Music as ClayIn our study of Bach, we have seen how he was able to take traditional, sacred texts and write accompaniments for them that capture the meaning of those texts in a very unique way. Bach had the power to write music that was so expressive that it could actually make the listener feel what the text was saying. This power of Bach’s music is often overlooked in our society, because the modern human culture it quick to judge the beauty of music. By doing this, we fail to hear the truths Bach wrote. The following is a close study of how Bach was able to combine text and harmonies in one specific movement of his Cantata No. 78 to express certain messages.
Bach’s tenor aria (movement 4) in Cantata No. 78 is a good example of how Bach uses the expressive power of text, harmonies, and instrumentation to speak to his audiences and really say things through his music. This way, he was able to make music not only more powerful, but more accessible.
One way Bach uses Movement 4 to speak to the audience is through the form and tonal structure of the piece. Movement 4 is a binary aria with the text split evenly into a three-line A section and a three-line B section. The opening ritornello is in g minor, and the piece stays in g minor until the last cadence of the A section. The second ritornello is in Bb major followed by the B section, which moves from Bb major through many other keys and eventually ends up back in g minor. Then the final ritornello is also played in g minor.
The form Bach has chosen seems, from the conventions mentioned by Crist, to be an irregular form for the text given. It is a very short text that could easily be repeated in the da capo form, but Bach must have chosen this form for another reason. Perhaps he was trying to accentuate more on the meaning of the words rather than portray its poetic sound. The actual meaning of the words do not really seem to fit well with a da capo form. The first three lines talk of how Jesus makes the heart light and the spirit free. Thus, a freer style makes sense. Also, the last three lines talk of how Jesus brings victory over the “Lord of Hell”, so ending the song after that last line can somehow be paralleled to the victory.