Bach lived at a time when music was in transition. About 100 years before Bach came on the scene, most music was being written for use in church. After Bach’s time, the most important works of music were composed for concert use. Therefore, Bach lived at a time when both were happening and, therefore, Bach composed lots of music for church and a lot for concert use.
The Brandenburg Concerto I referred to earlier this week is an example of music intended for use in a concert. Today I want to help you explore some music that was intended for use in church. The first work is titled, “Wachet Auf,” and is one of Bach’s finest cantatas.
A cantata is a work for choir, vocal soloists, orchestra and is structured as a narrative or story. Bach composed a lot of cantatas. Most were for use in the churches he worked for, but others were composed for use in concert. For example, he wrote a cantata about coffee that was performed at Café Zimmermann in Leipzig, Germany. Its unique subject matter makes it famous, but it’s still an enjoyable example of a cantata.
As you listen to these with your kids, we have some big hurdles to overcome. First, the classical singing style is different than what we are used to today. It doesn’t mean its bad, but it can take some getting used to. The more you listen to good choirs and vocalist the easier it becomes to listen. Second, these cantatas are sung in a foreign language, German to be specific. If you understand German that’s great, but if not it can be challenging.
Here’s what I encourage you to do when listening to classical music sung in a foreign language. Lookup a translation so you know what the song is about. Also, remember that our voices are instruments and even when we don’t understand the words we can hear the music. Do you remember how Bach weaves melodies together? The choir weaves 4 parts together during “Wachet Auf” making for some beautiful music.
I know I am exposing many of you to music you might normally avoid, but give it try with your kids and see if you can overcome some hurdles.