Abstracts of issue 14 (2000)
Book Review

Eric Chafe
Analyzing Bach Cantatas, Oxford University Press, New York and Oxford 2000.
Review: Katy Romanou
Eric Chafe, Analyzing Bach CantatasThe annual cycles of church music have been a tradition for Lutheran Church musicians. Some of them completed the musical works to be performed for more than ten years (Telemann wrote over 31 annual cycles of church music, that is about 2000 cantatas and Passions). Bach during the first six years of his service in Leipzig completed the liturgical music for five ecclesiastical years, i.e. the music that should be performed in both churches of the city every Sunday and holiday (approx. 60 cantatas per year), excluding Lent and Good Friday (Passions), when secular instruments were not allowed in church. He wrote some 300 cantatas (about 200 of which survived even though it is difficult to determine the exact numbers) and five (complete) Passions. In these cycles he included also some works written earlier in Weimar.
Obviously, in order to understand the content of Bachs cantatas it is necessary to know the long tradition in which they are included. The listener for whom these works were initially written did not have the aesthetic experience we receive today by listening to them. That listener perceived these works as a part of his tradition and experience that composed his own cultural environment an environment common both for the listener and the composer.
The disciplines that may shed some light on the load carried by Bachs church music are hardly developed by musicologists. This is why there is this contradiction: on the 250th anniversary of Bachs death, the widely recognized as top composer, a major part of his most representative work namely the church cantatas has not been an object for detailed and thorough research.
Chafe seeks to suggest those disciplines that are essential for understanding Bachs cantatas. Since these cantatas were written for events that transcend pure musical performance, we cannot study them neglecting the theological content of the text they were written for and the principles according which this content has been formulated in a way that allows to address to the listener as an individual. The supreme intention was the cantata to reflect what may be described as the high-powered character of the experience of faith, of a series of passions and forms that had tendency to be most completely understood by the believer.
At the same time, it is necessary to understand the processes and the transformations that bridged the 16th century tonal practice (the theory of modes and hexachords) with that of the 18th century. Contemporary notions about the relativity of major and minor tonalities, about the affinity of tonalities, about dominant and subdominant polarity within a certain tonality, have been formulated on the basis and through the older theories about modes. These changes many of which were extremely new at Bachs time are of decisive importance for understanding the ways that the relation between music and theology determined the structures of the cantatas of Bach.
The review displays and underlines the important contribution of Eric Chafe on a methodological level with his questioning about the effectiveness of the widespread systems for musical analysis, as well as with his specific understanding of musical allegory to which he concluded as a result of his research. The review approaches also and scrutinizes Chafes contribution on the level of musical analysis that illuminates the musical tradition in which Bachs cantatas are placed, their relation to Lutheran theology, as well as the specific place that Bach occupies in the process of transition from modality to tonality with his unique capability of composing and compiling the most diverse ideologies in a contrapuntal interaction.