What Is a Church Cantata?

By Melody Buller ; Updated September 15, 2017
During the Christmas Season, churches will often put a contemporary cantata together for a special service.

Cantata comes from the Latin word cantare, which is a verb meaning "to sing." While cantatas can have lyrics that are either sacred or dramatic in origin, a church cantata is always sacred in theme.

History

Cantatas find their origin in the Baroque time period, generally considered to be between 1600 and 1750. As previously stated, the lyric content of cantatas can be either sacred or inspired by drama or poetry.

Function

While cantatas were originally written as chamber music (music written for performances by small groups for private banquets or other small events), church cantatas are often performed by a full choir. These performances are often centered on church holiday services such as Christmas or Easter.

Features

Cantatas have historically referred to a specific form of music, and church cantatas in particular give shape to a church service. However, Absolute Astronomy points out that in the modern church vocabulary the term cantata is commonly used simply to distinguish choral pieces from vocal solos.

Similarities

Even though it was not necessarily as common for Baroque cantatas to have a narrator, and that is a frequent occurrence in contemporary church cantatas, the part of a narrator is not out of place in either form.

Fun Fact

J.S. Bach is known to have written more than 300 cantatas for the church, though the music for many of them has been lost over the years; however, about 200 Bach cantatas have survived to this day.

About the Author

Melody Buller has been writing for 15 years. She holds a BA in Religion with a minor in music. Buller currently works for a woodworking company in Northeast Georgia. In her position at Osborne Wood Products, Inc.,she has authored or edited newsletters, press releases, and catalog excerpts. She also writes for the company blog.