Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Summer Solstice 2017

Today is the Summer Solstice, Litha to Pagans, and Midsummer in the northern European countryside. The weather turns seriously hot now, the first haying of the season gets done, and bonfires and dancing and merriment are the order of the day. As for me, I took a walk in the Dykeman Spring Nature Park and took in the sights of Summer.

Deptford Pinks in the woods along the Dykeman Walking Trail
An Appalachian Brown butterfly in the wetland area
Day Lilies in the Dykeman Spring wetland
A Cabbage White butterfly and Canada Thistle by the north pond
North pond scene with Mallards
A European Skipper butterfly on Red Clover up on the meadow
© 2017 by A. Roy Hilbinger 

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Sunday Bach - First Sunday After Trinity

Today is the first Sunday after Trinity, the start of what the church calls "ordinary time", a six month stretch with no major holy days. The emphasis during ordinary time is the parables of Jesus and how they teach the Christian hows to live a Christ-like life. Today's Gospel reading is the parable of the rich man and the the beggar Lazarus, from Luke 16: 19-31, where the rich man goes to hell and Lazarus goes to heaven, and the rich man raises a howl about that.

Coincidentally, the first Sunday after Trinity in 1723 was Bach's debut at his new job as Cantor in Leipzig, and his cantata BWV 75, Die Elenden sollen essen, daß sie satt werden (The poor shall eat, that they may be filled) is a textbook illustration of what a Bach cantata is supposed to be. Musicologist Simon Crouch explains:
"On the 30th of the same month….the new cantor Collegii Musici director Herr Joh. Sebastian Bach, who came here from the princely court in Cöthen, performed his first music to good applause". I don't think that that means that the congregation went crazy in the aisles but clearly Bach's first Leipzig cantata (after the test pieces BWV 22 and BWV 23) was received with approval from those who mattered. Justly so. Although this isn't a cantata that will leap out at you with brilliant tunes or outstanding virtuosity, it is beautifully crafted. Indeed, what you may first notice is the formal structure that may strike you as a perfect example of what a Bach Cantata ought to be like. It's in two parts, the first part with opening sinfonia, two arias connected by recitatives and a closing chorale, the second part mirroring the first part but replacing the opening chorus with a sinfonia.

The first part opens with an excellent chorus, hinting at a French overture style (Bach showing that he was up to date and in touch with fashion?) with poignant oboe phrases leading into what you might expect, a lively fugue! Neither of the arias of the first part have outstandingly memorable tunes but they are both substantial, well constructed and pleasing to hear. The tenor aria has a warm orchestral accompaniment and the soprano aria gives the soloist opportunity for florid embellishment. The first part closes with a very jolly and uplifting chorale setting with full orchestral accompaniment.

The second part opens with a rarity: A purely orchestral treatment of the chorale with trumpet singing out the melody. It's so effective that one wonders why Bach didn't do this more often. The alto aria is simple and pleasant and the bass aria, perhaps the best of the lot, has an outstanding and uplifting trumpet accompaniment. The latter hints at a "battle" aria but the text could hardly be further from this! The cantata draws to a close with a repeat of the orchestral chorale setting that closed the first part.

Copyright © 1996 & 1998, Simon Crouch.
For today's Sunday Bach I've chosen the 2003 recording by the Collegium Vocale Gent under the direction of Philippe Herreweghe. Enjoy!


Photo © 2010 by A. Roy Hilbinger 

Friday, June 16, 2017

Just Passing Through

It rained early in the morning and it's supposed to rain some more this afternoon and evening, so I took advantage of the break in the rain to go do some grocery shopping. Naturally I passed through the Dykeman Spring Nature Park and found some shots along the way.

The baby bunnies are hopping all over the park
The Blackberries are starting to ripen
A sure sign of Summer - the Day Lilies are up 
The banks of the north pond are festooned with Crown Vetch
This fuzzy lady was industriously harvesting on a Nodding Thistle up on the meadow
© 2017 by A. Roy Hilbinger 

Sunday, June 11, 2017


A brief walk in the Dykeman Spring Nature Park this morning before the heat settled in for the day. And I found these two small things which were very photogenic. That thing that looks like a mandala is actually the flower bud of a Nodding Thistle. And the Dragonfly population is large and diverse this Summer.

Natural mandala - the flower bud of the Nodding Thistle demonstrates the Fibonacci sequence
A Northern Bluet damselfly in the sedges by the north pond
© 2017 by A. Roy Hilbinger 

Sunday Bach - Trinity Sunday

Today is Trinity Sunday, and so starts the long Trinity stretch in the liturgical calendar, sandwiched between the two major church festival periods - Advent/Christmas/Epiphany and Lent/Easter/Pentecost.  There's nothing celebratory in this long stretch, no events to commemorate, so the Trinity season is used for teaching the basic tenets of the church. 

Of course, it does start off with one celebration - Trinity Sunday, announcing the presence of the Holy Spirit in the church. Bach wrote a number of cantatas for this day, but for me one stands out in particular, BWV 129, Gelobet sei der Herr, mein Gott (Praised be the Lord, my God) from 1727. It's a chorale cantata, based around the hymn of the same name, and as is usual for Bach's chorale cantatas it gets pretty grand. But as Simon Crouch points out, it's somehow condensed, sort of a chorale cantata in miniature:
Cantata BWV 129 is a chorale cantata based on a hymn by Johannes Olearius with melody by anonymous. It's a lovely little work. Everything is in miniature, even the festal opening and closing choruses, and I can't help thinking that Bach, had he wished to, could have built something really substantial out of this. As befits Trinity Sunday, the cantata is introduced with the sound of trumpets and drums in the grand opening movement. The heart of the cantata comprises three arias in a row, one each for bass, soprano and alto respectively. None of them is outstandingly memorable but each of them is finely crafted, elegant music. Most notable, perhaps, are the accompaniments: Continuo only in the bass aria; flute and violin in the soprano aria and oboe d'amore in the alto aria. The second is my favourite of these three. The cantata closes in a joyous mood with an elaborate but spacious orchestral setting of the chorale, prominently featuring the trumpet and drums again.
Copyright © 1996 & 1998, Simon Crouch.
For today's post I've chosen a lovely performance by the Amsterdam Baroque Orchestra and Choir under the direction of Ton Koopman. Enjoy!


Photo © 2017 by A. Roy Hilbinger 

Saturday, June 10, 2017

June Flowers

Went for a walk in the Dykeman Spring Nature Park this morning before it got too hot, looking for June flowers and excuses to crawl on my belly with the macro setting. Found some! And if that Daisy Fleabane looks a tad disheveled, it's because there was a pretty stiff breeze blowing up on the meadow.

Cabbage White butterfly on Canada Thistle
Crown Vetch
Daisy Fleabane 
Deptford Pink
© 2017 by A. Roy Hilbinger 

Tuesday, June 06, 2017


Seeking peace and in a meditative mood this morning, I went for a walk in the Dykeman Spring Nature Park. Serenity achieved!

Approaching the red bridge. As you can see, things are getting a little overgrown; I like it!
The red bridge from slightly upstream
The berries are getting ripe in the Mulberry tree by the north pond
Moth Mullein on the banks of the north pond
A Chipmunk overlooking the creek, seen from the red bridge
© 2017 by A. Roy Hilbinger

Bach on Pentecost - Whit Tuesday

Bach wrote two cantatas for the third day of Pentecost, and it was a struggle choosing between two very good examples of his talent, but in the end I had to go with this one, BWV 184, Erwünschtes Freudenlicht (Desired light of joy) from 1724. There's something almost pastoral about this, probably from the extensive use of flutes in a very dance-like rhythm throughout the cantata. Not surprising, since this is something of a reuse of an older cantata written for court rather than church. And that aria for alto and soprano! Ahhhhhh! Such beauty. After all the solemnity and magnificence of the previous days of Pentecost, this light and airy finish to the holiday period is most welcome indeed. And apparently Simon Crouch agrees: 
A delicious little phrase from the flutes introduces a long recitative that is based on the gospel of the day together with the twenty-third psalm. After that we're immediately into an absolute show-stopper! A dancing pastoral duet between soprano and alto, with the flutes providing a line that you will be whistling for days after you hear it. This is one of the greatest of the hidden gems of the cantatas and for once you will be glad that the da capo aria form allows you to hear the big tune again! The stately and elegant dance that this movement suggests means that it will come as no surprise to you to learn that BWV 184 was adapted from the secular cantata BWV 184a which is, alas, now lost to us. Another lengthy recitative is followed by a pleasant but otherwise undistinguished tenor aria and the cantata draws to a close with a straightforward, but lovely, chorale setting. 
Oh no it doesn't! For once, Bach doesn't finish off with the chorale. There's an extra chorus seemingly tacked on the end, attractive but not outstanding.

Copyright © 1996 & 1998, Simon Crouch.
For this cantata I've chosen a performance by the Amsterdam Baroque Orchestra and Choir under the direction of Ton Koopman. Enjoy!


Photo © 2012 by A. Roy Hilbinger 

Monday, June 05, 2017

Bach on Pentecost - Whit Monday

Bach wrote several cantatas for the second day of Pentecost (Whit Monday), but for me the choice was a no-brainer. BWV 68, Also hat Gott die Welt geliebt (For God so loved the world...), from 1725, is a curious juxtaposition of the grave and solemn with the airily joyous, which makes for an enjoyable listening experience. The late Craig Smith of Emmanuel Music had this to say about it:
Bach Cantata BWV 68 is an oddly schizophrenic piece. The two choruses are of a very severe cast, while the two arias in the center of the piece are in a popular, even casual style. They are both arrangements from a much earlier Weimar work, the "Hunt" Cantata. The opening movement is a gorgeous and grave Siciliano with a rather obscure chorale tune based upon the reading from John in the soprano. The jump to the jolly cello solo with the soprano singing her famous "My Heart ever Faithful" is a big one. But the effect is a wonderful personalization of the rather abstract opening. The soprano is so light-hearted and infectious that an oboe and solo violin join after the voice part is finished for a delightful trio sonata. The bass aria with three oboes is even more popular in style. Here the rollicking jig is an interesting take on the rather serious words. The final motet movement is a very sober setting in archaic motet-style of the texts from Acts.
For today's offering I've chosen the 1975 recording by the Munich Bach Choir and Orchestra under the direction of Karl Richter, mainly for the lovely voice of soprano Edith Mathis, who makes the soprano aria Mein glaubiges Herze sound positively Mozartian. Enjoy!

Photo © 2012 by A. Roy Hilbinger