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By Hans Rosenzvald
TO MOST MUSIC LOVERS Of our day the work of Johann Sebastian Bach is associated with a composer who, in organ and other keyboard music, in sonatas for the violin and cello, in concertos both for solo instruments and for ensembles, in fact in all media of musical creation save the opera developed great craftsmanship and a phenomenal musical logic which one can respect with cool admiration. The amateur easily sees how the professional musician can find in Bach's work the very epitome of severity and strength and possibly of cohesiveness of texture, but rarely does he himself find the music warm and of such a magic as to leave a deep impression on his emotional life. The children of these amateurs are even taught to look upon the two-part inventions and three-part symphonies of the Master of Eisenach merely as excellent exercises for the independence of fingers and exquisite preparation for a thorough penetration into the contrapuntal, polyphonic textures of music. Many today are inclined to consider particularly the Bach fugal music as separate from the "real thing"-which, whatever the preference may be, is the Traumerei of Schumann, the Nocturnes of Chopin, or the Moonlight Sonata by Beethoven.
That Bach's music has, as does probably all music, mathematical aspects, or that it may be viewed from such aspects-who would want to deny it? That the polyphony which had found its greatest cultivation in the 15th and 16th centuries is once more epitomized in Bach's work-who would want to minimize that fact, in view of his suites, concertos, toccatas, variations, choral preludes, and many other polyphonic forms? The total architecture of such a work as The Well Tempered Keyboard, the systematic completeness of The Art o f the Fugue are indeed such significant musical expressions as to make those who know these works forget that Bach's music, while logical, while approachable through procedures that may resemble equations, is in the last analysis the great music of the Protestant Church. Needless to say, any musician writing music for the glorification of God must be one with a warm heart, with genuine feeling, and with a pronounced sense for poetry.
Bach a "Tone Poet"? Should that word not be reserved for Robert Schumann, who composed Mondnacht, which makes you feel the silence of the night, which projects the scintillating stars, which, as its poet Eichendorff says, has the breeze drift through the fields, wherein infinite romantic longing, and the longing for the fabulous awakens? Or should the word "tone poet" perhaps be reserved for Richard Wagner, who chose for his music dramas subject matters and poetic expressions of such well-made fabric as would enable him to arrive at the most intense musical expression? Can Bach, who is believed to belong to the leaders in the Age of Reason, who has been called a rationalist par excellence, be considered a poet in tones by modern, progressive scholars who care little for cloying sentimentalities?
A tone poet, of necessity, would have to be an expressionist. But expressionism in musical composition is associated by the experts with about the same time in which Bach died. The School of Mannheim, for instance, which flourished in approximately 1750-the year of Bach's death-is rightfully considered expressionistic for its scores of sudden fortissimos and pianissimos, for the long crescendos and decrescendos which we find exploited by these artists for the first time and so thoroughly because they intended to achieve "expression" at any price. Just as in certain works of Scriabin, Reger, Richard Strauss, Debussy and Florent Schmitt we might see expressiveness overdone, just as much did these artists from Mannheim, who brought about musical classicism and to whom Haydn, Mozart, and Beethoven are equally indebted, constitute an era of musical expressionism. But Bach?
It is true that when it comes to fine nuances of tempo, dynamics, phrasing, accent, touch, bowing, Bach is as little an "expressionist" as are all so-called "early" composers. In all old music, once the performer "takes over," he is utterly dependent upon the notation. To be sure, the performer enjoyed greater freedom in the Baroque than he did in most works of the romantic age, for he can make free "creative" contributions (figured bass realizations, cadenzas, ornaments), but oftentimes even the finest of nuances are indicated in the score, as is the case in Lully's works. Deplorable is music which lives on the overdoing of nuances, which, I am afraid, is still characteristic of the Bach approach of our time: if not, what is the reason for so many conductors' playing prestissimo that which should be allegro; largissimo that which should be adagio; why do our keyboardists particularly indulge in fortissimos and pianissimos when the scores demand forte and piano, and why in almost all musical renditions does there seem to be so much overemphasis upon ritardando, accelerando, rubato, and the like? Those who play Bach's Chromatic Fantasy and Fugue and the preludes and fugues from the WellTempered Keyboard with rigidity are likely to find the right "expressionist" nuances and shades. They will not overdo tempo and dynamics; and if they do not overdo, they will, in all likelihood, become aware of what is meant by Bach, the "tone poet." Expression marks in Bach are practically limited to a few pieces in which different degrees of sonorities are indicated by forte and piano. Realize, and shudder at, the excessive amount of expression marks found in modern editions of our master- (not the good ones, of course!). Those who will keep in mind that the entire manuscript of the WellTempered Keyboard contained only notes and signs of ornamentation cannot be but horrified at the exhibitionism of romantic editors, mirrored in the flood of markings, dynamic, phraseological, expressive. The paucity of tempo and dynamic markings notwithstanding, Bach is a tone poet, but the "poetry" of his music is not of the romantic manner. Perhaps the ultimate reason is that Bach is primarily a melodist.
Although, as stated before, Bach is known to most as the instrumental polyphonist par excellence, and although the settings of his chorales, for example, betray a harmonist of a most audacious originality, the background at least of Bach's vocal music, we contend, is in the melody. One need study only the many examples of Bach's melody quoted in the works of Schweitzer, Pirro and Wolfrum to recognize the enormous amount of melodic formations which, more than any one thing, give us a hint as to the imaginative powers of Bach as a poet in tones. One could (as some so frequently do in modern scholarship) "prove" such poetry in tones by statistics, as it were. That way one would easily show that there is probably no significant word in the texts of Bach's cantatas and Passions which the great Thomas cantor has failed to illustrate musically. Moreover, it would be just as easy to prove that such illustrations are achieved principally by means of melodic power. The way in which Bach visualizes every word gives best testimony to his power of imagination.
BUT THAT WHICH MATTERS here, as in all aesthetics, is never quantity, it is quality. Let us take a little example from the cantata Sei Lob und Ehr and let us look at the recitative, verse two. "Auf Erden, Luft und Meer"-these five words (or actually three) , as captured in Bach's music, "speak volumes." The word earth uses the medium register of the tonal realm, so to speak; air, the second word, naturally lies higher in the expression of the melody; and ocean, the third, is in the low position. This may be a superficial "translation" into music-yet we should be attuned to it. Bach's procedures, of course, go beyond it. "Those on earth" are portrayed with certain intervals of the fifth, the idea being that one should see the human being standing on this orb as the only conscious, thinking creature. The intonation of "air" is high and is placed in such a manner that the only way by which the singer can project it is with a breathy, "airy" head voice, for, reduced to a single tone, this one note in the air is "like a breath of God." The words "and ocean," through the interval of the seventh between "Luft" and "und", and in contrast to the first diatonic progression, intensify the atmosphere of mysteriousness, which, of course, is intensified by the "mysterious" harmony. In one word, these eight notes of recitative are indicative of the fact that everything in the text is realized, or, as it were, every word Bach uses is poetized through music.
THE SIGNIFICANT POINT 1S that poetizing occurs here in the recitative. One must realize what recitative meant in Bach's time if he would see how Bach, with his sense of poetry, lifted it from an every-day vocal style (which in a very general way was designed to imitate or to emphasize the inflections of speech) to a sublime art form. In the opera, recitatives served to carry the action f rom one aria to another or from the aria to an ensemble or to a chorus. The composers used to disregard all musical principles in it, for according to convention the design of beautiful vocal lines was reserved for arias. Typical in the recitative of Bach's time is, as a matter of fact, the speech-like reiteration of notes, the kind of treatment of text which is syllabic for the sake of clear enunciation and understandability. Bach's recitative must not be compared with those of his contemporaries who were masters of opera and cantata. Bach's recitative is never just declamatory; usually it is dramatic-except for the part of the Evangelist in the Passions and a few other instances--and particularly is it accompanied by instruments rather than by keyboard alone, which makes it musically poetic and impressive. It does not matter whether such an accompagnato drama is Bach's original contribution or not. One could probably prove that the part of the Evangelist in the Schiitz Au f erstehungs Historie is the first example, or one of the first examples in musical history, of this type of dramatic, rather than merely declamatory, recitative style. One can find in the eighteenth century opera such climactic scenes, but nowhere are there such keen portrayals as in the St. Matthew Passion, when this style is used consistently for the part of Christ and for many recitatives preceding an aria. Perhaps we should remember here such free dramatic recitative style also in the strictly instrumental music for Bach, and there, of course, we are reminded of the Chromatic Fantasy.
IS IT NOT TYPICAL OF A TONE POET that he SO incessantly strives toward what commentators have called the arioso, two of which, appearing in the guise of the recitative accompagnato, occur, for instance, in the cantata Ein' Feste Burg? The arioso is a style actually midway between that of aria and that of recitative. As early as 1650 it was used, and Bach would never have claimed to have been its inventor, but he of all his contemporaries uses it most consistently and with particular success in the final sections of recitatives when he wishes to bestow upon them a considerable degree of assurance and of confidence. Such ariosi are best referred to as cavati. The short epigrammatic sections at the end of ariosi were by the Italians called recitativi con cavati, and in Bach's choral works we find dozens of examples. They are typical, too, of that opera which leads to Gluck's reform and to the late eighteenth century and-which is indebted to Bach's original flavor of recitative.
HOW DOES BACx, the tone poet, go to work in the real melodies? The first alto aria of the St. Matthew Passion, "Buss' und Reu' lznirscht das Siindenherz entzrvei," may be quoted as one example of many. Here Bach is confronted with the problem of expressing, through means of music, the sentiment of Busse and Reue, penitence and guilt. The average artist, and certainly one of the nineteenth century, would have used harmonic means for such transliteration. A great many composers, probably most, would have considered it simply impossible to lend expression to such affects by means of melody alone. Contemplating the harmonic possibilities, dissonances would undoubtedly be the most natural musical equivalents of contrition, and Bach, I am certain, would not have been hostile to the subtle application of such harmonic means. Nevertheless, melody alone can convey contrition to the perfect degree, can "paint" that sinful heart which suffers, which is weak and helpless after all the sin, guilt and regret, and yet-which is purer because it feels sin and is aware of its failings. The sequence, C#, D, C#, B# for the exposition of Buss' und Reu', this half-tone step arrangement more than anything else becomes a musical transliteration of the poetic thought. And notice how the line over his short ornamental D gradually leads down to the C#, that C# which lies so in the tessitura that neither can the alto of a boy nor a woman sing it with strong voice. The person who has felt that emotion of which Bach is speaking needs not be told why. And more!-one can perceive the relations of cause and effect, the gradualness which leads from Buss' and Reu' to contrition. Here Bach did not have to take refuge in polyphony; in eight measures the situation is perfectly captured, transliterated by means of melody alone. With this melody Bach can penetrate entirely into the poetic thought. Melody he himself believed to be divine inspiration, making him strong as a human being and as a musician; it is that melody which allows him to see, even in a simple phenomenon, depth, and in depth, simplicity itself.
Even though for some time scholars seemed to think so, we by no means believe that Bach is such a poet in tones only when what he has to say is said by means of the voices or by the instruments which, sounding with the voices, explain the texts. On the contrary, the subtlest poetry of tones can be recognized in the purely instrumental works of Bach to the very same degree to which we see his power of imagination confirmed in the vocal works. As an example for many, we may cite Aus tie f er Noth schrei ich zu dir, pro organo pleno (manuale e pedale doppio), Peters VI, No. 13 (chorale in Phrygian). As Schweitzer states, the work at the end brings the great rhythm of joy which, in the course of the tremendous fugue chorale, becomes victorious. He adds that probably the text cannot be responsible for this victory of the joy rhythm: "since Bach in his chorale wants to represent Lutheran dogma of penitence according to which each true penitence leads to the joyful certainty of redemption per se, this motive of joy which fights against the austere music and finally achieves victory makes deep sense. It represents the same thought which is also represented by the magnificent major cadence."
While Schweitzer's interpretation, on the whole, does justice to the tone poet Bach, actually the first stanza of the chorale offers no reason whatever for the appearance of the joy rhythm. The following stanzas, and particularly the last two, do. In Bach's elaboration, this transcription of the 130th Psalm by Luther becomesone may pardon a term usually associated with the nineteenth century-a symphonic poem of most effective conciseness, to be sure, one which shows all the phases of a soul that develops from deepest contrition the joyous certainty of redemption. In the melodic line of the chorale Aus tie f er Noth there is a certain climax. At the beginning, the empty "migrating" fifth with following half-tone steps gives the melody something depressing, but in the second part, with its really Phrygian half-tone cadence F-E, the "contrition" seems to have reached its culmination; the third section, however, with its Aeolian cadence B-A, is considerably milder, and in the fourth line the 1VIixolydian cadence is consoling, is friendly. Bach harmonizes this chorale remaining always close to the modes. For instance, he avoids-genuinely Bach-F#, and he achieves his biggest effect by giving just an intimation of tonality rather than writing in tonality. Needless to say, he uses the modal implications of the melody in his harmonization to the fullest extent.
The first part of the work contains the first two lines of the chorale with the ending on E. The second contains the balance of the chorale lines. Through repetition the first part, austere, is emphasized; the second, effectively contrasted, expands. The first two chorale lines are concisely treated; the rest is majestically broadened.
In the first chorale delineation the five voices-at first but four are heard!-bow in submission to the sixth, a situation symbolically transliterated by the diminution of the chorale notes in what technically is called a stretto. It looks as though the "small" voice "kneels" down in reverence before the "large." The second time, night has come down, which is poetically transliterated by mysterious chromaticism (in the sixteenth measure) and sharp dissonances (in the twentieth), also in the stretto with chromaticism no less austere. The third time, the context is loosened in that the augmented chorale line is wedded to a syncopated counterpoint, again in stretto. The fourth time the counterpoint jumps around in joyous manner and almost pushes the chorale line aside, one contrapuntal voice making music all its own. Here one can actually see the genesis of the joy rhythm. Bach appears to be thoroughly fascinated by what originally was merely accidental, and he uses it by intentionally climaxing it with a most significant ending. The rhythmic version of the last chorale line is almost audacious in its syncopated form. Of course, it now contains the joy rhythm, in the passing notes of the eighths, but the very form of the joy motive is achieved through the lines of the counterpoint, and with power the chorale tune begins on the 6/4 chord of C major with the joy motive entering in thirds in the following measure. There can be no interest any more in retrogression to the Phrygian cadence. The triumph is achieved in the synthesis of the two bass voices, the stretto of the chorale line in rhythmic diminution which energetically urges toward the E major organ point and into the final measures, into which is poured the rhythm of joy ascending and descending in contrary motion until the six mighty final notes. Altogether, while the Schweitzer interpretation certainly is admirable, there is no question but that the musical workmanship parallels the poetry, and while the first verse of the chorale would offer no reason for the appearance of the joy rhythm, the following, in accordance with the epitomized technique of the last two chorale lines, do give the immediate reason for the appearance of that rhythm, particularly as one compares the Lutheran poetry to the original text of the 130th Psalm, beginning the "From the depths I cry to Thee, O Lord," to the end, And He shall redeem Israel from all its sins."
AS WE SPEAK OF CHORALE MUSIC and its intimate connection with chorale poetry, we cannot help but point to its symbolical significance in other works-a symbolism that reveals the poetic sense more frequently than does any other single device in Bach's work. Realize what a chorale meant in the life of a churchgoer at St. Thomas of Leipzig, for instance, where Bach was a cantor. Consider what this churchgoer would associate with a chorale, and you will understand Bach's specific use of it-one without any serious lack of logic in regard to the association. A tenor aria Sei getreu in the cantata Weinen, Klagen is interwoven with the chorale in the trumpet, "Jesu, meine Freude." The relation of the sentiments is obvious to anyone who studies the cantata-the sudden appearance of the chorale allows the churchgoer an immediate and definite association. The duo of the solo cantata, Nur Jedem das Seine, is wedded to the chorale melody "Meinen Jesum lass ich nicht," and the tenor aria from Es erhub sich ein Streit is quoted together with the trumpet chorale "Herzlich lieb' hab' ich dich, o Herr." Taking it for granted that almost every listener knew these chorales, we know that his association was by no means unconscious, that, as a matter of fact, these quotations directed his thoughts into definite channels. A religious person of today can still sense, at least, the aesthetic beauty of these and similar quotations, the beauty of the melodies themselves, the contrapuntal combination, the syntheses which are achieved a priori by the chorale melodies with Bach's inventions; most twentieth-century people are no longer aware of the religious significance of such quotations and even less of the poetic. This does not mean, however, that the beauty of such chorale quotations, which show Bach the tone poet at his best, must be lost to our time. It has been claimed that the quotations in Bach chorale cantatas have much in common with the motives and reminiscences found in Wagnerian musicdramas. They do! Once the quotation is made in the Bach cantata, the various parts of the chorales are indeed drafted to constitute the same aesthetic effect. The worshipper while listening to a so-called madrigalian text and hearing at the same time the chorale, associates this text with the proper words of the chorale. This was exactly the master's intention.
It is even more important that frequently Bach does not quote entire chorale lines but that he formulates the melodies of an individual aria in such a manner as to remind the worshipper of the chorale. Here, even more than in the above-mentioned case, have most modern listeners lost the association with poetry, and it is not likely that they will recognize the degree of Bach's refined poetic sensitivity which often lies in symbolic tunes. Whenever Bach leads a melody close to a well-known chorale tune, we can assume that many of those who listened for the first time to the aria (in a cantata or in another work in which allusion to a chorale is made) associated the new music with the old, the free invention with the traditional congregational hymn. Spitta altogether believed that there were only six chorale cantatas of Bach which completely avoided the intentional creation of such melodic associations with chorales. He names Nos. 33, 78, 115, 130, 133 and 178, but in some of these I find not only associations but actually verbal reminiscences. It is safe to say that Bach was so much influenced by the chorale, so much lived in its realms, that he never managed and surely never tried to get away from it. So even in those melodies which are believed to be entirely without influence of the chorale we find allusions here and there. The worshipper of the earlier eighteenth century, familiar with the congregational hymns of the Protestant Church, recognized the closeness also of the words of these chorales to the madrigalian lyrics in addition to similarity of music. Most people today are no longer conversant with hymns, or, at least, not to the extent to which people were two hundred years ago. We find it difficult to study a great many of the melodic formations in the Bach cantata from the point of view of the similarity to a cantus prius f actus, a previously made song, nor do we spontaneously register symbolic lyrics.
THAT WHICH MUSICIANS commonly call musical logic is by no means all we should be aware of, if we want to understand the great, the architecturally beautiful forms of the cantor of St. Thomas. In order to do justice to the logic of his proceedings, we must never confine ourselves to the analysis of his music from the point of view of motives, themes, rhythms, harmonic fabric, contrapuntal textures, and other purely musical devices, but we must always derive the logic of the musical inspiration from the words-and not, as shown, only in purely vocal music but also wherever instruments are used by Bach to illustrate the religious context of vocal music and, to a large extent, in instrumental music. In turn, we must not evaluate his poetry as absolute poetry but see it in close connection with the liturgy, with worship, with Protestantism. We must never forget that Bach, as no other composer among the great masters of music, was as much a Protestant composer as Palestrina was a composer who had dedicated himself entirely to the dogma and service of the Catholic Church.
As a result, the musical inspiration of Bach does not, so to speak, "come out of a vacuum." We cannot ever take it for granted; we must find whence it comes and why it is the way it is. We see in certain passages, for instance, the gesture of prayer, and we try to correlate the gesture of prayer and the direction of the musical theme. Imagery produces music in Bach, or to see it from a different angle, all his music is mainly the result of religious faith. This matter is by no means as enigmatic as some musicologists wanted to have it, particularly at the beginning of our century, when it was considered "unscientific" to correlate purely musical manifestations with emotions, with "the soul," or even with poetry. Such correlation was believed by many to be romantic, wishy-washy, unscholarly and amateurish. In reality, the correlation of the emotional background with the music itself is not only not dilettantish, but is a sine qua non for the genuine understanding of Bach on his terms. Those who avoid such investigations usually recognize but the logic and clarity of Bach's art, which indeed is a most convincing and beautiful clarity, and fail in the recognition of the poetry of the music. The greatest poetry of Bach's music is in the chorales themselves.
AT THE BEGINNING OF THE MODERN ERA one of the most magnificent unions known in history-that between poetry and music-had been achieved. In the Protestant chorale of the sixteenth century we feel that genuinely poetic music which is the result of socialcongregational consciousness. It is the reverberation of the old folk tunes now lifted to a new sphere, the sphere of spiritual living. The chorale of the seventeenth century, while more personal and subjective, consolidates chorale literature as literature. But even the second part of the seventeenth century has nothing regarding the unity of poetry and music to compare it with. The chorale then gave impetus to the art of organ playing and to the development of such forms for the organ as the chorale prelude, chorale fantasy and chorale fugue; but the large forms of cantata and Passion forced poetry into that inferior position where it becomes but a handmaiden to music. This is the reason why Bach had to be satisfied with a great many inferior texts: Salomon Franck is still amiable, but Erdmann Neumeister is oftentimes distasteful and, in a Pietistic sense, dry; Henrici-Picander, too, is oftentimes more elegant than profound, and even Marianne von Ziegler, while cordial and intimate, is not always highly artistic. So we remember that the text for the funeral music for Queen Eberhardine, taken from the St. Mark Passion, was written by Gottsched, the most rational of German rationalist poets of that time.
On the other hand, in order to remedy some of his poor texts, Bach himself took an active part in the formalization of libretti and lyrics. We know that he condensed the inane and pompous stanzas of the "famed" Passion of Brockes, that he replaced the versified speech of the Evangelist through the Bible text of Luther, etc., and we can but imagine, in the absence of precise data, to what extent he watched over the activity of Picander in the creation of the da capo arias of the St. Matthew Passion.
Also for some casual compositions-or occasional music-Gottsched had furnished him with stiff, dry, pedantic lyrics, as, in general, a great number of poets and scholars of aesthetics wrote "carmina" for wedding and birthday celebrations and for funerals, and others saw a source of income in writing texts for use by composers for odes and cantatas. So if Bach, the tone poet, sometimes had to assume even the role of a poet, in view of the miserable condition in which German literature was in his time, it simply indicated that he was one of the first to attempt to work for the liberation of the text from music-feeling that by no means should music force poetry into a strait jacket. In that way one can consider the tone poet Bach a forerunner also of Klopstock, whose odes and whose Messiah tried to reach the same high level in literature which Bach (and Handel) had achieved in the sister art. Klopstock is known to have broken the servility of the word by lifting it to a level where it obtained music of its own. Is it not significant that Bach, as he became older, cultivated the strict chorale cantatas with a few madrigalian additions and that his great-perhaps greatestcantata cycle, the B Minor Mass, a composition which goes beyond denominational confines, is conceived without recitatives? It is interesting that in the St. Matthew Passion Bach himself has forever recorded his attitude toward madrigalian poetry-choruses and arias are by Henrici, but in the last manuscript version Bach wrote the text of the Evangelist in red ink, emphasizing so to speak, the word of the Scriptures; and the words of the Lutheran chorale to him were superior to all madrigalian commentary. Thus the most sublime and keenest thinker in tones is a tone poet. He must be, for he is a Christian of passionate longing for the Hereafter.
Nor did his conception of poetry by means of music reduce his "Gothic" contrapuntalism or prevent him from indulging in the mysterious canon secrets of the old Netherlanders. Perhaps that is the reason why despite harmonic audacities he is conservative, and why his manner of writing appeared even to some of his contemporaries, such as Scheibe, as schwulstig. However, those with an open mind could see in him more than just an "old wig" (as one of his sons said), and musicians with vision learned to respect Bach's work, as Mozart did through the influence of Van Swieten, and as the young Beethoven admired Bach through communication of his teacher Neefe.
THE CHORALE, WEAPON OF PROTESTANT CHURCH music, had a rich tradition, and Bach was utterly aware of its venerable past. To him Martin Luther was the poet of the chorales, for the Reformer had given to his church thirty-six songs, and he had created such new lieder as "Ach Gott vom Himmel," a paraphrase of the twelfth Psalm, "Aus tie f er Noth," a paraphrase on the 130th, and "Ein' f este Burg," a paraphrase on the 46th Psalm. Since the unity of poet and melodist was taken for granted in the era of the Reformation, there was no question in Bach's mind but that those melodies which first became prominent in Wittenberg were of Luther's pen-and that they are has been testified to by witnesses including Walter. Equally aware was Bach of other poets and melodists of the Reformation, for in his Passions and cantatas they live-and we know that Lazarus Spengler (who wrote "Durch Adams Fall"), Sebald Heyden (who wrote "O Mensch, bewein"), and others were not just names to him. The monumental congregational chorale, at the beginning of Baroque (approximately 1620), had changed to the more subjective "Ich" lied, perhaps warmer and of a more private character, but which in most cases does not have the religious fervor nor the artistic solidity of the sixteenth-century chorale. Bach knew such chorales, too. Religiously more significant and musically more enjoyable than the chorale of the Age of Reason (eighteenth century), which often is musically so close to the song that it assumes an unpleasantly rational, indifferent and non-religious character, the Baroque chorale must have been considered by Bach an effective antidote to indifference, so he studied Nicolai with his "Wachet auf" and "Wie schoen leucht' uns der Nlorgenstern," Schein, Albert, Neumark, Rist. He familiarized himself with the lyricism of Paul Gerhardt, with the Berlin Songbook, the "Praxis Pietatis Nlelica" of Johannes Cruget~-he constantly lived in the world of these chorales. Musically speaking, he knew different techniques of the chorale, the polyrhythmic conceptions of the Reformation period and the "chorale-in-discant" idiom, the practice of the earliest times and of later, when the organ customarily accompanied congregational singing: the simplification process which gradually led to a more homophonic and harmonic style, as indicated by the Rungesche Gesangbuch, the Darmstaedter Cantional, the Vopeliussche Gesangbuch, etc. While these collections may show, in comparison with the more artistic predecessors of the Reformation period and the later sixteenth-century choralbiicher, a degeneration of the art form, Bach brings the richness of his harmonies to the poetic strength and imagination of the various stanzas and thus leads the form to a new climax in "the 371." If it is said that in the Pietistic songbook, (one voice with figured bass) of Anastasius Freylinghausen (Halle, 1704), the chorale had reached a state of most conspicuous decay, in that it had now been handed out to Pietism, rationalism and the gallantry of the time then add that, through the new regard for the poetry, Bach with his varying harmonizations counteracted that decay. In the long run, of course, he was unable to prevent the adulteration of the form. In the later eighteenth century the number of chorales became larger and larger, but the chorale as such lost its strength so that no more important melodies were created.
It has been said that the chorale harmonizations in the St. Matthew and St. John Passions and in most of the Bach cantatas present an element comparable with the chorus of the ancient tragedy. In the Passions, the chorale creates not only a contemplative basis, the opportunity for meditation and reflection, but it also widens the particularity of the action into more universal channels, broadens the story, makes it more general, universal.
One may well add that that is the reason why the chorale arrangements of Bach are much more than a property of just the Lutheran church, that they actually represent the best in music for all people, all cultures and nations.