20th Biennial International Conference on Baroque Music

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Paper presentation: Secular within Sacred? An analysis of Johann Kuhnau’s libretti for the 1709/10 cantata cycle

The Texte zur Leipziger Kirchen-Music, auff das mit Gott angefangene Kirchen-Jahr … 1709ten Jahres, biß wieder dahin, anno 1710 is a text booklet preserved at the Stadtbibliothek in Leipzig, which contains the famous preface by Johann Kuhnau stating that he would set his cantatas in the 1709/10 liturgical year by only using texts from scriptures and chorales. This preface was used by Arnold Schering to characterise Kuhnau as drawing on the forms of older church music, although more recently Peter Wollny and Michael Maul have argued that Kuhnau’s attack on theatrical styles was shaped by his rivalry with student ensembles at the Neuekirche and the Leipzig opera. However, until now the cantata texts in the booklet have not been analysed by scholars.

This paper provides a close analysis of the cantata texts in the booklet, specifically to relate features of the text to Kuhnau’s views and arguments in the preface. Kuhnau uses texts from a wide range of Biblical books, and also from chorales of older and more recent composition (including some with Pietist connotations). Although his preface attacked the sensuality of church music using theatrical texts, his libretti frequently adapt words from the Song of Songs, the most sensual book of the Bible. This paper also compares the libretto Das alte ist vergangen in this text booklet to Kuhnau’s surviving cantata with the same title, observing the overlaps and differences in the texts, in order to understand Kuhnau’s chronology of compositions.
Period2 Jul 2023
Event typeConference
LocationGeneva, SwitzerlandShow on map