The use of contrafacta in the large choral works of J.S. Bach
Holmes, Robert William
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The objectives of this study were as follows: (1) to determine which movements in the large choral works of J. S. Bach are contrafacta; (2) to compare those movements with their prototypes; (3) to document changes which were made in the adaptation; and (4) to speculate on what reasons may have prompted these alterations. In assessing the relative value of the contrafactum and its prototype several aspects were considered: what type of parody was involved; whether the prototype was a great work of art; whether its textual content was similar to that of the later version; and whether the music fitted its new setting. The method of the composer was also considered: were there many changes or was it a mechanical transformation; even if it was'merely a "mechanical transformation," was it successful? An attempt was also made to determine whether or not there was a symbolic connection between the parody and its prototype. The conditions under which the contrafacta were written were also considered. To such questions, unequivocal answers were not always possible since clear and precise documentation was often unavailable. In many instances one could only suggest possible solutions. However, the investigation confirmed Schering's thesis that, even though Bach's borrowings were usually due to pressures of public performance, the contrafacta contain several aesthetic improvements and reveal a high degree of artistry. Indeed, they may be considered the climax in the Baroque Era of this particular compositional technique. Some of the transformations provided excellent examples of typically Bachian traits, the most common of which was textual and formalistic symbolism. Another noticeable feature was a general tendency to make the later setting more extensive and massive than the original composition. Consequently, wherever it was possible, Bach added new instrumental and vocal parts, increased the length of the later versions, augmented certain melodic intervals, and usually made the contrafacta more melismatic than their models. In the smaller Masses, however, Bach tended to simplify harmonies making the later composition more austere than its model. Although the tendency throughout the parodies was to improve the setting, the functional aspect still influenced the transformation to such a degree that a few of the parodies seem inferior to their prototypes. This was especially evident in the contrafacta sections of the Christmas Oratorio. Nevertheless, perhaps the most distinct trait in all of the contrafacta was the care with which Bach chose his models; inevitably the texts of both versions were formally similar and often a subtle symbolism in the relationship between text and music was preserved. In addition to these specific aspects, another conclusion can be drawn which is equally important--the need for further study in this area of musical research. For instance, in Bach's own works there is still much to learn from his instrumental contrafacta and those in the Cantatas. Moreover, a perusal of the literature revealed that there is a dearth of material available on the contrafactum as a recurring phenomenon in music history and as a technique employed by other composers. By filling in this gap, scholars might gain further insight into the work methods of other great masters.
Thesis (Ph.D.)--Boston University
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