Monday, August 13, 2018

Out Walking

Two subjects that caught my eye while out walking this morning. I had intended to do a photo shoot in the Burd Run riparian restoration project park, but the place is still trashed from all the flooding earlier, and some of my favorite places to photograph there are still under water or are still so soggy as to be impassable. If I had worn my high rubber boots I might have attempted it, but mink-oiled leather work boots weren't gonna make it in that mess! Meanwhile, two shots of interest.

A patch of Jerusalem Artichoke along Britton Rd.
A tangles web of vines along the Rail Trail
© 2018 by A. Roy Hilbinger 

Sunday, August 12, 2018

This Week's Sunday Walk in the Park

It's still very humid, and five minutes' walking will have your shirt totally soaked. But still we walk! There was plenty to see in spite of all that, including a young bunny trying to hide in the tall grass, ducks on the duck pond, more late Summer flowers blooming, and some pretty dramatic skies. Come see!

A young Eastern Cottontail eyeing me warily from the shelter of tall grass
Moth Mullein along the Dykeman Walking Trail
You can tell it's August - the Monarchs reign supreme in the park
And the Spotted Knapweed is blooming
A north duck pond scene
A Clouded Sulphur on Red Clover up on the meadow
Following the hay-cart track home 
Drama in the sky from the top of the meadow
© 2018 by A. Roy Hilbinger 

Sunday Bach - Trinity 11

Bach wrote three cantatas for the eleventh Sunday after Trinity, and this year I've chosen his first one written for this Sunday in his new job as kapellmeister in Leipzig - BWV 179, Siehe zu, daß deine Gottesfurcht nicht Heuchelei sei (See to it that thy fear of God be not hypocrisy, Leipzig 1723). This is a marvelous work, with Bach showing off for his new bosses, with both nods to the past and indications of what's to come in the future. Here's the late Craig Smith of Emmanuel Music on this beautiful piece:
The striking humility of Paul in the 15th chapter of his letter to the Corinthians, and Jesus’ promise that the humble will be exalted and that the mighty will be laid low, give this cantata a ferocious rejection of pomposity and of self-righteousness. The marvelous motet-style movement that begins Cantata BWV 179 calls for only string doubling of the voice parts. The first line of text warns of hypocrisy; the second warns not to serve God with a false heart. Hypocrisy is portrayed in a tantalizing colorful manner, warm and tempting. The “false heart” is chromatic and harrowing. There is an inner, complex emotional life to this movement that goes beyond the words. Certainly the various musical and verbal combinations give the piece a dramatic trajectory that cannot be seen by a mere reading of the text. For instance, the restatement of the theme against the “false heart” bass, leading down to a frankly thrilling dominant pedal point, gives the piece a thrust and passionate surge not found in the biblical ideas. One must quickly say that Bach’s arrangement of this music as the Kyrie of his G major mass is no more specifically suited to the words. The situation is reminiscent of certain Brahms songs where the words seem to be a jumping-off point for the composer’s considerable fantasy, rather than organic to the musical form and content. 
The tenor secco recitative has a kind of heightened emotion and hysterical quality that both sets up the aria and relates tot he thunderous Lutheranism of the text. The orchestral introduction to the aria has two main motives: a slashing appoggiatura figure that appears in four sequences and a more sedate, almost monotonous, figure that has the effect of moderating the opening. It is curious that the voice only takes up the first idea. The second appears only in the opening and closing passages of the orchestra. Again, once senses a hidden, purely musical agenda. The aria is full of wonderful things. Notice the sweet, almost saccharine, turn to the major at the “outward fairness” of the hypocrites, music as unctuous as Ted Haggart’s smile. For all of its power the aria is quite short, almost condensed in its feeling. 
The secco bass recitative turns the attention from the hypocrite to the tax collector. The two major ideas of the text, the example of the tax collector and the assurance that we too will be forgiven, are skillfully set out with similarly active continuo cadential figures. What can read like a jumble on the page becomes here very clear. 
Up to this point, the cantata has been a collection of marvelous but rather confusing music, highly characterized but mysterious. The soprano aria is so direct and deeply felt that it sweeps away all doubts. Two dark and burnished oboes da caccia (here played by English Horns) play, mostly in tight overlapping sequences, figures fraught with suspensions and harrowing harmonic turns. The beginning tutti is one of the most exotic and gorgeous things in all of Bach; but it is also specifically suited to the anguished outcries of the soprano begging for forgiveness. The whole aria is dominated by the downward motion of the beginning lines. That motion not only illustrates the extreme contrition of the text but specifically the last line “I sink into the deep slime.” Up to this point in the cantata the text has moved along quite quickly, in the aria, chorus and also the recitatives. Here there is a slow-motion quality to both the declamation and the musical ideas. There is a kind of grandeur to the stately sequences at the words “My sins sicken me.” What was condensed, almost epigrammatic in the tenor aria and the chorus becomes here broad and expressive. 
The setting of the chorale, “Wer nur den lieben Gott lässt walten” is unusually rich. The inner voice writing is as detailed and independent as almost any in all of the cantata chorales. Particularly, the appearance of the two-sixteenth plus eighth figure in the alto at the beginning and in the tenor at the beginning of the Abgesang functions almost like a leitmotif. This technique is particularly appropriate to the density of meaning of the whole cantata.

© Craig Smith
Today's performance is a special treat, part of a performance on BBC from St. David's Cathedral in Wales by Sir John Eliot Gardiner conducting the English Baroque Orchestra and the Monteverdi Choir. Enjoy!

Photo © 2016 by A. Roy Hilbinger 

Monday, August 06, 2018

More Wings

After finding all those butterflies in the Dykeman Spring Nature Park yesterday, I decided to head over to the Burd Run wetland at Brookside Ave. today, which is usually a treasure trove of butterflies. Well... There were lots of Cabbage Whites, but not much else as far as butterflies go. But there was a plethora of dragonflies there today. It was tough getting shots of them because they rarely sit still for long (except for the Ebony Jewelwing we start out with; they can usually be found perched next to water), but some were obliging enough for me to get some decent shots. Not the Eight-spotted Skimmer I followed around for close to 20 minutes; I just couldn't get that brat into focus! Oh well... Meanwhile, I did manage to get some decent shots of other critters. 

An Ebony Jewelwing damselfly hanging out by one of the wetland's many streamlets
A Cabbage White butterfly on Goldenrod
A Blue Dasher dragonfly balancing on the tip of a dead reed
A Common Baskettail dragonfly
© 2018 by A. Roy Hilbinger 

Sunday, August 05, 2018

The Butterflies of August

After an odder-than-usual Summer thus far, August is turning out to be the usual August. It's hot, hazy, and humid, piling up the cumulonimbus clouds over the mountains and threatening thunderstorms in the afternoon. Not that those will cool things off; the ground is hot and all the rain will do is make things even steamier. But what this atmosphere does more than anything else is push out the late Summer flowers, and the butterfly population explodes. The Joe Pye bushes in the wetland and the Red Clover and Queen Anne's Lace in the meadow has attracted a cloud of butterflies to the Dykeman Spring Nature Park - the usual Cabbage Whites, Clouded Sulphurs, and Silver-Spotted Skippers are practically swarming, and now the Swallowtails and the Monarchs have arrived on the scene as well. The air is busy with wings, and I managed to capture some with the camera on my weekly Sunday walk.

This Eastern Tiger Swallowtail was nearly as big as my hand and seemed to be enjoying the Joe Pye Weed
A Long Dash skipper butterfly was taking a breather by the side of the north duck pond
The Silver-spotted Skippers were dashing about like crazy, but this one seemed content to sit still and have its portrait taken
A Monarch up on the meadow
This Spicebush Swallowtail fluttered by me just as I was leaving the park at the east end of the meadow
© 2018 by A. Roy Hilbinger 

Sunday Bach - Trinity 10

Bach wrote three cantatas for the tenth Sunday after Trinity, and I've chosen the earliest to listen to today - BWV 46, Schauet doch und sehet, ob irgendein Schmerz sei (Look and see if there is any pain, Leipzig 1723). This is a small but magnificent cantata, and much of it was later recycled to be used in Bach's liturgical masterpiece, the Mass in B minor. Here's the late Craig Smith of Emmanuel Music on this magnificent cantata:
All of Bach’s cantatas for the Tenth Sunday after Trinity relate the prediction of the destruction of Jerusalem (in Luke 19: 41-48) to its first Testament antecedents, the Lamentations of Jeremiah and the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. Our cantata today is the most direct of the three written for that Sunday. It opens with an impressive, one might say overwhelming, setting of the familiar passage from the Lamentations of Jeremiah. Two recorders playing in thirds at the top of their range dominate the opening texture. The music for the opening was later arranged by Bach for the “Qui tollis” in the B Minor Mass. As impressive as that movement is, our version has a direct connection not only to the meaning of the text but the actual sound of the text. The slightly hooty sound of the vowels in the first word Schauet provides a haunting resonance to the string and recorder texture. The addition of the slide trumpet and the two tenor-range oboes da caccia to the texture later in the movement further increases the hollow, almost haunted quality of the movement. The second half of the chorus is taken up by a thorny and extraordinarily text-specific fugue. The theme of this fugue is one of the most harrowingly difficult, both to sing and to hear in all of Bach. Bach waits a long time before introducing the instrumental doublings in this fugue, almost as if to show that the people are alone to blame for their fate. 
The two recorders continue their same wailing lines in the accompaniment to the tenor recitative. The recitative is divided into three parts; first is the description of the destroyed city of Jerusalem. The second part makes it clear that because of our sins it would be better if our city had been razed to the ground. The third section predicts God’s vengeance. 
The stunning, stormy bass aria with trumpet and strings is one of the most dramatic things in all of Bach. Trumpet fanfares vie and play in canon with the bass voice and the repeated notes of the strings. The igniting of the lightning of vengeance is palpable in the roaring of the orchestral texture. The cracks of lightning can be heard in the precipitous stops and starts in the rhythmic continuity. 
The alto recitative personalized the threat of destruction. The aria that follows is in shocking contrast to the bass aria. Recorders and the two oboes da caccia play, without a bass line, tortured and gnarly lines. The alto doesn’t so much sing as stammer her fearful part. Gradually we see and hear that the winds are a shield and protector against the devastation. The little miniature storm is like a Bonsai version of the bass aria. The recorders continue their wailing in the extraordinary harmonization of “O großer Gott von Treu” which ends the cantata. While there is some sense of resolution in the alto aria, this gesture makes it clear that the sense of lamentation continues to permeate the whole work. 
© Craig Smith
Today's performance is by the Amsterdam Baroque Orchestra and Choir under the direction of Ton Koopman. Enjoy!

Photo © 2013 by A. Roy Hilbinger 

Sunday, July 29, 2018

After the Rain

It rained most of last week, starting just after I got home from last week's Sunday walk. And I'm not talking a gently falling rain to help water the Summer crops. We're talking full tropical downpours, with thunder and lightning and hail and the whole shebang, and resulting in floods all throughout the area. Not much in the flooding here in Shippensburg, as we're fairly high up, but further downstream, and especially up around Harrisburg and the big creeks that feed into the Susquehanna River - Swatara and Yellow Breeches and the Conawego. Hershey Park and Zoo America were closed most of the week due to flooding, and two people drowned in the Conawego in separate incidents. As I said, up here we didn't get that kind of flooding, but Branch Creek and Burd Run were pretty full and feisty. 

Finally a cold front moved through on Friday evening, and the weather has been dry and cooler since. I went walking through the Dykeman Spring Nature Park this morning on my weekly pilgrimage, and it seemed as if all of Nature was rejoicing in drying out. There were lots of butterflies and dragonflies flitting about, the greenery was very lush indeed, and there were lots of blooms. When I came to my favorite bench by the north duck pond to sit and contemplate in the shade of the Kentucky Coffee Tree, there were three Muscovy ducks (a domestic farm breed, frequent visitors to the park) in possession of the area. They gave me the eye as I approached but refused to flee. After I sat down on the bench they continued with some personal grooming, and then settled in for a nap. They barely even opened their eyes when I eventually stood up and moved on.

Here are some scenes from this week's walk.

White Campion in the wetland
A pond-side seat 
Honeysuckle along the trail around the pond
The trio of Muscovies giving me the eye
This year's Mallard ducklings are growing up fast
An American Painted Lady sipping on some Red Clover up on the meadow
© 2018 by A. Roy Hilbinger 

Sunday Bach - Trinity 9

Bach wrote three cantatas for the ninth Sunday after Trinity, and this year I've chosen the second one - BWV 94, Was frag ich nach der Welt (What should I ask of the world, Leipzig 1724). This is a delightful chorale cantata, based on the hymn of the same name from 1664 by Balthasar Kindermann. This one is unusual for Bach's chorale cantatas in that it doesn't follow his usual format for the genre; it's also unusually delightful for its potentially dark subject matter. The late Craig Smith of Emmanuel Music explains all:
The unpleasant reading from Corinthians I itemizing the destruction of immoral people, combined with the difficult passage from Luke about the disloyal servant, had surprisingly produced from Bach two marvelous cantatas by the time he came to write Cantata BWV 94 in 1724. One of those previous works, BWV 105, is unarguably one of the great masterpieces of the genre. It is interesting to compare it with our cantata here. While BWV 105 is clearly the more successful of the two pieces as a work of art, BWV 94 is an ambitious and unjustly neglected work. 
The rather peculiar proportions of the work are part of the problem. We are used to seeing the weight of the cantata borne by the opening movement. In the 1st Leipzig year most of the cantatas, including BWV 105, start with a biblical quote which is set in a grand fashion, followed by arias and ensembles, usually shorter and less ambitious. It is a satisfying formula. Our present work follows a different train of thought. The opening chorus of this long (almost thirty minutes) cantata lasts barely three minutes. The arias and, most importantly, the lengthy trope-with-recitative movements are much larger. 
Bach almost always sets sin not as something ugly but something irresistibly and dazzlingly beautiful. In the first movement of BWV 54, "Widerstehe doch der Sünde" gorgeous suspensions pile one on top of each other to create a luscious sonority, all of it describing the danger of sin. The "Herzeleid" in the first chorus of BWV 3 prompts some of Bach’s most gorgeous chromaticism. Here the rejection of life’s "Schätzen"(treasures) sets off a jewel like movement with dazzling roulades and scales from the flute, oboes and strings. Bach makes it brief because it is characterized in the text as something that is immediately rejected. 
Except for the German Magnificat in the Cantata BWV 10, we have with Cantata BWV 94 the use of the first chorale in the 2nd Jahrgang that is not in Bar form. In "Was frag ich nach der Welt" there is no repeat of the opening phrases and the first phrase of text is repeated at the end. That repetition can casually look, in movements such as the alto aria #4, like a da capo. The form of an aria like this is actually much more unconventional. We find that even in the da capo arias such as the tenor aria #6 or the soprano aria #7 the repetitions of the A sections are often ruthlessly condensed. 
The bass aria #2 is also brief. Its precipitous falling arpeggio is surprisingly weighty for the text about smoke and shadow. There are virtually no sequences; it is the kind of detailed through-composed work that only Bach, among his contemporaries, was writing. 
The first chorale with recitatives is astonishingly verbose. Instead of commentaries on the chorale phrases there are little narratives between each line of text. Bach finds an interesting solution to the problem of this text’s characterization. Oboes sing lyrically and the solo tenor sings, equally lyrically, an ornamented version of the chorale. The recitative portions are jagged, chromatic in language and harrowing. Each return of the chorale phrases is a relief. 
In the period when Bach wrote this work there was in Leipzig a guest and evidently quite accomplished flutist. Certainly the series of arias and ensembles with flute written at this time are among the high points of the literature. The text for the alto aria with flute continues the self-flagellation of the previous verses, but the tone is softer and more forgiving. The eight lines of text are divided up irregularly. The first three comprise an extended slow section with poignant chromatic sequences in the flute. The next two lines are taken up with a tiny 7 bar allegro, over before you know it. Lines 6 and 7 are a kind of arioso resembling the beginning but not really a tempo. The last line is the faux da capo, using all of the opening material but very condensed. 
The second chorale with tropes contains what it almost inevitable in the cantatas, a redemption. It is characterized by a change in direction of the chromatic bass line at the moment the sinner decides to take Christ as his savior. Virtually every cantata contains such a moment; this is one of the most subtle. 
The text to the Tenor aria #6 contains one of the most graphic metaphors in all of the cantatas, comparing vanity to moles gathering yellow rot in their burrows. The low scratchy unison string writing captures the image brilliantly. For all of its grittiness, the work has a kind of grandeur of release. 
Bach again reverts to the child-like soprano to bring the work to a close, but instead of the innocence of the end of Cantata BWV 92, there is an exhausted quality to the aria #7, particularly the haunting repetition of the opening text with its droopy melody over a held bass note. 
As with many of Bach’s great, lesser-known works, the difficulty and ambiguity of this piece have kept it from being famous rather than any lack of musical quality. It also must be said that Cantata BWV 94 is an example of a work that can have devastating effect in a liturgical setting and makes virtually no musical sense in a concert. 
© Craig Smith
This week's performance is from a recording by the Amsterdam Baroque Orchestra and Choir under the direction of Ton Koopman. Enjoy!

Photo © 2013 by A. Roy Hilbinger 

Sunday, July 22, 2018

Another Sunday Walk

We had lots of rain yesterday, and there's more coming today through Thursday. We have two fronts facing off against each other, one out on the Atlantic Ocean and one coming in from the west, and they're pushing each other back and forth over us, and pulling up lots of humid air from the Gulf of Mexico in the space between them. When I went out this morning the sky was sort of clearing, but in the course of my walk through the Dykeman Nature Park it clouded over again, so my walk was taken with one eye on the sky, prepared to duck for cover if the rain decided to return. Here's what I found while I walked.

A Mallard family outing on the north duck pond
Reflections on the pond
A Black Walnut shell on the trail up to the meadow
A Monarch butterfly on Red Clover in the meadow
Queen Anne's Lace in the meadow
© 2018 by A. Roy Hilbinger 

Sunday Bach - Trinity 8

Bach wrote three cantatas for the eighth Sunday after Trinity. Last year we listened to the final one; this year we'll listen to the middle one, BWV 178, Wo Gott der Herr nicht bei uns hält (If God the Lord holds not with us, Leipzig 1724). This is a chorale cantata, and for Bach it's very unusual, stormy almost, with recitativ eruptions during the chorale and aria movements like lightning lashing out in a storm. Given the current weather here in the eastern US, I thought this very fitting to the atmosphere. Here's the late Craig Smith of Emmanuel Music on this unusual cantata:
Bach Cantata BWV 178 is one of the most obscure in all of the canon. It is a pity, because after penetrating its difficult exterior it is one of the best. The opening chorus does something that no other chorus does. While the orchestra remains consistent in texture and affect, the chorus lives in two different worlds. The opening phrase is presented in simple block chords. The next phrase is highly colored and ornamented in the bottom three voices. The simple block phrasing recurs in the third phrase. After this, the bottom voices ornament their lines for the rest of the movement. Obviously Bach is associating the simple block phrasing with God, and the wild, extravagant writing with the raging foes. 
The next movement uses the chorale in its pure form sung by the alto with continuo. Each phrase is interrupted by “tropes” which here are recitative comments on the chorale. This is an old technique, more common in medieval music with comments on Gregorian chant, than in Bach. Next, a bracing aria for bass with strings uses its terrific energy to propel us into another chorale setting, this time for tenor and oboes d’amore. Tropes reappear in the next chorale setting for full chorus, with individual voices doing the recitative comments. The very intellectual text of the following tenor aria is portrayed as a marvelous and stormy seascape. It is an interesting and surprising take on these words. The chorale harmonization at the end brings us back to the block-like portrayal of the power of God.

© Craig Smith
This week's performance is from a recording by the Amsterdam Baroque Orchestra and Choir under the direction of Ton Koopman. Get out your umbrella and hang on!

Photo © 2009 by A. Roy Hilbinger 

Sunday, July 15, 2018

A Serene Sunday Morning

Sunday morning in these parts is always a quiet time, and my favorite hang-out is no different. The nature park is usually deserted on Sunday mornings, and the birds and beasts go about their business undisturbed. Walking in the park at this time is always a joy!

It's bunny breakfast time!
A Spring Azure butterfly
Yellow Jewelweed
Horse Nettle
A young (hatched this Spring) Painted Turtle on the north duck pond
A serene scene on the pond, with ducks
Butter-and-Eggs, a Snapdragon relative, at the meadow's edge
The meadow's resident feral cat; it's been living up there around five years now
© 2018 by A. Roy Hilbinger 

Sunday Bach - Trinity 7

Bach wrote several cantatas for the seventh Sunday after Trinity, and last year we listened to BWV 107. This year I've chosen another gem - BWV 187, Es wartet alles auf dich (Everything waits for you, Leipzig 1726). It expands on the theme of the Gospel reading for the day, Mark 8:1 - 9, which is the story of Jesus feeding the thousands on two fish and five loaves of bread [note: I wrote an essay on that story back in 2000 and posted it here in 2008], with arias based on Psalm 104 and Matthew 6:31 & 32, all on the theme of don't fret, don't worry, God will provide. The music is gentle rather than dramatic, just perfect for such a message. Here's the lated Craig Smith (with later additions and editing by Ryan Turner) of Emmanuel Music:
The cantata Es wartet alles auf dich, BWV 187, although more widely known as the Mass in g minor, BWV 235 (1738-39) for which the opening chorus and all arias were reused, has never been very well known in its cantata form. Composed in Leipzig in 1726, it is a two-part cantata. The gritty and complex chorus at the beginning is one of his best and most energetic fugues, truly rousing and satisfying. The bass recitative almost overflows with graphic images yet Bach chooses not to paint them, save the question that ends the recitative on a point of non-resolution.  The alto aria is a marvelous portrayal of the wavering believer with its halting and jerky continuity. It is the kind of piece that makes perfect sense with its text and would seem merely eccentric without it.

Bach often differentiates between personal and communal religious expression. Likewise, the two parts of the overall cantata contrast in a similar way. Bach scholar Alfred Dürr noted the change from third to first person in the second part, a shift in emphasis. The great striding bass aria with an obbligato of all of the violins is almost Handelian in its simplicity, but is purely Lutheran in its content. The gorgeous soprano aria with oboe is clearly the musical high point of the cantata. The falling octave in both the oboe and voice line is a perfect picture of God’s forgiveness. The quick middle section is interestingly followed by a repetition of the opening material but without the voice. While the soprano aria is stunning in its conception and musical expression, the essence of the cantata is to be found within the first line of the recitative that follows: “if I can only hold on to Him with a childlike trust.” The cantata ends with a harmonization of the rarely heard chorale, “Singen wir aus Herzensgrund. 
~ Craig Smith with Ryan Turner 
For today's performance we have a wonderful recording from the J.S. Bach Foundation of St. Gallen under the direction of Rudolf Lutz, recorded just last year. Enjoy!

Photo © 2018 by A. Roy Hilbinger