continuo
(Verse 7 sung to the music of Verse 1)
Cantata for Easter Day, 1707?
Performance time: 22:00

Meine Seel erhebt den Herren (S. 10)
Violin part
Oboe part

Soprano, Alto, Tenor, Bass, Chorus, Oboe, Violin, and Harpsichord
Cantata for Feast of the Visitation, 1724
Performance time: 18:30

Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland (S. 61)
Soprano, Tenor, Bass, Chorus, Violin, and Organ
Cantata for Advent, 1714
Performance time: 16:00

Also hat Gott die Welt geliebt (S. 68)
Soprano, Bass, Chorus, and Organ
Cantata for Whit Monday, 1725
Performance time: 15:00

Ich habe genung! (S. 82)
Violin part
Bass, Violin, and Harpsichord
Cantata for Feast of the Purification, 1727
Performance time: 23:00

Ich bin vergnügt mit meinem Glücke (S. 84)
Soprano and Harpsichord (SATB for chorale only)
Cantata for Septuagesima, 1727
Performance time: 13:30

Himmelskönig, sei willkommen (S. 182)
Violin part
Flauto dolce part

Alto, Tenor, Bass, Chorus, Flute, Violin, and Keyboard
Cantata for Palm Sunday, 1714
Performance time: 27:30


Non-Bach Scores

We have also created editions of works by other early composers, sometimes to be used in concerts or services that include a Bach cantata as well. Below are such scores for your use, with the same proviso as above.

"Te Deum Patrem" - Andrea Gabrieli
SATB, organ (optional)
Trinity/General
Performance time: 2:30

"O crux fidelis" - Andrea Gabrieli
SATB unaccompanied
Good Friday/Holy Cross
Performance time: 3:00

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© Gary Harney 2016