The Sources of the Christmas Interpolations in J. S. Bach's Magnificat in E-flat Major (BWV 243a)

Cammarota, Robert M.

Apart from changes in tonality and instrumentation, the two versions of J. S. Bach's Magnificat differ from each other mainly in the presence of four Christmas interpolations in the earlier E-flat major setting (BWV 243a). The custom of troping the Magnificat at vespers on major feasts, particularly Christmas, Easter, and Pentecost, was cultivated in German-speaking lands of central and eastern Europe from the 14th through the 17th centuries; it continued to be observed in Leipzig during the first quarter of the 18th century. By the end of the 16th century, composers interpolated the Magnificat in three different ways: (I) by alternating the verses of the Magnificat with polyphonic settings of the interpolations, (2) by troping the Magnificat text, or (3) by using the quodlibet technique: (a) within a polyphonic setting of the Magnificat, one voice (e.g., tenor) sings the Rotula while the other voices sing the text of the Magnificat; (b) conversely, in a polyphonic setting, one voice (e.g., tenor) sings the Magnificat plainsong in long note values as a cantus firmus while the other voices sing the Rotula; or (c) by combining the three basic techniques cited above (Rotulae, trope, and quodlibet) within a setting of the Magnificat. The reemergence of the anonymous Magnificat in D major and the identification of J. A. Kuhnau as the copyist of the Laudes and the continuo part firmly establish the connection of this manuscript with Leipzig. We have seen, moreover, that this Magnificat was interpolated with the set of Laudes attributed to Johann Kuhnau. The occurrence of these same four Laudes in Bach's Magnificat in E-flat major testifies to Bach's awareness and observance of the Leipzig custom of interpolating the Magnificat at Christmas and strengthens the belief that he not only knew the set of Laudes attributed to Johann Kuhnau but also based his own set on them-as Spitta rightly observed over one hundred years ago.



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Columbia University
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April 7, 2015