You are on page 1of 3

Kevorkian, Tanya. Baroque Piety: Religion, Society, and Music in Leipzig, 1650-1750.

Aldershot: Ashgate, 2007.
- “Chapter Five Leipzig’s cantors: status, politics and the adiaphora
Musicians were among the most important producers of religious culture. Cantors
were the leading musicians and directors of church music as well as, increasingly, of
secular musical life in Leipzig and other large towns. This chapter explores how the
two cantors of the first half of the 18th century, Johann Kuhnau (1660-1722; cantor
from 1701) and Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750; cantor from 1723) negotiated a
working environment rich in opportunity as well as conflict. Kuhnau and Bach
operated in a confessional system that was bursting at the seams, but was capable
of accommodating considerable change. Music historians have taken important steps
toward placing the cantors in their social context. This chapter builds on and extends
that work, examining the cantors’ roles in urban society and their relations with the
local and Saxon authorities. It shows again how religion was the arena where social
and cultural change, relations among status groups, and interactions between the
authorities and the governed were negotiated.
Cantors fulfilled a variety of duties as teachers, composers, and performers. Their
office and their skills gave them an ambiguous status in Baroque urban society, a
status that reflects that society’s numerous criteria for ordering and ranking people,
ongoing social and cultural change, and considerable opportunities for social mobility.
The cantors’ job description and status are examined first here. The cantors’ many
interactions with the Leipzig authorities are discussed second. Bach’s conflicts with
city councilors, clerics, and the Leipzig Consistory are the best known of these; but
Bach, like Kuhnau before him, also had a range of routine interactions which were
often neutral or positive. Councilors were important patrons of music, appointing and
regulating the cantors; in fact, they set the stage for much music composition and
performance in the city. In turn, patronage of musical life was a source of power and
status for councilors. Councilors also played an active role in the schools, civic
institutions where the cantors taught and had supervisory duties. In Leipzig, one
councilor served as school director, and the council was ultimately responsible for
student discipline, morals, and learning, and payment of its school employees.”
(Kevorkian, Tanya. Baroque Piety: Religion, Society, and Music in Leipzig, 16501750. Aldershot: Ashgate, 2007, 123.)
- “The cantors’ status and job description

and they were also musical figures in a broader sense. New performance venues were opening up. including Sethus Calvisius. in the preface of his 1663 Merry Madrigals and Canzonettas. performing. In the course of the 17 th century. Throughout most of the 16th century. Many highly-talented students there went on to become professional musicians. They were also expected to direct music at weddings and funerals. whereas the 1580 Saxon Church Ordinance had actually forbidden the cantors to perform music they had composed. both secular and sacred music were rapidly becoming more elaborate. publishing their compositions and works of music theory. the expansion of the cantors’ activities was well established. and musicians remained defensive about their secular activities. And a long line of St. Musicians were expected to be virtuosi and to compose more new music. especially in larger towns. and cosmopolitan. instrumental music became increasingly common in the church service. though. and came to be regarded as city music directors as well as church and school employees. and performer. the Leipzig cantors had two main sets of duties: teaching and directing music in the churches. but was also known as a mathematician. music theorist. Traditionally the cantors were true Renaissance men. composer. opera houses. including coffee houses.4 The cantorate at the Latin school of St. These shifts were gradual. for example. By the beginning of the 17 th century. often a stepping stone to a position as cleric. and conducting. it had become a permanent post in many towns. Thomas in Leipzig was regarded as the premiere cantorate in Germany. it would be more proper for me to publish a sacred work.Like their peers around Lutheran Germany. university graduates who taught and often published in Latin as well as composing. For example. technically demanding. In larger towns the cantors were installed as teachers in the Latin schools. and Johann Schelle was respected around Germany. Thus. Kuhnau. 5 The cantors also started to compose more secular music. the job of cantor was regarded as a temporary one.6 By the late 17th century. Leipzig cantor Sebastian Knüpfer write that ‘ex officio. not only practiced law until he became cantor. and directing music at civic events such as visits by a ruler. and expectations rose that cantors would compose new music on a regular basis. In addition. Since their office had been established during the Reformation. cantors’ occupational duties around Lutheran Germany had gradually expanded. His authorship of several novels and published volumes of music also made him well-known beyond Leipzig. Hermann Schein. creating more opportunities along with potential 2 . and pleasure gardens.’ and added that he had composed these pieces before he had been elected as cantor. Thomas’s cantors. by 1688 Kuhnau wrote that this law was now obsolete.

He supervised meals and prayers and served as a night guard to make sure the boys returned to the building by their curfew. the cantors were expected to continue to fulfill their school duties. Thomas’s school was overrun with rats and mice at least until the building’s renovation in 1732. burghers. 9 Kuhnau wrote that all the school boys had scabies. 125-6. a cantor’s status was complicated by ties to the material conditions of schools and his duties there. As they did elsewhere. and to keep them from leaving the building during the night. Along with teaching. At the same time. Scholars have argues that cantors’ cultural standing conveyed a higher social status than their income and some aspects of their job descriptions would indicate. like clerics. 1650-1750. Aldershot: Ashgate.) 3 . Tanya. Society. One teacher during Kuhnau’s time complained bitterly of spending all night during his weeks as inspector running around the building to keep track of the boys. the cantor alternated with the rector and two teachers in a stint as ‘inspector’ at the school one week a month.8 However. they shared some features with clerics: unless they owned homes of their own in the city. and both occupations were exempt from military and watch duty.competition. they were not burghers. 2007. as did the school rector. lived in service apartments.10” (Kevorkian. Cantors did not fit neatly into the main urban groupings of the elites. and sub-burghers. Reinhard Szeskus argues that the unhygienic conditions in the building may have contributed to the deaths of five infant children of the Bachs between 1726 and 1732. and Music in Leipzig.7 Leipzig’s cantors lived in an apartment in the St. Baroque Piety: Religion. they. The St. Thomas’s school.