Review of Eric Chafe. 2000. Analyzing Bach Cantatas. New York: Oxford University Press

Ito, John

This analysis of the two tasks of suggestive theory help in making a precise assessment of Eric Chafe’s 2000 book, Analyzing Bach Cantatas. With Analyzing Bach Cantatas, Chafe continues to develop his theory of the allegorical use of tonal centers in Bach’s vocal music, also the subject of his 1991 book Tonal Allegory in the Vocal Music of J S. Bach (henceforth Tonal Allegory). These works advance, defend, and illustrate the hypothesis that Bach used relationships among tonal centers in the allegorical representation of the theological contents of the vocal works. Analyzing Bach Cantatas is an extremely ambitious work in that it attempts three simultaneous advances over Tonal Allegory: it seeks to broaden the audience for Chafe’s ideas; it deepens the historical contextualization of the cantatas; and it uses the concept of tonal allegory with greater flexibility. While a fuller picture of Chafe’s success in reaching these goals will emerge over the course of this review, an initial assessment is offered here.


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August 18, 2022