Bach Set Work

A blog that summarises the key features for the 1st set work in the Edexcel A-Level Music Anthology.

The Bach Set Work for Edexcel A-Level Music is his cantata Eine Feste Burg. This blog will break down this Bach Set Work and provide some questions to aid with study. Notes are available on the Edexcel Website.

Bach – Cantata Eine Feste Burg – 1727 (mid-late baroque)

  • Vocal composition with instrumental accompaniment. Lutheran Church
  • Both text & music are based on a Lutheran Hymn
  • It uses a Cantus Firmus or “Fixed Song” -a pre-existing melody that forms the basis of a polyphonic composition.
  • This cantata has 8 movements of which we study 3

Q – What type of music was being composed at the time and what makes it typical of 1727?

Performing Forces

  • 4 soloists, SATB choir, 3 oboes, Violin 1&2, Violoncello e cembalo & Violone e organo.
  • 1stmovement is SATB choir and tutti orchestra. 2ndmovement is Sop. & Bass with string acmp. and solo oboe. The oboe doubles the sop. Line. The bass sings an almost independent aria.
  • The 8thmovement is an SATB chorale with orchestral acmp. Which exactly doubles the vocal lines.

Q – What makes this typical of the Baroque Period & What WL can you use to back this up?


  • 1st movement is Highly Contrapuntal and written in a fugal style.
  • 1stmovement starts with fugal, layered entries T – A – S – B.
  • Fugal subject is presented in the Tenor and then the tonal answer is a fifth higher.
  • There is a 1stmovement counter-subject based on the second phrase of the Lutheran Hymn Tune.
  • The oboe and continuo part play the cantus firmus of the chorale melody in canon.
  • 2ns movement is melody dominated homophony – upper strings play triadic line over the lower strings quaver off-beat pattern and a walking bass.
  • The Sop. & Bass enter 2ndmovement to form a contrapuntal texture.
  • The Sop. & Oboe often create a Heterophonic texture.
  • The 8thmovement is fully homophonic as it is a typical chorale.

Q – Can you use texture to explain what makes this a great example of Baroque Vocal Music?


  • Cantus Firmus – this is the basis of the entire cantata. It is important to remember that a Cantus Firmus is specific to a polyphonic composition.
  • The main theme for the 1stmovement is closely related to the Lutheran tune but has an altered rhythm and the addition of passing notes. The melodic shape is key and this remains unchanged. The repeated tonic notes at the start of the melody is a key feature.
  • The melody is predominantly conjunct with only small leaps of a fourth/fifth.
  • Some sequences are used and much of the melody is diatonic with some chromaticism to add colour.
  • The SATB choir all cover a fairly wider range.
  • In the 2ndmovement the Sop. Sings an ornamented version of the chorale melody.
  • Most of the soloist lines are scalic with only some angular moments.
  • The bass line of the 2ndmovement is highly scalic and melismatic with running semi-quavers.
  • Trills are seen for Oboe and Sop.
  • The melody of the 8thmovement bears the most resemblance to the original Lutheran tune.
  • The melody is conjunct and diatonic, typical of a hymn tune.
  • The SATB choir cover a narrow range.

Q – Can you describe the melody in terms of shape, direction, devices and intervals?

Text Setting

Frequently melismatic in the 1st& 2ndmovements, but the 8thmovement being a Chorale is entirely syllabic.

Q – Find some key moments of melisma and consider what words are being sung at the time.


Predominantly D Major with modulation to closely related keys.

Q – Can you locate the different tonalities and key changes in the score?


Clear throughout all movements and it is always clear what the tonality is and where the melody is. The structure is punctuated using key changes and melodic material.

Q – Can you see how the melodies are broken down into differing phrase lengths?


  • Chords are all functional and diatonic.
  • Perfect cadences are used frequently and help confirm modulations and therefore structure.
  • Bar 10 has a rare Imperfect Cadence.
  • A Tonic Pedal is used a the end of the 1st
  • Suspensions occur and Bar 16 has a 4-3 suspensions – typical of Baroque period
  • Secondary Dominants & Dominant sevenths occur frequently.
  • Most chords are in root position or first inversion.

Q – Can you find the Pedal and are there any other examples of Pedal Notes?

 Tempo, metre & rhythm

  • The 1stmovement is simple quadruple time.
  • In the 1stmovement rhythms are varied and melismatic phrases often contain continuous quavers.
  • Tied notes occur in the 1stmovement main theme and create forward momentum.
  • Dotted rhythms are used occasionally in the 1st
  • The 2ndmovement is in common time and moto perpetuo quavers are used in the opening.
  • Predominantly semi-quavers for the bass soloist. There are also some highly decorative passages that include syncopation and dotted rhythms.
  • The 8thmovement is also in common time and starts with an Anacrusis (upbeat)
  • Pauses occurs at the end of each phrase where the cadence happens.
  • The rhythm is predominantly crotchet based with quavers used as passing notes.

Q – are these features all typical of Baroque Music?

Lines of Argument

  • What features of this piece are typical of the Baroque Period? But also where does Bach push the boundaries?
  • What features of this make it a great example of Sacred Vocal Music?
  • What are the defining features of this piece that make it suitable for use in a church setting?

Key Terms that you should include and understand

Cantus Firmus, Cantata, Tutti, Fugal, Contrapuntal, Counter-subject, Heterophonic, Chorale, Melisma, Syllabic, Conjunct, 4-3 suspension, Diatonic, Chromatic, Passing Notes, Scalic, Perfect Cadence, Imperfect Cadence, Ornaments, Trill, Angular, Tonic, Pedal Note, Funcatinoal, Secondary Dominant, Dominant Seventh, First Inversion, Second Inversion, Moto Perpetuo, Dotted, Syncopation, Imitation, Canon.

Wider Listening

Handel’s Oratorio “Messiah” & Ethel Smyth Mass in D.

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