'for the glory of god alone'

start the week with Bach cantatas

When thinking about music that bridges the gap between sacred liturgical and secular concert repertoire, the vocal works of JS Bach are second to none. The Hampstead Parish Church congregation will no doubt be familiar with Bach’s large-scale works, such as the Passions and the B minor mass, through our own performances at Hampstead Parish Church, a superlative body of recordings, and concerts in London and around the world. Bach’s cantatas, on the other hand, are less well-known, but offer performers and listeners the same abundance of musical riches as his more familiar masterpieces. Composed for liturgical use in 18th century LutheranGermany, Bach’s cantatas are musical gems. Lasting between 15-30 minutes, these miniature oratorios range from intimate chamber works for a solo voice and a small ensemble to symphonic forces of trumpets, winds, strings, and percussion. However, even the largest-scale cantatas are suited to ensembles of single strings and one-per-part choruses, making them ideal for performances during this pandemic, when physical distancing necessitates small forces.

Unlike the Passions, which tell the story of Jesus’ crucifixion, the cantatas do not typically follow a narrative storyline. Instead, they delve deeply into a specific message or question of the Christian faith, and reflect on it through the familiar combination of chorus, recitative, aria, and chorale. During this crisis, when so many people are grappling with existential questions and facing grief and hardship, the cantatas speak directly to our concerns about humanity and the world around us. The cantatas contain some of Bach’s most tortured harmony, dense counterpoint, sublime and majestic orchestration, and melodies of the most tender and transparent beauty. Bach suffers with us, illuminating in his music the anguish inherent to the human condition, yet comforting us with the promise of a better world to come.

Click the images below to explore our cantata series: