Monday, July 22, 2019

Another Muggy Morning Walk in the Park

If anything, it was even muggier than last week. There's a cold front moving in tonight,and its approach has been sucking hot, humid air from the Gulf of Mexico up before it. So even though it was a bit cooler this morning, I was soaked with sweat within minutes of walking out my door. This time I had insect repellent along, so at least the mosquitoes weren't annoying me!

There was lots to photograph this morning, as you'll see from the shots below. Butterflies, dragonflies, turtles... not to mention the flowers and the general lushness of it all as a result of this wet and warm year. Come take a look!

A very lush Dykeman Spring wetland
The creek is its usual picturesque self
Mama Gaia is encroaching on that bench again!
A Painted Turtle sunning on a rock in the north duck pond, with reflection
A Four-spot Skimmer dragonfly resting on a bench by the side of the pond
A Blue Dasher dragonfly posing by the north duck pond
The view of the north duck pond from my favorite bench under the Kentucky Coffee Tree
Teasel by the meadow
And a bouquet of Queen Anne's Lace and Calico Asters up on the meadow
A Silver-spot Skipper butterfly up on the meadow
A pair of Bindweed blossoms,a wild relative of the Morning Glory
A Buckeye butterfly amid the red clover up on the meadow
© 2019 by A. Roy Hilbinger  

Sunday, July 21, 2019

Sunday Bach - Trinity 5

Seaworthy

Bach composed two cantatas for the fifth Sunday after Trinity, and I've chosen his first one, BWV 93, Wer nur den lieben Gott läßt walten (If you but permit God to prevail, Leipzig, 1724), a chorale cantata based on a hymn by Georg Neumark from 1641. Bach seems to have been obsessed with this particular hymn, as he used it in at least six other cantatas. But for me his use of it here, especially in the opening chorale fantasia, is the most beautiful. Here's what the late Craig Smith of Emmanuel Music has to say about it:
Sometimes the text to the chorale cantatas is only peripherally related to the readings for the day. In the case of BWV 93 not only the words but the very sound of the chorale dominates the musical discourse. The reference to Peter and the 'fishers of men" Gospel in the trope to the chorale-recitative movement #5 seems almost like an afterthought.
Bach is clearly fascinated by this tune. It appears in the cantatas more often than any other chorale. While Bach is able to find enormous variety of harmony and texture in all of his four-voice harmonizations, a look at the seven versions of this melody in the 371 chorales is instructive. Obviously these harmonizations are geared to the particular verse that he is setting, but Bach is able to manipulate any given phrase into any level of simplicity or complexity. These type of subtleties are certainly not unique but there is no doubt that these bedrock chorales such as Wer nur den lieben Gott lässt walten have a different response from Bach than, for instance, "Liebster Gott, wenn werd ich sterben?" the basis for the cantata BWV 8 and a relatively new tune in Bach's time and certainly not of the theological significance of a text like " Wer nur."

This minute examination of the melody produced in the opening chorus of Cantata 93 an almost monomaniacal interest in the half step resulting from the cross-relation that occurs between the first and second phrases of the chorale. This little figure [G,Ab,G] so omnipresent and insistent creates an oppressive dusky atmosphere that colors the whole movement. The actual treatment of the chorale tune is unusual in that each phrase is introduced by vocal duets then quartets of a free nature before the tune appears in long notes in the soprano. The orchestration, two oboes, strings and continuo is unusual. The oboes appear much of the time in unison. The first few bars are typical; oboes play in tight canon for a bar and a half and then revert to unison for four bars; they are independent for one bar then again play in unison. The sound of oboes in unison is a particular color not just a nicety of voice leading. It adds weight and density to the texture of the work. Everything about this movement indicates unusual care and thought even by Bach's standards.
Bach includes in this cantata two movements of a form invented by him. Individual phrases of the chorale (here sung by a solo bass) are interspersed with recitative commentary. This practice, obviously similar to the medieval technique of troping bits of chant, further expands the types of commentary possible in the chorale cantatas. The textual expansion is quite sophisticated. Sometimes it is used to modify, to explicate, or to soften the blow. Other times the inserted commentary, as is the case here, is used to intensify the ideas of the chorale. Bach here clarifies what is chant and what is recitative by using the marching eighth notes to accompany the chorale and long notes to accompany the recitative. It is completely characteristic that he uses his full chromatic arsenal to further clarify what is chorale and what is commentary; thus each section of recitative is introduced by a different kind of deceptive cadence.
A different kind of troping occurs in the following tenor aria. The first and third of the eight lines of text are directly from the chorale. The other six are poetic versions of the rest. Bach here makes no effort to differentiate musically between the two types of text. The score of the aria looks on the page very like a characteristic block-like classical slow movement, for example the Adagio from the Mozart A Major Piano Concerto K. 414 (performed next week in our first Russell Sherman-Mozart concert) or the slow movement of Haydn's Opus 76#1 Quartet. As one listens to the piece one hears, of course, the stylistic differences. But the block "classical hymn" manner is something that is very much available to Bach.
In the duet #4 we find a very different treatment of the chorale. The tune appears in the unison strings with the soprano, alto and continuo making an independent trio. The somewhat unspecific treatment of this particular verse is shown by Bach's willingness to arrange the movement as an organ chorale prelude (Schübler Chorale #3, BWV 647) with no sung text. It is characteristic of Bach to insert an abstract such as this at the center of an emotional and directed progression of movements such as these. The tenor chorale in the middle of Wachet auf! is another example.
The second trope with recitatives is somewhat different than the first. Here the distinction between the chorale and the commentary is fuzzier. The bass lines continue to be active well into the recitative commentary. There are also two types of recitative in play here, the "dry" recitative and a kind of arioso more of the kind that we saw in Bach's earlier works. This manner is usually used at the end of a recitative and can be seen as a kind of transition to an aria. Here it is isolated in the body of the movement. We find in this movement the sole reference to Gospel reading for the day, "Hat Petrus gleich die ganze Nacht mit leerer Arbeit zugebracht und nichts gefangen." Often the relationship of the cantata text to the Gospel for the day is only tangential.
Bach often will resolve a crabbed and difficult argument with a child-like declaration of faith. He will usually choose a child's voice (soprano) and the piece will often be in a "popular" style. The final soprano aria of Cantata BWV 93 is an example, and " Aus Liebe will mein Heiland werden" from the St. Matthew Passion is the pinnacle of that manner. Here the casual, jaunty oboe line combined with the sweet piping soprano provides relief from the oppressive atmosphere of what has come before. Only one line of the chorale tune appears in the aria and it is skillfully and almost imperceptibly folded into the texture.
The final chorale harmonization is unusually simple, as if Bach's examination of this particular tune was spent.
© Craig Smith
Today's performance is from 1993 by the Chorus and Orchestra of Collegium Vocale, Ghent, under the direction of Philippe Herreweghe. Enjoy!

                

Photo © 2009 by A. Roy Hilbinger 

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Back with a New Computer

Did you miss me? My computer died last week and I had to buy a new one (well, a refurbished but still a big upgrade from my previous one) on eBay. It arrived yesterday and now I'm back up and running. I did my walk in the park last Tuesday and this Monday and I have shots from both walks,as well as the full moon Monday night. Enjoy!

Approaching the entrance to the park on the Dykeman Walking Trail
White Campion along the trail
Horse Nettle by the red bridge in the Dykeman wetland
Daisy Fleabane up on the meadow
A panoramic view of the meadow and mountains to the north
Deptford Pinks on the way out of the park
The full moon on Monday night
© 2019 by A. Roy Hilbinger

Sunday, July 07, 2019

Sunday Bach - Trinity 3

Reflection
Bach wrote two cantatas for the third Sunday after Trinity. BWV 21, Ich hatte viel Bekümmernis (I had much sorrow) is very grand, very monumental, and is arguably one of the greatest of Bach's cantatas. But I'm not in the mood for the monumental Bach today. I'm more in the mood for the reflective Bach of BWV 135, Ach Herr, mich armen Sünder straf nicht in deinem Zorn (Ah, Lord, punish not me, poor sinner, in Thine anger, Leipzig 1724). This is a chorale cantata based on Hans Hassler's hymn tune for Herzlich tut mich verlangen (I do desire dearly), which Bach also used in his great St. Matthew Passion. Here's what the late Craig Smith of Emmanuel Music has to say about this cantata:
For some reason the cantata BWV 135 has almost always had a rather tepid reception from people writing about the Bach cantatas. Scholars are quick to brand both arias as arrangements of lost secular works, always a somewhat damning charge in the world of Bach criticism. Even the marvelous opening chorus goes by with a minimum of comment. Part of this may be how one perceives the tempo. Bach seems to hear the chorale "Herzlich thut mich verlangen” very slowly. The figuration in both extant organ chorale preludes on this tune, BWV 727 and BWV 742, imply something very stately. Even the placement of the many four-part harmonizations in the St. Matthew Passion implies something quite slow.
The first line of the Epistle reading for which this cantata was composed in 1724, I Peter 5:6 “Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God,” sets up the metaphor for the opening chorus of BWV 135. The chorale tune is buried in the texture, sung by the basses, doubled by a trombone, “under the hand of God.” In general this Epistle reading is more influential upon the text and character of the cantata than the problematic parable (Luke 15: 1-10) before the Pharisees and Scribes that is the Gospel reading for the day.
Bach’s scheme for the movement is clear. All of the upper strings play a phrase of the chorale accompanied by oboe figuration related to the theme in diminution. The use of the continuo instruments is limited to the doubling of the chorale with the basses. Bach’s scheme is so profiled and clear that when he breaks it the results are astonishing. The entrance of each of the first four phrases of the chorale by the basses is clearly marked and immediately followed by elaboration by the upper 3 voices. In the fifth phrase not only do the upper voices enter before the chorale, but the bass entrance is cleverly buried in the tenor line The following phrase reverts to the opening manner but positively explodes with the subito forte that results from the massed upper voices and the change in range of the strings. Bach clearly sees the emotional climax of this verse as that sixth phrase, something that is unique to this particular setting of “Herzlich thut mich verlangen.” Clearly that particular weighting of the chorale reflects its function in this particular cantata.
Both recitatives of this cantata travel an unusual harmonic distance. The first begins with a chord that not only completes the ambiguous Phrygian cadence of the chorale, but also sets the recitative on its long harmonic journey. If the chorus is slow enough, the easy-going tenor aria with two obbligato oboes will provide a wonderful release. Even the extremes of the declamation of the second phrase are folded easily into the texture. The slowing down of the motion at the word "stille" provides a marvelous poetic moment. The aria is surprisingly short and the very fact that there is no da capo propels us into the intense alto recitative.
Like the first recitative, this one travels a great harmonic distance. The stuttering, halting chorale snippet that begins the recitative propels us into more self-doubt. Peter’s characterization of the devil as a roaring lion in the Epistle reading brings on a bass aria of almost military bearing. In character it is Handelian. One thinks of the generals in the Handel operas, Achilla in Giulio Cesare or Orvieto in Ariodante. After the minute harmonic manipulations of the previous music, the big broad-shouldered sequences of the opening tutti are particularly striking. The da capo is a particularly clever foreshortened one, but functions nevertheless to give the last part of the cantata some weight. The final harmonization of the chorale ends in the Phrygian mode, like the last version in the St. Matthew Passion, but without its devastating finality.
© Craig Smith
Today's performance is from 2000 by the Amsterdam Baroque Orchestra and Choir under the direction of Ton Koopman. Enjoy!



Photo © 2017 by A. Roy Hilbinger 

Monday, July 01, 2019

July Arrives

July has arrived, and today's weekly walk in the Dykeman Spring Nature Park definitely was July-like! Lots of butterflies and dragonflies, although the dragonflies are still successfully eluding my camera. But most of all, the weather is finally dry enough for my friend Wade to get the first haying of the Summer done! Come for a walk and check it out.

Me and My Shadow - a Spring Azure butterfly on the Dykeman Walking Trail
The Daylilies are still decorating the park
One of this year's baby bunnies along the trail
A tiny, unidentified white flower in the wetland
An Appalachian Brown butterfly in the wetland
Haying time!
Wade Asper hard at work
Looking back at the meadow on the way out
© 2019 by A. Roy Hilbinger 

Sunday, June 30, 2019

Sunday Bach - Trinity 2


In the late Spring of 1723 Bach was just starting his career as Cantor at the Thomaskirche in Leipzig, a post which pretty much made him the music director for the whole city, both sacred and secular. His cantata for the second Sunday after Trinity was also his second cantata in his new position - BWV 76, Die Himmel erzählen die Ehre Gottes (The heavens declare the glory of God). He's still showing off here, with lots of bells and whistles we've come to associate with his music - complex fugues, rich harmonies, and the weaving together of the human voice with orchestral instruments to create harmony and movement that would be the envy of the most skilled Swiss watchmaker. Here's the late Craig Smith of Emmanuel Music on this magnificent work:
Bach's first perfect Leipzig masterpiece is cantata BWV 76, for the second Sunday after Trinity. The cantata is in two parts on a large scale, with identical chorale settings ending each section. For the second Sunday after Trinity, the parable of the Great Banquet from the 14th  Chapter of Luke is paired with a beautiful  passage from the first Epistle of John on brotherly love. The somewhat harsh aggressive quality of the Gospel reading is reflected by the high bright keys of the concerted music of the first part of this cantata. The second part, with its muted minor mode keys and introduction of the dark-hued oboe d’amore and viola da gamba, perfectly reflects the gentleness of the Epistle. This is an interesting case where Bach never attempts to combine the meaning of the two readings, but rather pursues each in a parallel course. The darkness of the chorale harmonization that ends both sections of the cantata functions as a kind of mediation between the two characters.

It begins with a large chorus in two sections, an introduction and a fugue. It is not only one of Bach perfect choral fugues, but one of the most dazzlingly energetic Psalm settings in all of the cantatas. The chorus begins with a fanfare figure in the trumpet, echoed by the strings and oboes. Presumably this generates from the opening image of the first chorus, of the heavens resounding, with the glory of God. Echo effects are, of course, a staple of the Baroque style, but they are also an important image in this Psalm. There is a grandeur and breadth to both the opening tutti and the opening choral statement, with its solo bass incipit, that is new to Bach.

Most of the recitatives in this cantata are broadly ambitious. The first, an accompagnato for tenor, is in three sections: the first and third accompanied by sustained string chords; the middle section, a description of creation, is accompanied by expressive meandering sixteenth notes in the violins. 
The soprano aria is so geared to the child’s perspective that it is difficult for an adult singer to bring off. The purity of the little imitations between the violin solo and the bass and the gamboling run upward to the cadence can sound arch and insincere.It is an important statement, however, and an significant part of the “Great Banquet” parable that is the basis for this cantata. Bach clearly wants us to be amazed in a childlike way that any one would reject the abundance offered to him. 
The darkening of the harmony and the introduction of an adult voice in the secco bass recitative brings in the concept of human foolishness and idolatry. The ensuing bass aria with strings and trumpet contains the same canonic relationship between the bass and the melody as we saw in the soprano aria. Here, however, it is turned on its ear. There is a wicked devilish quality to the tight little imitations among the continuo, viola and trumpet. The upward rush of the violins adds a jittery, hysterical effect.  There is an ungrounded unstable sense to this music that perfectly reflects its text. 
After the uneasy energy of the bass aria the secco alto recitative leads us inward to the heavenly melancholy of Luther’s great chorale”Es wohl uns Gott genädig sein.” This is one of Bach’s most elaborate chorale harmonizations. Each phrase is introduced by a statement in the trumpet, accompanied by high string and oboe parts in a dense bed of suspensions and chromaticism. Each choral phrase is introduced by the orchestra playing the first few notes of the theme. The very continuousness of the texture and the density of harmony give the work an oppressive and dark cast.

The second part opens with a sinfonia for oboe d’amore, viola da gamba and continuo. It is an arrangement of the first movement of the E Minor Organ Trio Sonata BWV 528. Not only does this music perfectly establish the dark seriousness of the text that follows, but the colors of the two main instruments also work marvelously together. It is curious that Bach never again resorted to this combination of instruments. The accompanied bass recitative introduces immediately the themes of this section of the cantata. We must love our brothers, even when they hate us.

The ferocity of the following tenor aria with continuo is startling after the warmth of this recitative and the sinfonia. On top of spiky, jagged continuo lines, the tenor sings brutal long notes on the word ”hasse.” The heart-stopping rests at the end of the 2nd and 4th bars and the mounting energy of the stinging sixteenth note pattern at the end of bars 5-7create an atmosphere of paranoia and fear. The wonderful softening of the vocal line at bar 40 comes like a balm. This is remarkably high profile music. 
As at the end of the first section of the cantata, the alto leads us inward in the secco recitative. Its gentle walking bass accompanying the expressive repetition of the text “he feeds me with manna from heaven” is the perfect introduction to the sublime 9/8 aria with oboe d’amore and viola da gamba obbligati. The beautiful rolling theme is given just enough edge by the slightly unsettling syncopes of the viola da gamba. As with the opening chorus, Bach by this time has the wherewithal to write a very extended introduction without ever seeming long-winded. The exhortation to show your love by your works is compellingly portrayed by the gorgeous richness of the little answers to the phrase by the two obbligati. We have here one of Bach’s very greatest arias; a work that seems to go deeper and deeper into the soul of the words. After a secco tenor recitative, the return of the same harmonization of “Es wohl uns Gott”seems perfectly in character to the seriousness of this great aria. With cantata BWV 76 we have one of the great visionary Bach works. The very strangeness of the pairing of the Gospel and the Epistle has made a structure distinctive, yet compellingly right. 
© Craig Smith, edited by Pamela Dellal
Today's performance is from a recording by the Amsterdam Baroque Orchestra and Choir under the direction of Ton Koopman. Enjoy!



Photo © 2017 by A. Roy Hilbinger 

Wednesday, June 26, 2019

Yesterday in Black & White

I knew some of yesterday's shots on my hike in farm country would work in black & white, and I actually shot some of them with that in mind. Today I used Alien Skin's Exposure 2 Photoshop plug-in, using its Kodak Tri-X 400 setting, to see. Sure enough, some of them did very well indeed. Take a look.






© 2019 by A. Roy Hilbinger