Wednesday, November 20, 2019

Walking Through Fallen Leaves

“Now Autumn’s fire burns slowly along the woods
And day by day the dead leaves fall and melt.”
William Allingham - Autumnal Sonnet

I woke up in the semi-darkness this morning, and by the quality of what light there was coming in the window I could tell the sky was overcast. A perfect day for an Autumn hike! I needed to walk on fallen leaves today, kicking through the piles and crunching them underfoot, the ultimate joy of the season. So after breakfast and the usual morning activities at the computer, I tied on my boots and headed for the Cumberland Valley Rail Trail. It was definitely a soul-clearing walk; here are some of the sights along the way.

© 2019 by A. Roy Hilbinger

Monday, November 18, 2019

A Misty November Morning

It was drizzling and in the 30s when I got up this morning, and still in the upper 30s/low 40s when I went out for my weekly walk in the park and grocery run. So today's walk in the park was slightly damp. But it brought out the existing colors in the otherwise drab November landscape. Come take a look.

Drip, drip, drip...
A cattail marsh along the Dykeman Walking Trail behind the ball fields
An empty nest in the Dykeman wetland
A Carolina Wren in the wetland who was not at all pleased with my presence
Looking toward a very misty Timber Hill from the top of the meadow
Self-portrait of the happy wanderer, taken with my cell phone
© 2019 by A. Roy Hilbinger

Sunday, November 17, 2019

Sunday Bach - Trinity 22

Bach wrote three cantatas for the 22nd Sunday after Trinity, and this week I've chosen the first one, BWV 22, Was soll ich aus dir machen, Ephraim? (What should I do with you, Ephraim? Leipzig 1723). This is a solo cantata featuring bass, alto, and soprano voices. This cantata explores the tension between deserved punishment and merciful forgiveness based on the gospel lesson of the day, the parable of the wicked servant (Matthew 18:23-35). Here's Ryan Turner of Emmanuel Music on this cantata:
Was soll ich aus dir machen, Ephraim?, BWV 89, relates how Jesus tells the parable of the wicked servant (Matthew 18:23-35) as an answer to Peter’s question: “Lord, how oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? till seven times?” The central theme of the cantata, therefore, probes the tension between deserved punishment and merciful forgiveness. First performed in October of 1723 in Leipzig, the source of text for the outer movements is certain, while the text for the recitative/aria pairings of the soprano and alto is unknown.  However, it is believed this may have been based on older material from Bach’s Weimar years and the monetary metaphors in the alto and soprano solo movements are rather reminiscent of the poetry Salomo Franck, the keeper of the mint and city councilor in Weimar and Bach’s favorite collaborator.

The opening bass aria text comes from Chapter 11 of the prophet Hosea: “How can I give you up, O Ephraim!… How can I make you like Admah! How can I treat you like Zeboim! My heart recoils within me, my compassion grows warm and tender.” In this context ‘Ephraim’ is an abbreviation for the northern part of Israel, ‘Admah’ and ‘Zeboim’ are towns that, as mentioned in Deuteronomy, suffered the same fate – destruction – as Sodom and Gomorrah. God is essentially pondering what He should do with those existing communities that continue to show signs of sinfulness. Bach illustrates God’s wrath in the collision of three separate instrumental motifs that happen simultaneously and are then freely interchanged and combined between instrument groups, but never with any sense of resolution: 1) the turbulent sixteenths of the continuo, 2) the cries of parallel thirds in the oboes and 3) the five-note upward arpeggios in the strings that end with a plunging downward fifth, seventh or ninth. Meanwhile the music comes to a temporary halt at the end of each anguished question posed by the bass, representing God’s divided mind.

The cantata now shifts to the parable of the wicked steward as the alto recitative makes a compelling case for God’s right to vengeance.  Listen for the sharpness at the mention of the mocking of his name that inflames the fires of vengeance. The threat of punishment implied here becomes clearer in the inexorable, hammering semi-tone motives of the alto aria; the text of which derives from James 2:13: “For he shall have judgment without mercy; and mercy rejoiceth against judgment.”

With the soprano recitative, the gloom of the opening is left behind as we are reminded that we are duty bound to ‘forgive them that trespass against us.’  Given the seriousness of the text – a balance sheet of sins committed against the drops of Jesus’ redeeming blood – the aria for soprano and oboe leads us to more welcoming pastures with its dance-like 6/8 meter and songlike melody. The concluding chorale extends this sigh of relief.  While the prevailing mode is minor, Bach harmonizes every cadence in the major mode.   Not even the mention of ‘Tod, Teufel, Höll und Sünde’ causes the simple harmonic textures to yield to chromatic intensification.

© Ryan Turner 
Today's performance is a new one from the J.S. Bach Foundation of Trogen, Switzerland under the direction of Rudolf Lutz. Enjoy! 

Photo © 2019 by A. Roy Hilbinger

Monday, November 11, 2019


November is the bridge between Autumn and Winter. The trees are much barer, the flowers have turned to seed and down, and the world slowly turns monochrome, with touches of brown and russet and dark evergreen here and there. The Winter Solstice may not be until December 21, but December 1 is the meteorological beginning of Winter and November is when the world trims down in preparation for the Winter snows. Today's walk in the Dykeman Spring Nature Park gives some glimpses of all that.

A lone,withered leaf in the Dykeman wetland
A leaf fallen on a wooden walkway
Old, ragged cattails in the wetland
November reflections on the north duck pond
Bare trees up on the meadow
Yes, I have music to go with this photographic walk. Max Richter is a German-born British composer who is considered one of the more influential voices in post-minimalist composition. This piece, "November", is from his 2002 debut album Memoryhouse, recorded with the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra. I felt that the mood of this piece perfectly matched that of the photos. Enjoy!

© 2019 by A. Roy Hilbinger

Sunday, November 10, 2019

Sunday Bach - Trinity 21

Bach wrote four cantatas for the 21st Sunday after Trinity; this week I've chosen the second of those works - BWV 38, Aus tiefer Not schrei ich zu Dir (Out of the depths I cry to thee, Leipzig 1724). Part of a trend in his second season at Leipzig, Bach composed this chorale cantata based on a hymn by Martin Luther; it has gravity and depth, written in an antique (for those times) style to emphasize its ties to Lutheran history. Here's the late Craig Smith of Emmanuel Music on this cantata:
All of Bach’s motet-style choruses in the 2nd Jahrgang are set to Luther chorales. There is a sense of bedrock theology to these works that makes them different than any other chorales. The conscious archaicism of these settings gives them a weight and seriousness unlike any others. The chorale “Aus tiefer Not schrei’ ich zu dir” is a work that always brings out his most heavily contrapuntal style. The two chorale preludes on the tune in the 3rd part of the Clavierübung contain some of his most ingenious contrapuntal wizardry. The large setting with pedals is unique in Bach in that it has a double pedal part. Every note of the work derives from the melody, but the actual long-note statement of the tune is in the top pedal part. Bach doesn’t hesitate to make a stretto of the theme right at the very beginning. The contour of the opening of the tune is so highly profiled that it is easily recognizable in even the densest counterpoint. Even the smaller setting for manuals only in the Clavierübung immediately jumps into a dense contrapuntal world with the theme appearing in inversion as a countersubject in the 2nd bar of the piece. Most of the pieces for manuals only in the Clavierübung are much more casual than this, so that it is clear that Bach throughout his career sees this tune as a special case.

All of the chorale movements in the cantata are profoundly different from the two organ chorale preludes in one important sense: in the organ pieces there is a generalized chromatic language, not only prompted by the melodic contour but also the Phrygian basis for the melody. The half step that occurs between the first and second degrees of the scale in Phrygian melodies always has great harmonic consequences in tonal works. But by 1739, the year of the publication of the 3rd part of the Clavierübung, Bach was less interested in coloring the meaning of the words in his chorale settings. Thus the kind of specific, harrowing harmonic language that appears in the second phrase of the Abgesang, that occurs more or less out of the blue, is clearly generated from the words “Sünd und Unrecht.” This kind of specificity is simply not relevant in the organ pieces, which are clearly not geared to any particular verse of the chorale. At the same time, there is a simplicity and openness to the counterpoint in the cantata that is replaced by something much more dense in the organ pieces.

Both of the readings for the 21st Sunday after Trinity are concerned with the steadfastness of faith against all odds. Certainly Psalm 130, the basis for this chorale, tests that faith. Both the secco alto recitative and the tenor aria #3 with oboes refer directly to the Epistle reading from the 6th Chapter of Ephesians. In all of the concerted music the motives are derived from the chorale tune. This is actually achieved in a fashion rather different than Bach’s usual manner. One sees the leap of the fifth, first down and then up, followed by the upward half step imbedded in the opening oboe melody. Its construction is almost Beethoven-like in its rigorous classical outlook. Similarly in the trio #5, the opening motive clearly refers to the opening of the chorale. The character of the tenor aria is melancholy rather than stern, and its gentle rhythmic motion actually is a relief from the austerity of the opening. The soprano recitative #4 is unique in Bach, a recitative in which the bass line is a chorale. In addition Bach does something unusual in that the opening phrase of the chorale (in a minor) is repeated in d minor. The rest of the chorale is then finished in the new key.

The trio is one of three trios in the Leipzig cantatas. It has an unusual character, nervous and flighty. The piling up of the three voices in tight counterpoint increases its agitation. The change from worry to sudden redemption is astoundingly achieved with the vertiginous harmony at the cadence, hair-raising in its intensity. Notice how the rising of the sun is the opening of Aus tiefer Not turned upside-down. We have shown how the transition is made back to Phrygian e minor of the final chorale harmonization. The ringing modality of the harmony is almost heroic in its cast.

© Craig Smith
Today's performance is from a recording by the Collegium Vocale Gent under the direction of Philippe Herreweghe. Enjoy!

 Photo © 2019 by A. Roy Hilbinger

Wednesday, November 06, 2019

It's That Time Again

I just updated my calendars for sale on, so if you need Christmas/Yule/Solstice presents the time is now! And don't forget, my Yule photo book, On a Cold Winter's Night - Images of Yule, is always on sale. Click here to check it all out! Below are some of the cover pictures to give you a taste.

© 2019 by A. Roy Hilbinger

Monday, November 04, 2019

Autumn Up Close - Berries and Seeds

It's November now and Autumn is moving on apace. It's been an odd Autumn though; trees that were colorful last week are now bare, some trees are newly colorful but half bare, and there are an awful lot of all green trees still holding forth. As far as Fall foliage goes, today's walk in the Dykeman Spring Nature Park was something of a washout, so I concentrated on a plentiful resource for Autumnal color - berries. Add to that some Maple helicopters still hanging on to the tree at the top end of the north duck pond and you have the reason for the title of today's post. Come take a look.

Viburnum berries along the Dykeman Walking Trail
Barberries in the Dykeman wetland
Bittersweet berries in the wetland
Maple helicopters still on the tree
© 2019 by A. Roy Hilbinger