Sunday, June 17, 2018

Sunday Bach - Trinity 3


Bach wrote two cantatas for the third Sunday after Trinity, and today's choice is the masterpiece - BWV 21, Ich hatte viel Bekümmernis (I had much sorrow, Weimar 1714). There's such a variety of style here, as well as some firsts for Bach himself; this is early on in his career and he's feeling out what he'll be allowed to do. This is his only Weimar cantata that is divided in two parts, with the sermon being preached between the two. I think this may be the first time he used an instrumental sinfonia as a prelude, and it was definitely the first time he used the fugue form for the opening chorus; in fact, he was much criticized for doing so. Here's Michael Beattie of Emmanuel Music on this great cantata:
Ich hatte viel Bekümmernis, BWV 21 - in two parts - is the longest and grandest of all the cantatas. It has a complicated history. The first nine movements may have constituted a cantata per ogni tempo [for any occasion] written in Weimar as early as 1713. There were many subsequent revisions, culminating in today’s 1723 version (minus the trombones!) which includes two additional movements. 
Given the wide range of styles found in this cantata, it is a piece of remarkable dramatic cohesion. It moves progressively from darkness into light. The mysterious opening sinfonia is a dialogue between oboe and solo violin (accompanied by a halo of strings) which seems to lead directly into the first chorus.

Almost all of the choruses of BWV 21 are based on psalm texts. In Part I, the choral writing is very text specific. Like the great motet composers of the previous generation, Bach finds a striking new character for each line of text. In some cases even a single word is given its own special color (the freeze-frame moment on the word aber [but] in the first chorus is one example). Bach was mocked by his contemporaries for the stuttering repetition of the first word (Ich, ich, ich…); today it seems a moment of breathtaking drama.

The soprano aria “Seufzer, Tränen”, in spite of its overwrought text, is a marvel of stark simplicity, especially given the density of everything that surrounds it. The anguish of the text is mirrored in the tortured intervals found in the voice and oboe part. The tenor recitative and aria are on a different scale entirely. Bach’s response to this highly dramatic text is appropriately extravagant, with especially picturesque orchestra writing.

Part II opens with a dialogue between the bass and soprano (Jesus and the Soul). Craig Smith wrote: “These dialogues are often associated with the erotic love poetry of the Song of Songs. A popular example of this genre [can be found] in the love duets in the cantata Wachet auf! Today’s cantata was one of the few Bach pieces in Baron von Swieten’s library in Vienna. Clearly Mozart saw the piece there, for the duet is inspiration both for “La ci darem”from Don Giovanni and the third act Susanna-Count duet from Le Nozze di Figaro.” 
The monumental choral prelude “Sei nun wieder zufrieden” moves in yet another stylistic direction. The interpolated chorale text appears first in the tenor section surrounded by complex counterpoint in the solo voices. Later it is taken over by the sopranos upon the entrance of full chorus and strings.

The intimate tenor aria that follows is scored only for continuo - its lightness and optimism providing a perfect bridge to the final brilliant chorus. The text of the closing chorus is the same as that which concludes Handel’s Messiah (‘Worthy is the Lamb’). The entrance of the trumpets and timpani is a thrilling moment. After a brief introduction, the piece concludes with one of the most viscerally exciting fugues that Bach ever wrote. It cranks along at an almost hyperventilating pace before exploding ecstatically heavenward.

© Michael Beattie
Today's performance is by La Chapelle Royale and the Collegium Vocale Gent under the direction of Phillipe Herreweghe. Enjoy!



Photo © 2012 by A. Roy Hilbinger 

Friday, June 15, 2018

Stovetop Portraits in Black & White

I shot the water kettle last night on a whim, and then this morning I decided to add other shiny objects to the collection. Just me playing in b&w. Shot in b&w and processed in Photoshop, and further processed in Exposure 2 with the Kodak Tri-X 400 film emulator.

The Whistler
I love coffee, I love tea
Stir it up
© 2018 by A. Roy Hilbinger  

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Summer Approaches

Summer is a week away, and both Mama Gaia and the weather are showing it. After a lot of rain in the past month or so we're finally getting a stretch of at least five warm, dry days. The Spring flowers are dying off and the Summer ones are starting to bloom. And the tall grass up on the meadow in the Dykeman Spring Nature Park is very tall indeed, and browning up. My friend Wade finally has a chance to get at it on his old Case tractor, and he was up there today mowing away. He told me he was going to try to get 30 acres cut and baled in that five-day stretch. And if the usual storms don't appear after that, he may try for the whole shebang. Fingers crossed!

Crown Vetch along the Dykeman Walking Trail
Canada Thistle in the Dykeman Spring wetland
Mama Mallard takes the kids out for a spin on the north duck pond
A view across the meadow
Another view across the meadow
Let the first haying begin!
© 2018 by A. Roy Hilbinger 

Sunday, June 10, 2018

Sunday Bach - Trinity 2


Today is the second Sunday after Trinity, and Bach wrote two cantatas for this Sunday. I posted his first one last year, so this year I'm posting his other one, BWV 2, Ach Gott, vom Himmel sieh darein (Ah God, look down from Heaven, Leipzig 1724). This is a chorale cantata, based on Martin Luther's chorale setting of Psalm 12. When dealing directly with Luther's words Bach almost always went old school rather than innovating, quoting Luther directly and using a deliberately archaic musical style, a la Pachelbel. Here's the late Craig Smith of Emmanuel Music on this compelling cantata:
Martin Luther's chorale version of Psalm 12 is the sole source for Cantata BWV 2. While the unnamed author of the text has arranged the various verses into chorus, recitative, and aria format, the sense and character of the Luther chorale remains unusually pure. It is characteristic of Bach when dealing with Luther that the ideas remain more or less unadulterated.

Bach treats the opening verse of the chorale in an archaic neo-Renaissance manner. A strict four-voice texture with independent continuo line is observed throughout. Of the five chorale-based choruses in this style, four are to Luther texts. It is clear that Bach associates this manner with bedrock Lutheran theology. By having the chorale in the alto voice rather than the usual soprano, Bach submerges the sinner in the texture, looked down upon from heaven by the sopranos. The harmony is of the densest sort. Phrygian melodies are among the most difficult to convert to tonality, but here Bach jumps into crabbed and ambiguous harmony from the outset. It must be a manner that he associates with this tune, for the organ setting in the Kirnberger collection is similar in density and unique in that collection for its harmonic daring.

It is interesting that the phrase structure remains quite clear and one could almost say simple. When we think of the elaborate phrase overlaps in the treatment of the previous week's chorale tune, O Ewigkeit, du Donnerwort, these phrases seem very direct. One senses that the very complexity of harmony is enough for Bach here. Also there is an extraordinary economy of motive. The subject, derived from the tune and two counter-subjects, contains virtually all of the material in the movement. The doubling by the trombones emphasizes the archaic nature of the music.

A line of the chorale sung by the solo tenor with continuo sets off the following recitative. While this seems at first to be in Bach's familiar manner of chorale with tropes, no further musical reference to the tune occurs, so we must assume that Bach feels the need to make a transition to the more modern recitative style. The elegant alto aria with solo violin is in striking contrast to the severity of what has come before. Clearly the chattering violin part is meant to represent the Rottengeistern and the Ketzerei. There is a marvelous moment when the suave continuity comes to a stuttering halt at the words Trotz dem. A fragment of the chorale tune enters like a beacon bringing us back to the seriousness of the subject.

After the harshness of the harmony in the opening chorus and the elegance of the alto aria, Bach finds yet another color for the bass recitative. Here is a marvelous example of the variety to Bach's chromaticism, harsh dissonance and vertiginous progressions in the first chorus, melting and soft edged progressions for this recitative. The first two bars of recitative show how carefully Bach gauges his harmonic color. Notice the darkness at the word verstört; the stab of pain at the word Ach. This is not only a change from the brittle Bb major of the alto aria, but a transition to the radiance of the “alchemy” aria #5.
In a work such as this cantata one can be so amazed by the harmonic detail and astonished by the contrapuntal deftness, that the sheer melodic invention can be forgotten. Certainly a tune such as in the aria Durchs Feuer wird das Silber rein reminds one that the lessons learned by Bach in his transcription of Italian concerti were as important as his German contrapuntal heritage. The principal melody is worth looking at in some detail: notice how the eighth and two sixteenth note figure is turned upside down in bars 2-3. The beginning sequence of bars 2-3 is itself turned upside down in the 4th bar. This is yet another example of subtle changes in what could be a garden-variety sequence to create a varied and highly profiled melody. It is one of those tunes that once heard is never forgotten. Clearly, Bach found the metaphor of the refining of the silver as central to the message of the cantata.

The final chorale, while still very chromatic, has somehow lost the harsh language of the opening chorus. Bach never leaves the listener unchanged by his musical experience.

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



Photo © 2014 by A. Roy Hilbinger 

Friday, June 08, 2018

Sight and Sound - Main Street USA

Main Street USA in the Window
A shot of the gazebo across the street taken through my partially open front window and given the watercolor treatment in Photoshop™. King St. is Shippensburg's "Main St.", and all of the town's holiday parades go right by the gazebo, so it's kept patriotically decorated all Summer long. When I saw this through the window it immediately reminded me of some shots taken by Henri Cartier-Bresson (one of my photographic heroes) on Cape Cod in the '50s. I gave it the watercolor treatment to give it the feel of a Wyeth painting. Americana at its most basic! And the following song was running in my head as I was processing the shot.



Photo © 2018 by A. Roy Hilbinger 

Thursday, June 07, 2018

O What a Beautiful Day!

After much chaotic, nonsensical weather - unusually hot temperatures, tropical humidity, and all too much rain - the perfect Spring day arrived today: 50s in the morning and 70s in the afternoon, blue sky and puffy clouds, and a fragrant breeze. Just a perfect late Spring day! And having the day off, I headed out into it, taking a walk in the Dykeman Spring Nature Park. Mama Gaia provided much photogenic material.

The Yarrow bushes are blooming along the Dykeman Walking Trail
A Spring Azure butterfly and its shadow along the trail
The red bridge over the creek appears out of the lush foliage
Reflections in the north duck pond
Daisy Fleabane in the upland meadow
A panoramic view from the meadow
© 2018 by A. Roy Hilbinger 

Sunday, June 03, 2018

Sunday Bach - Trinity 1


Now the Lutheran liturgical calendar enters Ordinary Time, when the parables of Jesus are used to teach the Christian catechism to the congregation. For this first Sunday after Trinity in Bach's time the Gospel reading for this day is the story of the rich man and the beggar from Luke 16. Bach wrote three cantatas for this Sunday, and the one I've chosen today deals with the idea of sharing food with the poor - BWV 39, Brich dem Hungrigen dein Brot (Break thy bread for the hungry, Leipzig 1726). This isn't one of Bach's grand cantatas, but rather one of his quieter ones, a bit of serenity after the drama of the Easter and Pentecost seasons. Here are the program notes from Emmanuel Music on this cantata:
Today’s cantata, Brich dem Hungrigen dein Brot, exhorts the theme of loving one’s neighbor, allied with the parable of the rich man who, should he share that which he has with the less fortunate, will ensure his own grace in the eyes of the Lord. The plea for generosity in feeding the hungry is emphasized in the text of the opening chorus from today’s Hebrew Bible reading Isaiah 58: 7-8. Like many of the cantatas from Bach's third Leipzig cycle, the huge opening chorus dominates the work. The short notes from the recorders, oboes and strings can either be read to represent the breaking of the bread or, more compellingly, the teardrops of the hungry. In any case the orchestra is a stunning backdrop for what is at the beginning a deeply felt and emotional fugue and later on an energetic call to arms.

The bass recitative takes the form of a sermon. The lovely alto aria with violin and oboe obbligati is an inward and stunningly pure vision of the touching words. The text speaks of imitation or reflection of the Creator’s goodness, concluding with the metaphor of sowing on earth those seeds that we will harvest after death.  These two clear images are captured in the music: that of imitation (the oboe follows the violin throughout) and the scattering of fertile seeds (the melisma on the word ‘streuet’).

The stern, preachy bass aria is a splash of cold water - Bach at his most severe and Lutheran. The sweet soprano aria with recorder breaks that mood with a touching child-like sweetness. The personal element continues in the penultimate movement, a recitative for alto accompanied by lush string chords. Almost working against the positive nature of the text, this recitative is set mostly in minor, perhaps reminding us of the challenge of faith. The final chorale setting, one of Bach’s simplest and most direct, provides a phrase structure that is symmetrical and predictable until the last two phrases. Each of these is two-and-a-half bars long, having the effect of extending outwards beyond ourselves.

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



Photo © 2010 by A. Roy Hilbinger