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High school: Bach Cantatas suitable for HS choir

Here is a compilation of replies regarding recommended Bach Cantatas for
intermediate to advanced High School Choirs, with limited instrumentation.
Thank you to all who contributed!

Christopher Borges
Bakersfield High School
Bakersfield, CA

Might I suggest BWV 4 - Christlag in Todes banden. You may need to find some
outside soloists (particularly for the bass solo and its low E). It is string
s and continuo, but cornet & sackbutt (brass) parts (likely to be avoided)
were used in a later, festival, version for Leipzig.

Do you know William Bullocks' book _Bach Cantatas Requiring Limited
Resources_ University Press of America (1984)?
Also Neumann's _Handbuch der Kantaten Bachs_ is a useful tool to all directors
even if your German is limited.
Canata 142 (they're not sure if it's Bach, probably gounoud, from what I
hear) is really good. Quite accessible, with nice bass, alto, and tenor
arias, and also an alto recit. Not too hard, and easy to listen to.
I have done Magnificat with a high school choir consisting of 11-12 graders,
with an unusual set of soloists. If that's too much challenge for your kids,
try *Ist est ein Kind Geboren* (*For Us a Child is Born*), although I
understand that the Bach authorship is in question. It is still very much in
that style and very accessable for the type choir you describe. If it isn't
Bach, it's at least close enough to have been mistaken for it.
I recommend Cantata 150, "Nach dir, Herr,
verlanget mich".
Try Bach's Cantata 142 "Uns Ist Ein Kind Geboren". You might also look at
one of the Mozart Missa Brevis. I've done the Sparrow Mass. Don't remember
the K number, but it works well -- about 20 minutes long and for your
talented kids there's a featured SATB quartet throughout.
It may be too short for you, but look at Gottes Zeit ist die allerbeste
Zeit. Good for young voices, several solos. 106, I think it is. And
limited orchestra.
& Magnificat
I have done these in my high school choral program, though I hired pros for
most of the solos.
I have performed Cantata 106 "Gottes Zeit ist die allerbeste Zeit" with both
my high school choir and a local church choir.

It is very doable at the high school level- if you have a choir at the
intermediate/advanced level. My small soprano group enjoyed the cantus
firmus chorale tune in one of the final sections as they were challenged
with sounding like boys.
I am doing right now BWV 106 Actus tragicus 'Gottes Zeit ist die allerbeste
Zeit', very nice cantata. Actually a funeral cantata but very hopeful in
text and character.
length ca. 22 min. for chorus, soprano-, alto-, tenor- and basso solo,
for 2 recorders (or flute traverse if you're useing violins)
2 viola da gamba (or modern violins in combination with flutes), and basso
continuo group (organ and cello).
You might want to consider a Buxtehude cantata as a starting point. When
my college Early Music Ensemble was ready to attempt a larger-scale work, I
was given that advice and it turned out to be excellent. We had a couple
in our library, and a chose an SAB cantata with solos for (if I remember
rightly) soprano, alto, and bass. The obbligato instruments called for
were two violins. It was quite satisfactory, both in the learning and in
the performing.

Buxtehude, you might recall, was the man Bach walked 200 miles to hear when
he was a young man, and overstayed his leave by several months to remain
and learn from him. His music is not Bach, but you can hear elements that
Bach liked and picked up on.
Look at # 106, God's time is the best time.
I have had good success with good old no. 4 (Christ Lag in Todesbanden). I
usually do the "solo" sections with the ensemble, especially the tenor
chorale, but have also used soloists as I thought it would work best. I have
done it with string quartet and keyboard.

You might look at Gottes Zeit ist die allerbeste Zeit: about 20 minutes, with
short interspersed choral and solo sections, some neat text painting, and a
small ensemble (2 recorders, 2 gambas and bass/KB, but use modern flutes and
Check out #106. I performed it in high school. It has beautiful solos and
some wonderful choruses as well.
I might suggest Kantate 150, "Nach dir, Herr.." It is an early cantata,
scored for Vln I & II, organ, bassoon, and cello/bass. The Haenssler
edition is a very good one.
Cantata 106
"Gottes Zeit ist die allerbeste Zeit"
(God's own time is the best time)

It has a good baritone solo, a pretty alton solo, and a short/lyric
tenor solo. The chorus parts are exciting and the second movement
contains a trademark theme of Bach.

BWV 22 has an interesting opening movement with successive soloists singing
and culminating with the choir entering. I used a solo quartet for the
first half of the 4 part writing.

Also 144 has a great opening choral fugue.

My high school church choir did "Christ lag in Todesbanden" last spring
and absolutely loved it. We did it with cello, string bass and organ,
although the original has 2 violins for the treble. The opening is a
long involved and challenging chorale, then there is one more SATB
shorter verse in the middle of the piece, then a closing strightforward
setting of the hymn-tune (chorale). Around this are various solos and
duets. I used soprano solos on the tenor parts (I don't have any tenor
soloists). There is a great bass solo also.
Consider "Nach dir, Herr, erlanget mich" BWV 150. Scored for Violin 1 and
2, bassoon, and continuo. Of the 7 movements 4 are choral:

1. Instrumental Sinfonia
2. SATB Chorus
3. Soprano Aria (rather brief)
4. SATB Chorus
5. Alto, Tenor, Bass Trio
6. SATB Chorus
7. SATB Chorus

There is a cantata listed among the works of Bach but probably by his
predecessor. None the less, it has many of the qualities that you
mentioneed as desirable, and it has a very snazzy Alleluia at the end.

It is BWV 142. Take a look at it. Reply if you need more information.
Cantata #4, "Christ Lag in Todesbanden" is a good one. There are two fairly
challenging, but doable contrapuntal movements for four-part choir, a
beautiful duet that can be done by all women, or soloists, and solo men's
movements as well. It ends with a four part chorale.

Cantata #140 is also accessible. Only one complicated opening chorus - but
what a beauty. The duets for sop and bass are quite sophisticated, though.
The famous central movement can be sung by tenor or baritone solo or by the
entire men's section. I usually opt for the latter.
My favorite of this type of cantata is #37, "Wer da glaubet und getauft wird"
I don't have my scores nearby, but I recall that there is an wonderful
opening chorus, a lovely SA duet, a beautiful bass recit and aria, a tenor
aria, and a final chorale. The opening chorus is one of the most joyous in
Bach, and I believe the whole thing calls for just strings and oboes.
It's been nearly 20 years since I did it, on my Master's recital under Don
Neuen when he was in Tennessee, but I have great memories of it. It is an
immediately pleasing and thoroughly satifying work, well within the scope of
a small university chorus.
Gottes Zeit ist die Allerbeste Zeit: Great male alto or high tenor solo;
also beautiful soprano solo and terrific bass solo that can be done as solo
or sectional solo. Can include a children's unison chorus on a chorale
theme sung with the soprano soloist in descant, or that chorus can be given
to women in unsion. Uses strings and flutes, if I recall correctly.

Also: Christ Lag in Todesbanden, which uses strings only, and includes
solos for tenor and bass and glorious soprano/alto and soprano/tenor
duets, plus rousing chorus sections. All solos can be done instead by
sections; that's how we did them.

Finally, "Auf dir, Herr, verlanget mich," which, if I recall correctly,
uses strings and woodwinds, but needs an excellent cellist.

We did all three of these in college and loved them tremendously.
As for a suggestion, Christ lag in Todesbanden is an amazing cantata
(bwv4), tenor, bass, soprano (actually S/T duet) solos, great first chorus,
with a challenging chorus #4 thrown in. I suggest the S/A duet - den Tod,
be done with your women as well. It's written for Easter, which would work
in the spring.
as a lover of bach i would have to reccommend cantata 4 "christ lag in
todesbanden" as a great introduction to bach cantatas. there are two great
choruses and a chorale as well as a sinfonia, that would fit your
resources. the arias also are wonderful. they call for satb soloists, but
the alto appears only once in a duet with soprano that is not too
challenging. the text too is appropriate for spring- as it is an easter
it is certainly one of my favorites.
Had a wonderful experience last spring doing Cantata
#4 - Christ Lag in Todesbanden with our Community
College Chamber Choir. Includes Soprano duet, Tenor
solo, Bass solo, and Tenor/soprano duet and three
choruses, the last one being the chorale itself. No
winds in the orchestration.
Although this 'cantata"' is really just a single movement SATB piece, it
might be programmed with a larger work which contains your wish for soli. It
is non-seasonal but we tend use it during the Lenten season. It only runs
about 4 minutes and offers wonderful, but not difficult, contrapuntal vocal
lines over a very moving instrumental rhythmic ostinato.

The edition I use allows either wind/brass (2 flute, oboe or clarinet,
Flugelhorn or trumpet, Horn in F, or Trombone, Tuba or Bass Tromb) or string
accompaniment. Accompaniment also carries organ registration suggestions,
which makes it ideal for almost any setting on any program where
accompaniment is a factor in repertoire selection.

This is the piece I used to introduce Bach to my high school groups and
appears as a grade 6 piece on our contest list. It is in German but an
English text is available.

Performance accompaniment may be rented from publisher.

Motet - BWV 118: "O Jesu Christ, Meins Lebens Licht"
Theodore Presser 312-41571 ed. Robert Ross $1.50 (in 1998)

If you are unable to find the cantata which has all you need but still has
an 'engaging' chorus', this gem might provide that for you.
One of my favorites--very accessible--is #12, Weinen, Klagen, Sorgen,
Sagen, though it's been some years since I've done it. There are a couple
of non-chorale choruses, one of which was the original music Bach used for
the Crucifixus in his Bminor Mass.
One of my favorites is #131 Aus der Tiefe. It is an earlier cantata and
somewhat through-composed. It has 3 choral mvts. as well as 1 bass solo
(with sop. chorale underneath) and one tenor solo (with alto chorale
underneath.) Instrumentation is strings, (1 V 2 VLA,VC, BC) oboe and also
bassoon, I believe.) It takes 20-24 minutes depending on tempi selected.
To safisfy your sop soloist, you could then do the SB duet with oboe and
continuo from # 140 (Mein Freund is Mein.)
We are doing an all-Bach concert on March 26 and we will be doing the above
plus additional works including the Sheep May Safely Graze chorale with my
older children's choir accompanied by 2 flutes (recorders?).
140 Wachet Auf is often considered Advent but also can be used in the
or Second Coming themes. It has STB solos with only a rect.for tenor.
There's a
wonderful SB duet. Ususally the familiar chorale prelude is done with the
tenor section. As far as the orchestration goes, we did it with strings and
continuo only, however.
One of the cantatas you might look at is 182, Himmelskoenig, sei willkommen.
Unfortunately for your solo breakdown, it is ATB. But the three choruses
are very attractive, and relatively easy to learn although they look
demanding technically. Scored for strings and recorder as I recall.

Another with recorder *and* with STB soloists is 106, Gottes Zeit ist die
allerbeste Zeit, absolutely beautiful work, also requires good violas and
celli. The chorus parts are more varied and in one case more difficult.
The first that comes to mind is the trustworthy BWV 4, "Christ lag in

BWV 150 "Nach dir Herr, verlanget mich" (although I don't remember the
exact orchestration or solo requirements off the top of my head) is a
terrific and very accessible piece.

BWV 131 GREAT early cantata "Aus der Tiefe rufe ich,"

It is unfortunate that it can not be Advent, in which case you could do BWV
61 "Nun Komm der Heiden Heiland" which is the most accesible of all the
cantatas, I think, and really terrific.

I think (not sure) there was an article (by Richard Bloesch at U. Iowa)
about Bach cantatas that use limited forces in the Choral Journal a few
years ago. If there is not article, you could definately contact Richard
Bloesch at U. Iowa (319) 335 1603, because I know he has done a
presentation on the topic.
Take a look at Cantata 150: "Nach dir, Herr, verlanget mich." The solos can
be performed by sections if necessary. I did this with a good chamber choir
of 45. It's a very expressive piece. If you can get a bassoon, it works
nicely as one of the continuo instruments.
How about No. 106 "Gottes Zeit ist die allerbeste Zeit" I have sung this
with a chamber choir and it is engaging. It is scored for two recorders and
2 viola da gamba but I have done it with flutes and violas and it works
I'm not at school, so I can't vouch for the instrumentation (except I
believe it may include a single obbligato D trumpet) but one of my favorites
is "Gottes Zeit ist der Allerbeste Zeit". General theme, great SB duet,
some lovely choruses.
I recently did one of the Easter Cantatas, BWV 66, "Erfreut euch, ihr
Herzen." Here are some of the specifications:

1) great solos for bass, tenor and alto. The alto is duetting with tenor,
and there is some rather expressive recit for her, so that might put this
out of the running, .... also no soprano solos.
2) Opening chorus is a kick!! No umlauts, so a lack of experience with the
language should not impede the pronunciation. There is a trumpet soloist
needed for this movement (a really good soloist!), but that's the only one
of the five that needs brass at
3) Great wind and string colors throughout. The texts are magnificent.
4) I would definitely use baroque tuning, even if you are using modern
instruments; otherwise, the sopranos in the chorus will go on strike - -
high A's all over the place in the first movement.

There is a Lutheran church in Manhattan that regularly performs the
cantatas - - of course I don't remember the name of the church! Maybe they
would have a website?

Good luck - - the cantatas are worth doing!
"Der Herr denket an uns" is an excellent choice! The tenor-bass duo works
beautifully when sung by both sections. It gives the choir a good
workout, but is fun to learn.
Jesu der du meine Seele wins in my book, but you need a good mezzo for the SA
duet, or another soprano.
>The new Haenssler edition of the complete works of JSB - 160CDs worth -
>put out a sampler disc for under AUS$10. Together with this comes a
>substantial booklet of 256 pages. The first 123 pages gives a
>of JSB from his birth in 1685 through to his death in 1750 & then to
>significant dates beyond. Pages 124 to the end give the complete BWV
>catalogue - indicating the volume no. of the CD - from BWV 1 to 1087.
>comes the best bit: the German title of every cantata and chorale is
>translated into English. Oh joy, oh bliss. This is a godsend for a
>non-German speaker like myself, and perhaps for many others out there.
>What a valuable and inexpensive little volume!
>The Hanssler website is

on July 22, 2003 10:00pm
Are there any Cantatas that beginners can do?
on October 2, 2007 10:00pm