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Cantata No.48, 'Ich elender Mensch': movement I-IV by Sebastian Bach Cantata Music Analysis


Below is a complete analysis of the A2 Music baroque piece, Cantata No.48, 'Ich elender Mensch': movement I-IV which consists of Ich elender Mensch, Recitativo, Bach Chorale and Aria. Feel free to skip to the parts most relevant to you.


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Ich elender Mensch

Introduction

  • The cantata was a piece of music written for a quiet orchestra or soloists for church services.
  • It is music for a biblical story based in protestant Germany.
  • It is like an oratorio. However, a cantata is a shorter version of an oratorio.


Texture

  • The texture has three layers: trumpet and two oboes, 1st violin melody choral parts with chordal string accompaniment and choral parts.
  • The piece is dominated by a contrapuntal texture - a texture Bach was good at composing in.
  • The entries of the Soprano and Tenor parts are imitative. The Tenor and Bass parts enter just over a bar later at the end of bar 14 with the notes a fourth lower than the Soprano and Alto parts.
  • At bars 31-44, the four part choir has imitative entries.
  • A contrapuntal texture appears at the end from the Trumpet part adding an additional part in bars 127-130.


Harmony

  • There is the use of diminished chords. This helps to modulate the piece intensifying the musical expression.
  • The ritornello moves to an expected cadence from the four falling bars of 9-12.
  • The of Section A features a tierce de picardie from adding a sharp to the F of the final chord of D major. A tierce de picardie is a technique used to finish a minor piece on a major chord.
  • There is the preparation for a final plagal cadence in G minor through the C minor chord appearing at bar 131. This is supported by a dominant pedal of C minor being a G (tonic pedal in G minor) during bars 131-138 in the Oboe part.
  • The piece finishes on another tierce de picardie naturalising the B in the G minor chord to make it a G major. The C minor chord before the tierce de picardie makes the end harmonisation a plagal cadence.


Tonality

  • The piece starts in G minor. This is clear from the key signature of B flat and E flat with F sharp accents appearing at bar 2.
  • Bar 41 modulates to the key of D minor.
  • The key changes back to G minor at bar 45.
  • The tonality at the start of Section 3 (bar 88 beat 3) features the tonality descending every 5th. It starts in D minor first, then modulates to G minor (bar 90), then C minor (bar 92) and finally F minor at bar 95.


Melody

  • Bars 1-12 is an orchestral ritornello (a short instrumental refrain).
  • There is a repeating two bar melody being bars 1-2. Each time repeated, it ascends in pitch until it descends back down to a cadence.
  • There is the use of appoggiaturas throughout the piece (mainly in the main Violin melody such as at bar 2 beat 1-2, bar 4, bar 6 and bar 8. An appoggiatura is an unprepared suspension.
  • The quaver moment of bar 2 Violin I/II features a rise of a 6th. This is similar to the choral motif.
  • The first time we hear the choral motif is at bars 13-14 being the G to Eb flat. This is a minor 6th leap.
  • The choral motif at bars 13-14 extends to a 7 bar melody which is when the opening melody of the quaver movement appears again. The two melodies are never played together.
  • The choral melody features in the Trumpet at bars 14-16. This is followed by a canon of the choral melody by the Oboe at bars 16-20 which plays at a perfect 4th lower.
  • The melody at bar 16 in the Soprano part is melismatic.
  • There are descending intervals in the soprano part in bars 18-19.
  • The translation of the german vocals is ‘Unhappy man that I am: who will deliver me from this deathly body?’.
  • The canon of bar 12 beat 3 reappears in the Trumpet at bars 56 beat 3 - 59.
  • The gap between melodies of the Soprano and Alto at bar 113 is an octave. The same octave gap re-appears too in the Tenor and Bass parts at bars 115-116.
  • The melody of the SATB at bars 114-120 is a continuation of a melody moving down in steps.


Rhythm and Metre

  • At bar 2 in the Violin I/II part, there is a rising quaver figure which is repeated three times.
  • The Viola Continuo features an chordal accompaniment at the start to accompany the Violin I/II melody. The chords are on the 3rd beat of bar 1 and 1st beat of bar 2. This helps to link other parts together.
  • The rhythm of a crochet at the end of a bar and start of the next bar is broken by the continuous crochet movement in the Viola Continuo part at bars 9-12.
  • At bars 42-43, the hemiola rhythms creates the impression of a change of meter from 3/4 to 3/2.


Structure

  • Section 1 is from bar 1-44 and is in G minor.
  • Bars 20-31 features another orchestral ritornello.
  • Section B starts at bar 45 and is back into the key of G minor. It is the near the same as Section A. However, this time, instead of the soprano and alto singing, it is tenor and bass.
  • Section 3 starts on the last beat of bar 88. This section features imitative choral entries which are a 5th lower than previous ones.
  • Section 4 starts at bar 114. The string ritornello in bars 108-113 creates a bridge between Section 3 finishing and Section 4 starting.


Recitativo

Introduction

  • This piece is a recitativo stromentato. This means it was not composed for music to words. Instead, it is words to music.
  • A recitativo stromento is an accompanied recitativo. The violins add to the accompaniment.
  • A recitativo is usually followed by an Aria.


Texture

  • The texture of the piece is homophonic with the melody being in the alto. The four part string is used as the accompaniment and harmony.


Harmony

  • The slow moving sustained chords makes the accompaniment from the strings very sparse.
  • There is a dominant 7th chord of A flat at bar 5 (A flat is the leading note of B flat minor).
  • A perfect cadence of V-I appears at bar 8 in B flat minor. The cadence is only in the strings. The next bar moves to a diminished 7th chord.
  • There is a dominant 7th chord of E major at bar 10 including the alto. The next bar’s chord is E major.
  • There is a diminished 7th chord on A sharp at bar 12 with the alto singing a G natural.
  • The third beat of bar 14 features a dominant 7th chord of E flat. Again, we cannot tell if it is major or minor.
  • The perfect cadence at the end fo the piece is only in the strings with a preparation chord of E natural before the cadence at the start of bar 15. The cadence is in B flat major. Therefore, there is a tierce de picardie.

Tonality


  • The piece starts in E flat major.
  • At bar 2, the piece moves to F minor.
  • At bar 3, the piece moves to C minor from the naturalised B and flattened A. (every bar brings a modulation. The tonality changes reflect the uneasy mood of the piece).
  • The D natural in the Violin I/II at bar 9 suggests a move back to E flat (major or minor: the third is not present).
  • AT bar 13, the key moves to G minor.


Melody

  • The melody is dictated by the recitative style.
  • The melody is fragmented due to the rhythm being dictated by the natural speech rhythm of the text. This means the instruments have to wait for the voice.
  • The melody has the use of tortuous intervals such as in the alto at bar 1 B flat - D flat.


Rhythm and Meter

  • With the piece being a recitativo stromento with words to music, it helps to create rhythms that reflect natural speak.
  • The rhythms are dictated by the recitative style.



Dynamics

  • There are no dynamics in the piece.

Structure

  • Section 1 starts the piece in E flat major.
  • There is not a specific structure.


Timbre

  • The piece features a four part homophonic accompaniment of two Violins, a Viola and Continuo bass as well as the alto with the melody.


Bach Chorale

Harmony

  • At the end of the piece, there is an extended plagal cadence of 1b (beat 1, bar 9), IV (beat 3, beat 9) and I (beat 1, bar 10). This can be seen clearly through the falling leading note at the end of bar 9 in the alto part.


Tonality

  • This chorale of Bach’s is chromatic.
  • The key suggests the piece is in in B flat major. However we are unsure due to its chromaticism.


Melody

  • The unexpected D flat at bar 2 in the bass part part makes the G in the soprano part a passing note.
  • The melody is conjunct motion moving in step.


Rhythm and Meter

  • The chorale is in simple quadruple time which uses mainly crotchets and quavers.

Structure


  • There are symbols above notes to end to mark the end of a phrase such as during beat three bar 4. However, this symbol (which usually means to lengthen a note) has no impact on the rhythmic flow of the music.


Timbre

  • Bach’s Chorale uses a thick texture with multiple instruments for the soprano, alto, tenor and bass parts such as Trumpets, Violins, Viola and Continuo bass.


Aria

The Aria is a solo song found in operas, oratorios and cantatas.

Texture

  • The Aria is in a three part texture.
  • The texture is thin and would have been filled by an organ producing harmonies from the figured bass notation.


Harmony

  • There is an imperfect cadence at bar 7.
  • There is an imperfect cadence at bar 16.
  • There is a cadence at bar 28 in B flat major.
  • At bars 78-79, there is a perfect cadence in E flat major (V-I).

Tonality


  • The piece starts in E flat major which is made clear from the key signature.
  • The first and second beat of bar 10 is in B flat major.
  • The third beat of bar 10 to second beat of bar 12 is in C minor.
  • Bars 13 - 14 are in B flat major.
  • Bars 20-21 are in F minor.
  • Bars 27-28 are in B flat major.
  • Bars 30 - 30.2 (second beat of bar 30) are in F minor.
  • Bars 34-37 are in B flat minor.
  • At the start of Section B, bars 49-50 are in C minor. The next two bars (bars 51-52) are in E flat major and the next four bars (bars 53-56) are in A flat major.
  • The piece at bar 60 is now in F minor. At bar 63, the key modulates to E flat major.
  • At bar 68, the key is F minor. It then modulates to A flat major at bar 72, B flat major at bar 74 and finally E flat major at bar 76. The rate of change of keys increases towards the end creating anticipation.


Melody

  • There is a Oboe ritornello from the start to bar 16 modulating to A flat major.
  • The melody of the alto at bars 20-21 features unexpected notes and intervals.
  • The melody is shared between the voice and Oboe (they are in counterpoint with each other).
  • There is an unexpected G flat in the alto part at the start of bar 27.
  • There is an Oboe ritornello during bars 39-48.
  • At the end of bar 60, the alto enters with the theme from the beginning of Section B.
  • At bar 65, the Oboe begins the restatement of its ritornello theme using the melody from the opening ritornello. The ritornello is adapted to fit with the alto and continuo parts.


Rhythm and Meter

  • The piece in in 3/8 (three quaver beats per bar).
  • The continuo has an uninterrupted succession of quavers in 3/8 time.
  • There is a variety of rhythmic patterns such as at bar 11 in the Oboe part.
  • The rhythmic patters of Section B are similar to Section A.

Structure


  • The piece starts with an introduction up to bar 16.
  • Section A starts at bar 16 which is an alto solo with Oboe obbligato and finishes at ar 48.
  • Section B starts at bar 48 and features an alto solo and Oboe obbligato.
  • The last bar of the piece features writing above it ‘D.C. al fine’. This means to go back to the beginning and finish when reached the ‘Fine’. The Fine is at bar 16.


Timbre

  • The piece uses an Alto voice, Oboe and bass continuo. The bass works on harmonising the piece while the Alto and Oboe are in counterpoint with each other.

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