The cantatas of Johann Sebastian Bach (German: Bachkantaten) are among his most significant and celebrated compositions. While many have been lost, at least 209 of the cantatas composed by Bach have survived.
As far as we know, Bach’s earliest surviving cantatas date from 1707, the year he moved to Mühlhausen (although he may have begun composing them at his previous post at Arnstadt). Most of Bach’s cantatas date from his first years as Thomaskantor (cantor of the main churches of Leipzig), which he took up in 1723. Working especially at the Thomaskirche and the Nikolaikirche, it was part of his job to perform a church cantata every Sunday and Holiday, conducting soloists, the Thomanerchor and orchestra as part of the church service. In his first years in Leipzig, starting after Trinity of 1723, it was not unusual for him to compose a new work every week. Works from three annual cycles of cantatas for the liturgical calendar have survived. These relate to the readings prescribed by the Lutheran liturgy for the specific occasion. He composed his last cantata probably in 1745.
In addition to the church cantatas, Bach composed sacred cantatas for functions like weddings or Ratswahl (the inauguration of a new town council), music for academic functions of the University of Leipzig at the Paulinerkirche, and secular cantatas for anniversaries and entertainment in nobility and society, some of them Glückwunschkantaten (congratulatory cantatas) and Huldigungskantaten (homage cantatas).
His cantatas usually require four soloists and a four-part choir, but he also wrote solo cantatas for typically one soloist and dialogue cantatas for two singers. The words for many cantatas combine Bible quotes, contemporary poetry and chorale, but he also composed a cycle of chorale cantatas based exclusively on one chorale.