19th Biennial International Conference on Baroque Music

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Paper presentation: Johann Kuhnau’s Libretto for Three Easter Cantatas in 1703: New perspectives on operatic styles in Leipzig church music

The Texte zur Leipziger Kirchen-Music, Auff Die Heiligen Oster-Feyer-Tage, 1703 is a printed booklet, preserved in the Bibliothek der Franckeschen Stiftungen, Halle, containing texts for three cantatas to be performed during Easter at Leipzig in 1703. Although no music based on these texts is known to have survived, it is assumed that Johann Kuhnau would have set these texts to his cantatas, as he had been the Kantor of the Thomasschule since 1701. Furthermore, this libretto has not been analysed in detail by previous scholars, making it worthy of closer examination.

This paper analyses the text in the libretto, particularly the last two cantatas, where the text is hugely dramatic, with various dialogues between biblical characters, making them almost an operatic-like composition. Thus, this libretto contributes to a reassessment of Kuhnau’s style, revising earlier perceptions of him as a conservative figure who was unsympathetic to music with operatic elements (as previously suggested by scholars such as Philipp Spitta). This paper also compares the three Easter cantatas with the works by other composers, particularly J.S. Bach’s Christmas Oratorio, arguing that Kuhnau here introduced the technique of interrelated cantatas, forming one large work that describes the events occurred in Jesus’s resurrection. This further indicates Kuhnau’s interest in composing church music with theatrical elements.
Period15 Jul 2021
Event typeConference