If you were asked, "what is Bach's finest music?" how would you answer?

Some of his great Organ Works, possibly, the Matthew Passion or b-minor mass, the Well-tempered Clavier... or perhaps the Art of the Fugue... the Brandenburgs too deserve consideration, after all they are among Bach's most popular, if not his most profound works.

It is unlikely that anyone asked this question would list the Cantatas as Bach's finest; yet there is strong reason to claim that among the opening movements of Bach's Cantatas can be found some of his most compelling music.

The Leipzig Church Service was highly structured. It was based first and foremost on the Biblical Text appropriate for the day, from which all else followed. Along with the Biblical Text, there would be one or two Chorales which, being based on the Biblical Text, would normally be integrated into the Service. The Organist would be expected to feature the Chorale Melody of the day throughout, preluding and extemporizing on the Melody before, during and after the Service. The Chorale would also of course be sung in its entirety by the Choir and the Congregation who though largely illiterate probably knew the words by heart.

The Biblical Text would be read, and would then form the basis for the Sermon, in which the Biblical Text would be explained, with morals drawn from it and applied to everyday life and everyday conduct. The Cantata formed a central part of the Service, and would integrate both the Biblical Text and the Chorale for the day. Bach was a deeply religious man very familiar with the Bible – his own copy being carefully annotated in the margins. His Cantatas were as much a lesson as the sermon itself.

Bach's Opening Choruses represent some of his finest and most compelling compositions. Here he would use all his arts to create music which would inspire his congregation; he would carefully craft the music and its mood to reflect the biblical text, a feature which can clearly be seen and heard when one listens to the opening chorus in conjunction with its text. This was music which for Bach represented the highest purpose to which any art can aspire: the Glory of God. Indeed his cantatas were generally "signed" S.D.G. for Soli Deo Gloria - to the Glory of God Alone.

It may sometimes appear to listeners enjoying Bach's cantatas today, that some of the arias are - well - perhaps a little less imaginative than might be expected from such a great master. That this is in fact the case may be explained by recalling the educational customs of Bach's time. Much stress was placed on "learning by doing" - by copying or transcribing works of the masters, by copying part-scores for performances, by working out continuo parts... and by composing simpler recitatives and arias for performance. Delegation was an accepted means of instructing the more gifted pupils. For this reason, even those fortunate enough to possess all of Bach's Cantatas may find it a little tedious to listen to each cantata right through, especially if one is unfamiliar with the German language.

Realizing that many Bach-lovers may be missing what we consider to be some of his most beautiful, powerful and moving compositions, we are gathering together all of Bach's Opening Cantata Choruses on a series of CDs which we have entitled, appropriately, Soli Deo Gloria.

Note: Our first two volumes, BACH 733 and 734, feature Choruses and Chorales performed under the legendary Karl Richter.

BACH 748

1: BWV 2 - Ach Gott vom Himmel sieh' darein - Chorus 1
2: BWV 3 - Ach Gott, wie manches Herzeleid - Chorus 1
3: BWV 5 - Woll soll ich fliehen hin - Chorus 1
4: BWV 7 - Christ unser Herr zum Jordan kam - Chorus 1 / Chorale
5: BWV 8 - Liebster Gott, wann werd' ich sterben - Chorus 1 / Chorale
6: BWV 9 - Es ist das Heil uns kommen her - Chorus 1
7: BWV 10 - Meine Seel' erhebt den Herren! - Chorus 1 / Duet / Chorale
8: BWV 11 - Lobet Gott in seinen Reichen - Chorus 1/ Mid-Chorale / Final Chorale
9: BWV 14 - Wär' Gott nicht mit uns diese Zeit - Chorus 1 / Chorale
10: BWV 16 - Herr Gott, dich loben wir - Chorus 1 / Chorale
11: BWV 17 - Wer Dank opfert, der preiset mich - Chorus 1
12: BWV 19 - Es erhub sich ein Streit - Chorus 1
13: BWV 20 - O Ewigkeit, du Donnerwort - Chorus 1

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BACH 749

1: BWV 21 - Ich hatte viel Bekümmernis - Chorus 1 & 2 / Chorus with Chorale / Final Chorus
2: BWV 26 - Ach wie flüchtig, ach wie nichtig - Chorus 1 / Chorale
3: BWV 30 - Freue dich, erlöste die Schar - Chorus 1
4: BWV 31 - Der Himmel lacht, die Erde jubilieret - Chorus 1 / Chorale
5: BWV 33 - Allein zu dir, Herr Jesu Christ - Chorus 1 / Chorale
6: BWV 37 - Wer da glaubet und getauft wird - Chorus 1 / Chorale
7: BWV 40 - Dazu ist erschienen der Sohn Gottes - Chorus 1 / Chorale 1
8: BWV 41 - Jesu, nun sei gepreiset - Chorus 1/Chorale
9: BWV 43 - Gott fähret auf mit Jauchzen - Chorus 1
10: BWV 45 - Es ist dir gesagt, Mensch, was gut ist - Chorus 1 / Chorale

Total time: 74:07

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Baroque Music Catalogue