Chorale as a genre originated in the application of the term to sixteenth-century Lutheran worship music, but chorales and chorale style did not really enter the vocabulary of secular concert music as a musical topic until the eighteenth century, as a semiotic code for ideas and feelings associated with chorales. Chorales by definition are congregational, identifying and expressing the sentiments of a group, and their most common associations are of purity, archaism, and spirituality.
When chorales are used topically, the range of their expressive perspectives broadens considerably, and varies widely depending on the context. Chorale topic can express a religious or nationalistic “we,” a monumental and impersonal “it,” or an intimate and personal “I.” Within the category of “I” expressions, chorale topic can express the irony and despair of the “I” separated from the “we,” or on the other hand, the comfort, guidance, or transcendence of the separated “I” seeking and finding its community or communion. Nineteenth-century composers—Beethoven, Schubert, Mendelssohn, Chopin, and Schumann, among others—provide many examples of chorale topic with these types of personal expression. Analyzing the contexts and meanings of “I” chorales is essential to understanding chorale topic as a whole, which increased in frequency of use as well as range of contexts and implied meanings from the eighteenth to the nineteenth centuries.
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"Chorale for One: Personal Expression in Nineteenth-Century Chorale Topic,"
Yale Journal of Music & Religion:
1, Article 6.