I’m Writing About More Non-Beautiful Music

I decided to write about one of the Bach cantatas from the list of suggestions, and I thought it would be interesting to pick the first one available on the list – just to see what I could find. That turned out to be a lot more difficult than I had anticipated. After spending a while trying to find something intriguing about “Meine Seufzer, meine Tranen,” I expanded my options and looked at “Nimm von uns, Herr, du treuer Gott.” After listening to the opening chorale, I decided that this piece had a lot to offer. It has historical references, intense dissonance, strangely harsh text, and potential ties to Calvinism. My only concern is that I’ll get tired of listening to it before I turn in my podcast next week.

The dissonance and orchestration of the cantata seem like they will be interesting to research and analyze. The opening chorale has such jarring dissonance that I find it unpleasant to listen to (continuing my pattern of picking non-beautiful music for podcasts). In contrast to the dissonant chorale, the first aria is accompanied by a busy, seemingly-happy flute part. This felt like a strange background to the text (in which the singer pleas to God for forgiveness from sin).

The texts of the cantata movements also interested me. The first aria says, “…so that, through sinful acts, we might not be destroyed like Jerusalem.” The instrumental chorale is called “Why are you so angry?” These texts seemed particularly harsh and also seemed to possibly refer to a particular time of difficulty. It turns out that the text of this cantata came from a poem by Martin Moller (1584). Moller apparently had Calvinist leanings, which might explain why the text of this cantata is so dire. On the other hand, I was surprised that Bach would choose a text with Calvinist undertones! Bach composed this cantata in 1724, the year after he left a Calvinist patron (for whom he wrote mostly “secular” music, since Calvinists weren’t looking for chorales, etc.). I wonder if this influenced his choice of text. On the other hand, maybe I’m reading too much into the meaning of the text.

As I continue my research, I plan to further investigate the points I’ve mentioned so far. I’ve found a few good academic sources specifically talking about this piece, but I predict that I will have to read more general sources about Bach’s life and times; I’ll probably also have to do most of my own analysis. So far, I think my thesis will probably center on Bach’s ideas about beautiful music, Bach’s connections to Calvinism, or a creative analysis of the combination of text and orchestration (which I haven’t developed yet).

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