Professor Rhea Jacobus
16 April 2013
Time Period Paper
The piece I have chosen is Johann Sebastian Bach’s Cantata No.4, “Christ Lag in Tobesbanden” (Christ Lay in Death’s Dark Prison), composed in 1707. Adopted from a piece that had been previously used by Martin Luther in 1524, this piece is from a genre of Baroque period sacred music known as the “church cantata”; the church cantata was second in importance to the “oratorio” genre as far as sacred music went during the time period. Bach held the job of cantor, or music director, of the Thomaskirche, which was one of the biggest churches of his day. This job required him to write cantatas for the entire year, which inevitably led to a masterpiece such as “Christ Lag in Tobesbanden.” “Christ Lag in Tobesbanden”, is also noted for its use of a traditional congregational hymn, known as a chorale; this is a feature of nearly all Lutheran church cantatas. As a chorale written in celebration of Easter, this piece represents the best of Baroque period sacred music, a period known for sharp contrasts, and the abundance of light and darkness in most of its works of art along with its music.
“Christ Lag in Tobesbanden” begins with a “sinfonia” (Italian for symphony), containing a full orchestra that really sets the tone for the entire piece. The piece contains seven stanzas, each ending with the word “Hallelujah!” As far as the timbre of the song goes, “Christ Lag in Tobesbanden” has a sober and dark feeling; the song also contains voices and a string orchestra. When translated into English, the piece reflects on the Easter story; the story of mankind’s struggle with Death and the victory achieved when Christ gave up his life to save all humans from their sins. Each stanza has a distinct feature that helps with the symmetry of the piece: the first stanza is a chorus, the second stanza is a duet, the third stanza is a solo, the fourth stanza is a chorus, the fifth stanza is a solo,...
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