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Classical Music

Cantatas Renewed as Counterpoint for Genius

I discovered that Bach's Cantatas are a gold mine of melodies and a surprising variety of styles, contrapuntal techniques and other delights. I have examined many of his Cantata scores and gradually selected episodes that I could transcribe and produce using my collection of sampled instruments and multitrack recording methods of performing. I look forward to more years of pleasurable hours creating unique Bach performances.

My Counterpoint for Genius series is a collection of four albums that evolved over several years though experimentation with a number of transcriptions of Bach pieces, many from the religious Cantatas, mixed with different voicing and, different tempos and transpositions. Mozart has received the most attention as the composer of smart music. Bach excels. I realized that many of the Bach pieces I recorded were among the best examples of contrapuntal composition and that counterpoint was the perfect brain exercise

The Cantatas have been separated into Sacred and Secular groups. Here is an overview: "Bach's religious cantatas vary greatly in form and instrumentation. Some of them are only for a solo singer; some are single choruses; some are for orchestras, some only a few instruments are scored. A very common format, however, includes a large opening chorus followed by one or more recitative-aria pairs for soloists (or duets), and a concluding chorale. The recitative is part of the corresponding Bible reading for the week and the aria is a contemporary reflection on it. The melody of the concluding chorale often appears as a cantus firmus in the opening movement."

Bach wrote a number of secular cantatas, usually for civic events such as council inaugurations. These also include wedding cantatas, the Peasant Cantata and the Coffee Cantata. A Bach Cantata was usually written for a small orchestra that consisted of violins, viola, cello and bass violin, a harpsichord, up to four singers, trumpets, oboe, tympani, and often, an organ continuo. Bach wrote for the musicians he had available to perform, often re-voicing parts as required. In addition to counterpoint, he harmonized using triads and octave duplications. Some of his orchestration duplicates parts probably to increase volume or to compensate for weak performers.

As I progressed through the Bach catalogue, I discovered relatively short jewels buried in long works that were designed for church services. I realized that changes in tempo, voicing and articulation could transform the pieces into new compositions suitable for a 21st century audience.

My approach to a Bach score is to find the really interesting melodies and counterpoint first and assign these parts to the new instruments in my orchestra. I omit many parts that seem distracting or non-essential. Some of the string parts are fast, articulated passages that can become tedious. I reassign these passages to a variety of keyboards that perform the fast notes with greater precision. I delight (as Glen Gould did ) in giving each note individual attention by fine tuning the articulation and duration during editing. Compared with the rich sounds of a grand piano or a well formed electronic piano, the harpsichord has a thin sound, cannot sustain notes and has little resonance.

Trumpets in Bach's time were not fully chromatic, had limited range and were used mostly for their open notes. I used my rich sounding flugelhorn simulation with a full chromatic range to replace the soprano and alto parts and sometimes the first violin's parts that contain melody and/or distinct counterpoint. The bass parts are played by a variety of instruments especially a plucked acoustic bass, bass guitars, and synthesized instruments.

listening

My Counterpoint for Genius series is a collection of four albums that has evolved over several years though experimentation with a number of transcriptions of Bach pieces, many from the religious Cantatas, mixed with different voicing and, different tempos and transpositions. Mozart has received the most attention as the composer of smart music. Bach excels. I realized that many of the Bach pieces I recorded were among the best examples of contrapuntal composition and that counterpoint was the perfect brain exercise

Here are two pieces from Counterpoint for Genius Volume 1: 2017 Release

Listen to Cantata BWV 19-5

Listen to Cantata BWV1-1


Digital Bach for the 21 Century A Persona Digital Studio Production

Stephen Gislason Arranger & Performer