The Cantata: Music for the Glory of God

In history, music has often been categorized depending on its purpose. (Image:  wikimedia /  CC0 1.0)
In history, music has often been categorized depending on its purpose. (Image: wikimedia / CC0 1.0)

The cantata was invented in Italy in the late 1600s. A cantata is a vocal composition with musical accompaniment, generally contains more than one movement, and involves a choir. An aria, on the other hand, is typically written for a solo voice with orchestral accompaniment.

In history, music has often been categorized depending on its purpose. Sacred music was used at church services or on religious holidays. All other music — dance, love songs — was categorized as secular music. A cantata was considered a type of sacred music and was widely used in Lutheran church services.

Johann Sebastian Bach once said:

Many spiritually inclined people believe that the cultural wisdom and traditional morals that have been passed down in the world — including classical music and art — are lessons that came from the heavens, to establish on Earth a “Divine Culture” (神傳 文化). Perhaps many outstanding figures in history have contributed to passing down such cultural richness.

Sacred music was used at church services or on religious holidays. (Image: pixabay / CC0 1.0)

Sacred music was used at church services or on religious holidays. (Image: pixabay / CC0 1.0)

Johan Sebastian Bach (1685-1750), of the Baroque period, is one such outstanding figure. He is widely regarded as one of the greatest composers and musicians of all time. Bach considered himself a servant of God, dedicating every piece of music he wrote to the Creator’s glory. His compositions — written with the purpose of upholding humanity — influenced many talented composers who later followed in his footsteps to create astounding music.

Bach expanded and reinvented the cantata, thus popularising the genre. He wrote more than 300 cantatas, which include some of his most famous arias and choral works. In his later life, Bach reworked and extended many of his earlier compositions.

Listen to Sleepers Awake, a choral from Bach’s Cantata no.140:

Listen to Sheep May Safely Graze, an Aria from Bach’s Hunt Cantata:

Written by Yuensuo Yang

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