Johann Sebastian Bach’s earliest cantatas, composed during his tenure in the Thuringian city of Mühlhausen, are often seen as being part of his larger project of composing cantatas for the Lutheran liturgy. The article shows that such a view is misplaced. The composition and publication of music in Mühlhausen in the late 17th and early 18th centuries was embedded in a complex social framework. This can be traced back to Bach’s predecessors Johann Rudolph and Johann Georg Ahle. Most of Bach’s pieces from 1707–8 were not liturgical in nature but rather served a function in the public and political culture of this imperial city.

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