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Work for voice or voices and instruments of the Baroque era. From its beginnings in early 17th-century Italy, both secular and religious cantatas were written. The earliest cantatas were generally for solo voice and minimal instrumental accompaniment. Cantatas soon developed a dramatic character and alternating sections of recitative and aria, paralleling the simultaneous development of opera, and they came to resemble unstaged operatic scenes or acts. In Germany the Lutheran cantata developed more directly out of the expanding choral motet, and almost always involved a chorus. A single chorale (hymn) often served as the basis for an entire cantata, which might have up to 10 diverse numbers, including duets, recitatives, and choral fugues. The most celebrated are the approximately 200 written by Johann Sebastian Bach. After c. 1750 the cantata gradually declined.
This entry comes from Encyclopædia Britannica Concise. For the full entry on cantata, visit Britannica.com.