Bach's complete vocal works in performance
The J.S. Bach Foundation has embarked on a remarkable undertaking: over a period of some 25 years, the Foundation will perform the complete vocal works by Johann Sebastian Bach (1685–1750). Each month, one of the over 200 Bach cantatas is performed in the idyllic town of Trogen in Appenzell, Switzerland. With a rhythm of 12 cantatas per year, the project is estimated to conclude in the year 2030. All introductory workshops, concerts and reflection lectures on the cantata texts are recorded on DVD and CD; the texts of the lectures are published in a continually expanding Bach Anthology.
The main aim of the J.S. Bach Foundation's ambitious project is to provide a living Bach experience for today's listeners and to deepen our understanding of the great composer's works. The artistic director of the foundation is Rudolf Lutz, who rehearses and conducts all performances with the choir, orchestra and solo vocalists.
A monumental project
- Performance of the complete vocal works of Bach
- One concert per month, with an estimated duration of 25 years
- All concerts are performed on period instruments
- With conductor Rudolf Lutz, a musical experience of the highest quality is guaranteed
- Complementary workshops and reflection lectures on libretti and music
- Every performance is released on DVD, the cantatas on CD and the texts appear in a Bach Anthology
- The project is fully financed by private persons
A unique concept
The foundation's aim is not to simply perform the cantatas one by one, but to provide a thorough experience of Bach and a deeper appreciation of his music. That is why we perform the works according to their place in the church calendar and round out the programme with complementary modules.
One and a half hours prior to the concert, conductor Rudolf Lutz and theologist Karl Graf give a workshop on the musical and theological background of the evening's cantata.
Only one cantata is performed per concert – but, for that, it is played twice. To present the work in its context, each cantata is performed according to its place in the church calendar.
Reflection lectures (in German only)
Between the two cantata performances, a notable speaker from the sphere of culture, economics or politics gives a reflection lecture on the cantata’s libretto. This lends a new perspective the second hearing of the work.
The foundation’s project and mission
The idea to perform J.S. Bach's complete vocal works was conceived in 1999 by musician Rudolf Lutz and entrepreneur Konrad Hummler. The J.S. Bach Foundation St. Gallen was then established as a privately funded entity and the first concert took place in 2006.
In accordance with its founding documents, the J.S. Bach Foundation endeavours to promote cultural life in Eastern Switzerland by supporting institutions and individuals seeking to organise public performances of Johann Sebastian Bach's works with the purpose of providing the public, in particular young people, with a better understanding of the composer's work. In 2011, a second foundation with no regional restrictions on its activities was founded in Zurich.
Performances of Bach's cantatas are relatively rare due to their high operating costs. The works are often very short, yet they call for a complex infrastructure: an orchestra with period instruments, solo vocalists and a choir. Indeed, without substantial funding, performing the cantatas is unthinkable.
Raising the profile Bach's vocal works is a primary goal of the J. S. Bach Foundation. To this end, the Foundation makes excerpts of its video recordings available on YouTube and is active in social networks such as Facebook and Twitter. Thanks to these online platforms, the J.S. Bach Foundation enjoys an international following of fans.
In addition to their regular programme, the choir, orchestra and soloists of the J. S. Bach Foundation also present special concerts and perform as guests at renowned festivals such as the Bachfest 2012 in Leipzig, and the Internationale Bachfest in Schaffhausen.
Vocal works of J. S. Bach
The vocal works of Johann Sebastian Bach (1685–1750) comprise over 200 cantatas, six motets, diverse mass settings, the Passions and the oratorios as well as the Mass in B minor.
The mere thought of condensing this – simply in terms of sheer quantity – monumental oeuvre into a single performance cycle is rather daunting. The demands in terms of quality are at least equally as intimidating due to Bach's exacting musical dictates and the inherent challenge of interpreting the works.
Bach's cantatas are, as a general rule, compositions of several movements composed for choir, orchestra and solo vocalists. The cantatas were originally performed in church services (the church cantatas) or at festive events (worldly cantatas).