Bach and the Soprano Voice

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


The chapter begins with a simple question: given the fact that Bach’s music for sopranos was composed almost exclusively for boys, why have early music practitioners-including those endorsed in 2018 by the Bach Leipzig Archive-become so accustomed to using female sopranos? Taking account both of the rhetorical strategies that Bach uses in a representative group of soprano arias (choice of affect, use of topoi, scoring, and vocal writing) and the use of female sopranos in this repertory in concert, radio, and recordings since the nineteenth-century revival, this chapter proposes that Bach imbued his soprano arias with an intrinsic sense of femininity-passion, optimism, desire, compliance, modesty, and submission-that was central to his expression of Lutheran theology and that emerges as no less vital for listeners, even long after the original theological context had lost its relevance. The chapter also shows how Bach’s unacknowledged capacity for representing female subjectivity has influenced even the most historically informed performance practices.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationRethinking Bach
PublisherOxford University Press
Number of pages35
ISBN (Electronic)9780190943899
StatePublished - Jan 1 2021

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Arts and Humanities


  • Boy soprano
  • Femininity
  • Historically informed performance
  • Recordings
  • Rhetoric
  • Soprano aria
  • Soprano voice


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