Bach’s Operas of the Soul: A Listener’s Guide to the Sacred Cantatas

Rowman & Littlefield. May 2020. 208p. ISBN 9781538135563. pap. $29.95. MUSIC
The latest volume in the publisher’s “Unlocking the Masters” series is a guide to the music of Baroque composer Johann Sebastian Bach—specifically, his cycles of sacred cantatas, or works for solo voices and chorus with instrumental accompaniment composed for the Sundays and Feast Days in the Lutheran church calendar. Ringer (theater, Marymount Manhattan Coll.; Opera’s First Master) writes that though these cantatas constitute nearly half of the composer’s surviving works, they may still be unfamiliar to many classical music listeners. The author’s goal is to introduce readers to these pieces, and, he hopes, to a greater appreciation of Bach. Instead of listing the cantatas according to the customary BWV (Bach-Werke-Verzeichnis) numbers, he presents them in the order of the liturgical calendar: Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, Lent, Easter, Ascension, and Trinity. The brief essays on each cantata function much like program notes at a live concert performance. To heighten the experience, a Hanssler Records CD is included with the book.
VERDICT Students and devotees of classical music will appreciate this introduction to some of the most transcendent music in the Western canon.

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