Translating “Transition”: A Case Study in Interpreting Seventeenth Century German Church Music through a Survey of Three Settings of Christ lag in Todesbanden
Mullaney, Ryan Michael
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The sacred music of central Germany in the eighteenth century, particularly that of Johann Sebastian Bach, has been studied extensively. This scholarship extends well beyond the typical scope of inquiry, and (perhaps rightfully) seems to magnify the minutest details in its quest for authenticity and perfection. While the style that came to be synonymous with composers of the Baroque era has been expounded upon, the evolution of conventions that led to its refinement provide a further layer of intrigue. Seventeenth-century music was not a transition, but a fluent continuation, and even more so, a refinement of thought in its own right. This fluency can be seen through music of Sebastian Knüpfer (1633-1676) and Johann Kuhnau, who represent similar shifts into the height of music making in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Presented as a conductor’s compendium, this paper presents a case study into research of historical performance practices of seventeenth-century protestant Germany, and samples a wide but focused range of sources in order to reach its conclusions. The three works being compared are based on the same text and represent different developmental periods beginning with the most well-known and working backward, creating a conduit through which to present these conventions in context. The ideals of dramatic intent and textual clarity (with particular importance on rhetoric) highlight specific areas of emphasis for the performer including form, function, and instrumentation. Still, it is not enough to simply consider these works as a part of some overarching lineage. An approach more reflective of current scholarship would be for performer and scholar alike to consider each composer or work individually, while simultaneously placing them in the proper historical context. A survey of manuscripts (which to this point are unpublished as performing editions) between Knüpfer and Kuhnau reveal a wealth of music written in a style that elucidates the foundations of the now famed eighteenth-century protestant church cantatas. An analysis of a new performing edition of Knüpfer’s Christ lag in Todesbanden prepared as part of this study and compared with existing editions by Bach and Kuhnau, will help to survey the performing conventions and style during this period, ultimately making it more accessible to a modern audience. This further emphasizes that the fluency of seventeenth-century music, partially codified through Kuhnau, Knüpfer, and Bach, was both the summation of an idea, and the flowering of an ideal.
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