Bach's Major Vocal Works Music, Drama, Liturgy Markus Rathey

Publication date:
19 Feb 2016
Yale University Press
248 pages: 216 x 140mm
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Every year, Johann Sebastian Bach’s major vocal works are performed to mark liturgical milestones in the Christian calendar. Written by a renowned Bach scholar, this concise and accessible book provides an introduction to the music and cultural contexts of the composer’s most beloved masterpieces, including the Magnificat, Christmas Oratorio, and St. John Passion.
In addition to providing historical information, each chapter highlights significant aspects—such as the theology of love—of a particular piece. This penetrating volume is the first to treat the vocal works as a whole, showing how the compositions were embedded in their original performative context within the liturgy as well as discussing Bach’s musical style, from the detailed level of individual movements to the overarching aspects of each work. Published in the approach to Easter when many of these vocal works are performed, this outstanding volume will appeal to casual concertgoers and scholars alike.

Markus Rathey is associate professor of music history at the Yale School of Music, the Yale Institute of Sacred Music, the Yale Department of Music, and the Yale Divinity School. He lives in Hamden, CT.

'Markus Rathey provides concise and very readable introductions to six of Bach’s greatest works. Apart form the sheer power of the music, the meditation that Bach intended them to inspire is greatly assisted and deepened by an understanding of the rich traditions of theology and liturgy from which they grew. Bach lovers, people approaching Bach for the first time, and particularly people outside these traditions will find this book an enriching companion.' - David Ledbetter, author of Unaccompanied Bach: Performing the Solo Works

'Rathey achieves something that is rare in writing about Bach: a book that is fully informed by scholarship but also one that is relevant and understandable for virtually any interested reader, at any level of musical education. Rathey's particular contribution is to explain what initially appear to be arcane expressions in the texts of Bach’s major sacred works, bringing out the significance of the many references to love. This helps us to experience Bach’s music as far more sensual and emotional than many may hitherto have believed.’ - John Butt, author of Bach's Dialogue with Modernity: Perspectives on the Passions