Johann Kuhnau (1660-1722), Tristis est anima mea (ca 1720)

Like Purcell, Johann Kuhnau (1660-1722), the immediate predecessor of J.S. Bach as Thomaskantor (Director of Music at St. Thomas's Church, Leipzig), employs polyphonic and homophonic as well as chromatic elements in his motet for five voices Tristis est anima mea. The text refers to Maundy Thursday, i.e. to Jesus and his disciples in the garden of Gethsemane. (Cf. Matthew 26:28; Luke 22:47; Mark 14:43; Matthew 26:47; Mark 14:50; Matthew 25:56):

In order to express the grief over Christ's forthcoming death, Kuhnau makes use of various forms of dissonance, i.e. diminished or augmented intervals (mainly seconds) which were still unusual in Baroque music. Such dissonance can, perhaps, be heard at the very end of the motet, when the two top voices (Soprano I and Soprano II) rest on a second for a while to cause friction (pro) until uniting again in perfect consonance (vobis), probably to point to the hopeful soteriological fact that Christ will die (and has died) both for his disciples and for all mankind.


Johann Kuhnau, Tristis est anima mea

Back to "The Metaphysicals"