Much of Bach’s prodigious output consists of re-workings of previous compositions.
This is true of Cantata 191. It is described by Bach as a Christmas Cantata, and it is entirely a reworking of parts of the Gloria from his Mass in B minor. For the first movement he has used the chorus Gloria in excelsis – et in terra pax from the Mass unchanged, and the following duet is the Domine Deus from the Mass sung to the words ‘Gloria Patri et Filio et Spiritui sancto’. The cantata concludes with the chorus Sicut erat in principio.The music for this is the chorus Cum sancto spiritu which concludes the Gloria in the Mass. The words Sicut erat don’t fit the original, so he has modified the beginning so that they do.
So we get a small insight into the way Bach worked. There are many more examples of reworkings to hand, since all the Mass in B minor apart from the Kyrie and the Gloria consists of reworkings of previous cantatas.
When Kuhnau died in June 1722 the Leipzig authorities needed to find a new Kantor for the Thomaschule. This was a prestigious post and there were six applicants. The obvious front-runner was Georg Philip Telemann,
who was very highly regarded and already had connections with St. Thomas’s. He showed definite signs of accepting the post, but the Hamburg Senate tried to block his acceptance. Telemann argued that if they wanted him to remain in Hamburg they should raise his salary. This they duly did, and he duly stayed.
So Leipzig looked to their
2nd choice, Christoph Graupner, who was Kappelmeister in Darmstadt and one of Kuhnau’s distinguished pupils. Graupner was keen to accept, until Darmstadt offered to increase his salary and improve his status – an offer he could not refuse.
This left them with the 3rd choice.
Councillor Platz observed, ‘As the best man cannot be got, we must make do with the mediocre’ – namely one J.S.Bach!
One of the duties of the position was that they should teach the boys Latin. All of the applicants refused to accept this, but the upshot was that Bach, as successful applicant, had to employ a Latin teacher and pay him out of his own salary.
Bach famously walked the 250 miles from Arnstadt. He had been given 4 weeks leave from his post at the Arnstadt court; he stayed in Lübeck for 4 months. The year was 1705, the year of the death of Emperor Leopold I and the accession of Joseph I. Bach was probably present at the Extraordinary Abendmusike Buxtehude put on to mark these events.
In 1723 Bach was appointed Kantor at St. Thomas’s Church, Leipzig. For the next six years he brought his small stock of church cantatas up to about 300, (which was five more or less complete sets of cantatas for the Church Year). This provided for all his needs for his work at St. Thomas’s for the rest of his time there.
When called upon to produce new music, he was in the habit of taking movements from earlier works and adapting them, reworking them where necessary. Some movements underwent several re-workings. The term parody signifies music which has been recycled in this manner.
Some of Bach’s greatest music has a substantial parody element. An example is the Mass in B minor. At the accession of the new Elector, Bach presented him with the Kyrie & Gloria of the Mass, (Kyrie and Gloria being the parts of the Lutheran Mass set to music). Then in 1748-49 he added the Credo, Sanctus, Benedictus and Agnus Dei, completing what we now know as the B minor Mass. His reason for doing this is not clear*, but there was no new music: it is in effect an anthology of some of the finest bits of his earlier cantatas, the words being replaced by those of the ordinary of the mass. Some of his adaptations are quite radical (such as the wonderfully moving end of the Crucifixus, adapted from the cantata Weinen, Klagen, Sorgen, Zagen).
* It is thought by some that it was in support of a job application for Dresden.
The Thomasschule was a boarding school attached to Leipzig’s principal church, St. Thomas’s (the Thomaskirche).
Bach, as Kantor, was its director. The pupils at the school were selected on
musical aptitude, and it was the Kantor’s responsibility to select them and train them as singers. Instrumental training was provided for the most able of them, and all had to learn Latin. Bach refused to teach Latin, so he had to pay for a Latin tutor out of his own salary.
The Kantor, had to provide all the music for the four principal churches in Leipzig, and any other music the City Council required. To aid in this, the council employed some professional musicians: four wind-players, three fiddlers and ‘an apprentice’.
Most of Bach’s instrumentalists were drawn from amongst the Collegium Musicum, students at the University or pupils at the school. The age-range of the school’s pupils was from 12 to 23. At that time boys’ voices ‘broke’ at about 17 or 18, so in fact Bach had a pool of very able, experienced singers at the school; and his band was of high standing, despite the stinginess of the ‘official’ provision.
The Thomasschule placed severe restrictions on Bach’s choice of musicians to perform his music. However, the Collegium Musicum was a pool of highly competent musicians, some of them virtuosos of their instrument. It was from the Collegium Musicum that Bach drew his musicians for the secular cantatas.
A piece of ‘trivia’ not trivial at the time: on the day after the performance of no.215 Bach’s virtuoso trumpeter and the leader of the Leipzig Stadtpfeifer (town wind-band), Gottfried Reiche, died as a result of his musical exertions. Such are the demands of the first trumpet part of the Christmas Oratorio.
With the burgeoning of bourgeois culture, particularly in prosperous and vibrant centres such as Leipzig, there began a slow shift away from music being made exclusively for The Court or The Church. Art music was becoming accessible to a much wider public. An example of this is the Music Hall in Dublin where Messiah received its first performance. Collegia musica were a vital part of this development.
Collegia musica brought musicians together to make music, and were often purely amateur in status. In Hamburg, Georg Philipp Telemann set up a collegium musicum in his own home. It was Telemann who founded the Collegium Musicum in Leipzig, in 1702 (when he was also associated with St. Thomas’s for a time). This became the focal point for professional musicians, and it was an organisation of real standing within the city, informal and voluntary institution though it was. Bach’s becoming director of the Collegium does not seem to have brought him any financial rewards, but it did greatly widen his scope, compared to the restrictions placed on him by his ‘day-job’ at the Thomasschule.