Tuesday, January 14, 2020

Snowless Winter Scenes

Most people would consider a Winter landscape without snow a bleak, colorless scene. Some days, depending on my mood, I would agree. But most of the time when I step out into nature with the camera, I see the color others often miss, a kaleidoscope of subtle color close to, but not quite, a monotone. Today I went into the Dykeman Spring Nature Park chasing that color.

Cattails in Winter
Bittersweet berries withering with age and the cold
Landscape with Birches and Martin house
The creek in the park from the red bridge
One of the north pond's resident Muskrats out for a morning swim
A group of Mallards and visiting domestics gathered by the south pond
© 2020 by A. Roy Hilbinger

Monday, January 13, 2020

On and Around the Rail Trail

I decided to take the new camera up on the Cumberland Valley Rail Trail this morning and put it through its paces on one of my favorite hikes. I got some nice trail shots but there were no cows out by the trail, and I was really in the mood for cows today. So I went back to Fogelsonger Rd. and headed up it. There were cows and a springhouse waiting for their moment in the limelight there. And on the way back into town on Route 696 I got the chance to get a good shot of the heronry along Middle Spring Creek. A heronry is a Heron nesting colony, and last Fall the fellow who lives across the road and owns the field and trees it's on pointed it out to me. You couldn't see too much because there was still lots of foliage on the trees, but now that the trees are bare you can see all the nests in the tops of the trees. He said there were around 30 nests up there, and I do believe he's right! I didn't know we had that many Great Blue Herons in the area! I'm certainly going to keep a close watch on the place this Spring to see how many of those nests actually get used.

The old trailhead at the township park on Britton Rd.
Walking along the Rail Trail
Shelf fungus on a tree along the trail
Cows along Fogelsonger Rd.
A springhouse along Burd Run
The heronry by Middle Spring Creek
© 2020 by A. Roy Hilbinger

Sunday, January 12, 2020

Sunday Bach - Epiphany 1

Bach wrote several cantatas for the first Sunday after Epiphany; the one I've chosen for tody is BWV 124, Meinen Jesum laß ich nicht (I won't leave my Jesus, Leipzig 1725). This is a chorale cantata dealing with the story of the 12-year-ols Jesus in the temple in Jerusalem. Here's the late Craig Smith of Emmanuel Music on this work:
The Gospel reading concerning the 12-year-old Jesus in the temple is one of the most vivid in all of the New Testament. It long has been a favorite subject for composers. One of the lovliest pieces in all of Schütz is his setting of the story, partly dramatic and partly a beautiful ground bass setting of verses from Psalm 84 for Mary, Joseph and Jesus. Bach’s cantata for the 1st Sunday after the Epiphany is a jewel. Although not directly referring to the story, it is permeated with the childlike sense of wonder and wisdom. The opening chorus the cantata BWV 124 is one of the greatest. It is so transparent in texture, so casually economical in means that, looking at the score, one could miss how extraordinary it is. Its form is that of an oboe d’amore concerto. The strings are remarkably restrained, most of the time playing almost sketchy looking chords upon which the oboe d’amore plays its roulades. The opening theme is, in character, a minuet. Gradually the theme expands to include graceful dotted rhythms that become the main motion into the cadences. The harmony is so transparent that the chorus parts are actually the richest things in the piece. The beautiful melody, one of Bach’s favorites is gorgeously harmonized. Notice the ravishing suspensions in bars 25-27. The choral writing is full of colorful text painting, much of it plays on words about leaving, holding and the light. Echo effects at the end make the final “lass ich nicht” even more poignant. The very simplicity of the texture makes for extraordinary possibilities of sophisticated phrasing. In bar 73, for instance the word “kleben” (hold) is held through the beginning of the concerto entrance. Its final cuttoff is at exactly the moment that you don’t expect it.

After a secco recitative, the tenor sings an aria about the cruel strokes of death. One expects something heavy and ponderous. Here again Bach keeps the texture light. The Oboe d’amore plays a winding tune over the light strokes of the strings.
For all of its drama, the there is something childlike about the piece. It is full of the most wonderful touches, for instance the joining of the oboe and tenor in sixths on the words “Doch tröstet sich die Zuversicht” The bass recitative is warm and radiant. Exactly in keeping with the character of the piece.

We have seen three or four wonderful “running with stumbling footstep” pieces in the 2nd Jahrgang. The most notable is the famous duet from BWV 78. Our duet here for soprano and alto runs more than ambles but has some of the same appealing qualities. It is surprising that it is not more well-known. The continuo line is particularly appealing: the leaps of the tenths are especially charming. The final chorale is equally beautiful. It somewhat resembles the marvelous harmonization, also in E major, that ended the first version of the St. Matthew Passion.

© Craig Smith
Today's performance is from a recording by the Amsterdam Baroque Orchestra and Choir under the direction of Ton Koopman. Enjoy!


Photo © 2020 by A. Roy Hilbinger

Wednesday, January 08, 2020

A Little More Snow

We got a little more snow overnight and into this morning. Just two or three inches, but enough to at least be scenic. On my way to the grocery store this morning I cut through the nature park and took a few photos.

Entering the park on the Dykeman Walking Trail
Snow-capped Viburnum berries along the trail
Along the trail in the wetland
Barberries in the snow in the wetland
Wind-sculpted snow up on the meadow
The view to the north from the top of the meadow
© 2020 by A. Roy Hilbinger

Monday, January 06, 2020

Bird Portraits

Given that great lens on my new camera, I decided to dedicate this week's walk in the Dykeman Spring Nature Park to seeing what birds I could capture. My main goal was the park's resident Belted Kingfisher, who is notoriously difficult to keep up with. What I didn't count on was the wind picking up before I got to the park; by the time I got there the birds were going deep into shelter. Still, I managed to get some decent shots, but it was like playing hide-and-seek, and most of the shots include intervening twigs and branches. And no, I never did catch up with the Kingfisher; he just wouldn't sit still!

A Slate-colored Junco along the Dykeman Walking Trail
A male Northern Cardinal in the woods along the creek in the park
A juvenile Great Blue Heron perched waaaayyyyy up in the treetops
A Red-bellied Woodpecker along the nature trail
© 2020 by A. Roy Hilbinger

Sunday, January 05, 2020

A Busy Morning at the Feeders

It was a busy morning at the feeders in my back yard this morning. Mostly it was House Finches and Juncos, but there was a visiting Gray Squirrel scooping up the spillage underneath as well.

Mr. & Mrs. House Finch at breakfast
A Junco and a House Finch take seats at the breakfast table
Meanwhile Mr. Squirrel cleans up the spillage below
© 2020 by A. Roy Hilbinger

Sunday Bach - Epiphany

I know, I know, I'm a day early for Epiphany, but Bach's cantatas for the second Sunday after Christmas are so blah! So today we'll listen to a cantata for Epiphany (aka Twelfth Night, aka Three Kings Day), a major festival in the Church Year, celebrating the visit to the infant Christ in Bethlehem by the three wise men from the East (or kings, as tradition sometimes has it). It's also the final day of the Twelve Days of Christmas; the Christmas season officially stops here. Bach wrote several cantatas for this festival, most notably the sixth and final cantata of his massive Christmas Oratorio. But of all the cantatas he wrote for the Christmas season, the one I've chosen for today is the only one actually telling the story of the events celebrated rather than focusing on the theology - BWV 65, Sie Werden aus Saba alle kommen (They will all come from Sheba, Leipzig 1724). And it's a beauty, incorporating all kinds of musical effects to act as a sort of soundtrack to the story of the Three Kings. Here's the late Craig Smith of Emmanuel Music on this unique cantata:
Many cantatas for the Christmas season are not deeply involved with the Christmas story, but assume a contemplative attitude with a minimum of narrative. The Cantata BWV 65 not only directly quotes Isaiah’s prediction of the Wise Men, but contrasts it with a chorale description of how that prediction came true. Thus, the unusual placement of a chorale immediately after the opening chorus sets off the principal thrust of the piece: the gifts of the Wise Men are a reflection of the gift of God in fulfilling the words of Isaiah. 
The opening chorus has a wonderful, exotic, “Eastern” sounding orchestration with pairs of recorders, oboes da caccia and horns as well as the usual strings and continuo. The loping 9/8 meter gives the piece a charming “camel music” quality. This cantata contains the only example of horns in C in all of Bach’s music. The beginning tutti shows the richness of color available to Bach with this combination of instruments. The sound of the piece comes not only from the exotic combination of instruments but also from the abundance of octave doublings. This interest in octaves culminates in the final cadence of the tutti, which contains a rarely-heard unison from the entire orchestra. The choral writing is marvelously varied with block-like writing, imitative writing, and a full-fledged choral fugue. In his book “The Compositional Process of J.S. Bach,” Robert Marshall describes ingeniously how Bach “thinks on his feet” in the writing of this fugue. In fact, one of the great glories of the first Jahrgang is the new way in which Bach is able to fold choral fugues into a more homophonic texture. This is particularly striking in a work such as this that has horns with few available chromatic notes. Bach makes an event out of the return of the horns to the orchestral texture by surprisingly overlapping them with the end of the fugue. 
The chorale that follows, a verse of “Ein Kind, geborn zu Bethelehem,” is austere, almost barren in its harmonization. It is as if the richness of Isaiah’s prophecy is contrasted with the meager circumstances of Christ’s birth. The recitative that follows is a classic example of Bach’s sensitivity to the shape and function of the text. The first half, which recounts the story of the wise men, begins in F major and modulates to G major. At the beginning of the contemplative section, where the speaker examines how these events affect him, the bass moves down to a six-four-two chord and sends the recitative in a harmonically different direction. 
Bach uses the dark sound of the two oboes da caccia as obbligati for the bass aria. Notice how the opening theme, so closely imitative and evocative of gold, is transformed into the gold torn from the earth by the drop of an octave at the end of the third line. The canon here is exclusively associated with the inadequacy of the gold offerings. The offering of the Christian’s heart is accompanied by euphonious parallel thirds in the obbligato instruments. 
The secco tenor recitative is appropriately didactic, and offers a perfect foil for the return to the extravagant orchestration that accompanies the opening of the next tenor aria. The main tune of this aria is clearly related to the opening idea of the chorus. Even more, the “oriental” octave doublings bring us back into that world. There is something popular in the character of this spirited piece. It is bar-form, something rather unusual in non-chorale related pieces in Bach. The simple folksy vocal writing at the beginning is a wonderful contrast to the exuberant melismas of the final section. 
Not only the choice of a verse from “Was mein Gott will, das g’scheh allzeit,” but also its austere harmonization, is surprising compared to the color of the rest of the cantata. Perhaps Bach is preparing us for the sobriety of the Epiphany season. Its simplicity is very much in keeping with the presentation of the other chorale, and gives us a slightly different relationship between the chorale and the concerted music that we are used to in first Jahrgang pieces.

© Craig Smith
Today's performance is from a recording by the Gabrieli Consort and Players under the direction of Paul McCreesh. Enjoy!

Photo © 2020 by A. Roy Hilbinger 

Friday, January 03, 2020

Lunch with Ms. Sparrow

This new camera seems to be really good for capturing birds. I got these shots of a female House Sparrow at the tower feeder while I was putting lunch together. I really like this lens!

© 2020 by A. Roy Hilbinger