Erdmann Neumeister

Erdmann Neumeister (1671-1756) was a poet, theologian and head pastor of St Jacobi Church in Hamburg. He is the originator of the 18th-century cantata form with recitatives and arias, which Bach applied in his church cantatas. Bach also composed five cantatas on texts by Neumeister between 1711 and 1714:

  • Gleichwie der Regen und Schnee vom Himmel fällt, (BWV 18)
  • Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland (BWV 61)
  • Ein ungefärbt Gemüte (BWV 24)
  • Nun geht das Jahr zu Ende  (BWV 28)
  • Wer mich liebet, der wird mein Wort halten, BWV 59). 

Musical trends

As a collection, Bach’s annual chorale cantatas from 1724/25 have been repeatedly examined in relation to developments within church music. The gospel motet in German existed earlier, as did the concept of Buxtehude’s Geistliches Konzert. The method in which a complete song per omnes verses was adapted into a cantata was already used by Ludwig Senfl (1486-1542/43), and Thomascantoren Sebastian Knüpfer (1633-1676) and Johann Schelle (1648-1701) also wrote this type of choral cantatas. In Leipzig, Schelle made a series of arrangements of the songs that had been treated by Carpzov in a year-long series of song sermons. At the end of the 17th century, the cantata form developed into a motet with arias and chorales, from which the cantata emerged after 1700. Poet-theologian Erdmann Neumeister (1671-1756) then designed the concept for the 18th-century cantata, using musical elements from opera.

Too much like opera?

Opera was very popular in Bach’s time and the church council was therefore critical of the use of overly strong emotions that could be evoked by this music. However, when these emotions were applied to bring people to the right doctrine of faith, then it was accepted.

Neumeister himself already takes the wind out of the sails of his potential opponents in his edition of cantata texts:

“Doch hatte ich oben gesagt: Eine Cantata sahe aus / wie ein Stück einer Opera; so dürffte fast muthmassen / daß sich mancher ärgern möchte / und dencken: Wie eine Kirchen=Music und Opera zusammen stimmeten?
[…] Wiewohl darüber will ich mich rechtfertigen lassen / wenn man mir erst beantwortet hat: Warumb man nicht andere Geistliche Lieder abschaffet / welche mit Weltlichen und manchmal schändlichen Liedern eben einerley genus versuum haben?”

[Translation: But if I said above: A cantata looks / like a piece of an opera; so I could almost surmise / that some might be annoyed / and think: How do church music and opera go together?
[…] However, I will allow myself to be justified about this / once I have been answered: Why not abolish other sacred songs / which have the same genus as secular and sometimes disgraceful songs?”]

Erdmann Neumeister, Geistliche Cantaten: Uber alle Sonn- Fest- und Apostel-Tage, Zu beförderung Gott geheiligter Hauß- Und Kirchen-Andacht (Halle in Magdeburg 1705), Vorbericht, [no page numbers p. 10, see picture below]. Link to this publication online.

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