THE CHORALE CANTATAS OF FELIX MENDELSSOHN-BARTHOLDY: AN EXAMINATION OF MENDELSSOHN'S TRANSLATION OF J.S. BACH'S MUSICAL SYNTAX AND FORM.
AuthorNelson, Lee David
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PublisherThe University of Arizona.
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AbstractIn this study I examine the genesis and compositional purpose of Mendelssohn's seven chorale cantatas which include "Christe, du Lamm Gottes" (1827); "Jesu, meine Freude" (1828); "Wer nur den lieben Gott läßt walten" (1829); "O Haupt voll Blut und Wunden" (1830); "Vom Himmel hoch" (1831); "Wir Glauben all an einem Gott" (1831); and "Ach Gott, vom Himmel sieh’ darein" (1832). I also re-examine the widely held belief that Mendelssohn's chorale cantatas were juvenilia, functioning only as compositional exercises to better learn the style of J.S. Bach. My examination includes a stylistic analysis of each cantata that shows a direct deviation from an imitation of Bach's musical syntax and form to a re-creation of the chorale cantata genre using nineteenth-century idioms. My approach to analysis is modeled after that of James Garratt, who has done a great deal of research on Mendelssohn's psalm settings. These works, like the chorale cantatas, have also been criticized for being compositional exercises that imitate Palestrina's musical syntax and form. Garratt believes that by using a literary method called translation theory, one can gain an unbiased assessment and evaluation of compositions that are based on pre-existent models. I have applied the tenets of translation theory as the foundation for my analysis to determine if the chorale cantatas were imitations of Bach's model or re-creations of the genre. This approach provides, as Garratt states, "a means of differentiating between the degree of affinity that links the works of Mendelssohn...and [his] models." The stylistic analysis also illustrates how the chorale cantatas are exemplars of Mendelssohn's compositional style. Unique characteristics such as Mendelssohn's frank religious convictions; his perceptive and creative treatment of chorales; his understanding of Baroque forms and styles; and his remarkable contrapuntal prowess are all beautifully exemplified in the chorale cantatas. I conclude that instead of being regarded as archaic, compositional exercises, Mendelssohn's chorale cantatas can and should be viewed as seminal works in his sacred choral-orchestral output.