Friday, October 20, 2017

Shadows and Lines - A Walk on the Rail Trail

I have a three-day weekend this week, starting today, and I decided to use it to catch up on Autumn in the countryside. I went up on the Cumberland Valley Rail Trail today with that in mind, but to my disappointment things aren't looking particularly autumnal. The weather hasn't been conducive to colorful foliage, what with some unusual September and October heat waves. Colder weather is coming next weekend, but things may already have been spoiled; on the Maple across the street from me, which usually turns a red so bright that I swear you can read by it at night, the leaves have gone brown and crinkly around the edges, and I fear there won't be any color there this year. 

Still, it was a beautiful day and well worth the walk, and there were things to see and scenes to photograph. The light was just right to get some good shadows and shadow-and-light patterns, so not all was lost. Come take a look!

Rock is the defining reality of the Cumberland Valley; it pokes up through the earth everywhere!
Lines and shadows on the footbridge over Fogelsanger Road
Walking up the Rail Trail
A side trail with a touch of color
A feral cat calculating the odds of catching that squirrel in the tree
Walking through a tunnel of trees
A farm, a dirt road, and a touch of Fall color
A panoramic view of the Cumberland Valley from the Rail Trail
© 2017 by A. Roy Hilbinger 

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Sunday Bach - 18th Sunday After Trinity

Fall Asters
This week's cantata for the 18th Sunday after Trinity is BWV 96, Herr Christ, der einige Gottessohn (Lord Christ, the only son of God), composed and performed in Leipzig in 1724. What captures the attention is that beautiful piccolo accompaniment in the opening chorus, adding a note of cheer and light, which Bach continues through the rest of the cantata. This is indeed a bright, cheerful work from a usually pretty somber Bach. Here's what Simon Crouch had to say about it:
If you enjoy BWV 1 How brightly shines the morning star then perhaps this is the next cantata that you should turn to. A different hymn (by Elisabeth Kreutziger) but the same allusion: He is the Morning Star….far brightest star of all and musically (in the first chorus) a similar treatment. The sparkling opening chorus is one of my favourites and is unusual in having a flauto piccolo (equivalent to our sopranino recorder) chattering beautifully away at the top of the orchestra. Also unusual is that the alto line holds the cantus firmus. After a recitative, the tenor da capo aria is quite long but the level of inspiration is more than enough to hold the attention; the flute has an especially enjoyable line. The bass aria is, perhaps, a lot more straightforward but conveys the text well and the cantata finishes with an especially fine chorale harmonisation.
Copyright © 1996 & 1998, Simon Crouch. 
This week's performance is from a 1978 recording by the Concentus Musicus Wien with the Tölzer Knabenchor under the direction of Nicholas Harnoncourt. Enjoy!


Photo © 2012 by A. Roy Hilbinger 

Sunday, October 08, 2017

In Transition

My weekly Sunday walk in the Dykeman Spring Nature Park revealed scenes of Nature in transition to Fall color. Mostly it's the shrubs and small trees changing now - the Virginia Creeper and Staghorn Sumac are glowing bright red, and yellows are popping up as well. We also have some wet weather moving in; it rained a little as a front moved through this morning, and now we're awaiting the arrival of the remnants of Nate, which is supposed to give us some long-awaited and much needed all-day soaking rain tonight and tomorrow. With cooler temperatures following, we should be seeing more color soon!

Small-flowered White Aster
Virginia Creeper on the footbridge over Gum Run
Wetland with Purple Martin house
Looking across the pond to the wetland
On the meadow
Looking toward Timber Hill from the meadow
© 2017 by A. Roy Hilbinger 

Sunday Bach - 17th Sunday After Trinity

Autumnal Simplicity
Of the three cantatas Bach wrote for this Sunday in the liturgical calendar, surely this one - BWV 148, Bringet dem Herrn Ehre seines Namens (Bring to the Lord the glory of his name, Leipzig, 1725) - is one of his most magnificent. The fugal opening chorus alone is worth the listen, but the rest of the cantata keeps the glory alive. Here's what the late Craig Smith of Emmanuel Music had to say about this cantata:
Our cantata today was written for the seventeenth Sunday after Trinity. The beautiful exhortation of Paul to the Ephesians for generosity and selflessness is combined with the parable of the man invited to the rich man’s dinner. Both readings emphasize humility and modesty. The resultant text is unusually sunny, without any of the dark shadows that permeate most of Bach’s cantata texts. 
The opening chorus, a quote from Psalm 29, is a brilliant and densely fugal work for trumpet, oboe, and strings. It is something of a curiosity that Bach, in a very unusual move, sets the whole text at the outset and then divides it up into sections for the various fugues that make up the rest of the piece. The texture, while joyous, is unremittingly dense. Clearly Bach wants to give the effect of an enormous crowd singing these ringing words. The tenor aria is a virtuoso affair both for the solo violin as well as for the high-flying tenor part. The alto goes much deeper. The recitative starts with a famous quote from Psalm 42 and then goes into the main message of the parable, that good works can be done on the Sabbath as well as the rest of the week. The beautiful aria with three oboes has a calm and warmth that brings to a wonderful close the ringing affirmation of the opening chorus. This cantata is a wonderful example of Bach’s ability to take ideas that don’t seem to have much contrast and build a convincing and moving structure of faith. The work ends with a rich and warm harmonization of the chorale “Auf meinem lieben Gott.” 
Today's performance is a live recording from 2000 by the Monteverdi Choir and the English Baroque Soloists under the direction of John Eliot Gardiner, to my mind one of the best interpreters and conductors of Bach's music. Enjoy!

Photo © 2012 by A. Roy Hilbinger 

Sunday, October 01, 2017

Sunday Bach - 16th Sunday After Trinity

All four of the cantatas Bach composed for this particular Sunday in the liturgical calendar focus on death as a welcome release from the burdens of this life on earth, a common belief in Bach's time. Of the four cantatas written for this Sunday, BWV 8, Liebster Gott, wenn werd ich sterben? (Dearest God, when shall I die?, Leipzig, 1724) has always been a favorite of mine. Despite the subject matter of the text of the cantata, the music itself is warm, friendly, and leisurely. Musicologist Philipp Spitta described it as having the sound of a “church-yard full of flowers in the springtime.” The flute figure in the opening chorus is always described as the sound of bells, but to me it sounds like birdsong, adding to that feeling of a church-yard in Spring, hence my choice of the photo of a Song Sparrow in full voice above. Here's what musicologist Simon Crouch has to say about this cantata:
A word from Philipp Spitta about the opening movement of this chorale cantata: "..the sound of tolling bells, the fragrance of blossoms pervades it - the sentiment of a churchyard in springtime". The continuo tolls the bell low in the harmony, the upper strings repeat a pizzicato bell-like figure and the flute alternates between arpeggios and repeated staccato high notes. All the while the oboes d'amore intertwine their sinuously attractive melody with the choir's chorale. This is a very lovely movement!

The theme is a common one in the cantatas: When shall we take leave of the sufferings of mortal life and achieve eternal life in Heaven? The bells continue tolling in the tenor aria and the (solo) oboe d'amore has another beautiful line. After a recitative, Heaven is achieved in the tour-de-force that is the bass aria. It is really difficult to avoid the feeling that here we have a movement, a gigue, from a lost flute concerto. It is a wonderful, optimistic, virtuoso piece and if you have any love for the flute as a solo instrument, do try to hear this. The cantata closes, after a recitative, with a lovely chorale setting with orchestral accompaniment. Especially effective is the low bass note that precedes the voices. The chorale melody itself, by Daniel Vetter, is especially attractive.

Copyright © 1996 & 1998, Simon Crouch.
The performance chosen for today is from a 1998 recording by the Collegium Vocale Gent under the direction of Philippe Herreweghe. Enjoy!


Photo © 2009 by A. Roy Hilbinger 

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

A Wednesday Walk

I went over to the Brookside Ave. wetland this morning to see how things are over there. Like my Sunday walk, even though the Autumnal Equinox was on Friday, it's still hot and humid here, although supposedly this is the last day of it and tomorrow starts the trend back to more Autumnal weather. It's also been dry this week, so when the temps go back to being cooler we might see a speed-up of more seasonal reds, oranges, and yellows.

I wanted to check on water levels in the wetland. I recently learned that last year's extremely dry Summer wasn't the only thing to dry up the streamlets and the collection pond; apparently a dairy farm in the area sank a big, deep well that has lowered the ground water level significantly, and I wanted to see how that has effected the wetland in conjunction with this year's wetter Summer. Last year they dug some deeper channels in the pond bed to get some water to the surface, which has changed the contour of the wetland and created some interesting scenery; it's now become a series of weedy channels surrounded by more wetland vegetation. The wetland is adapting to the new conditions,

And of course I also visit the Brookside Ave. wetland because of the variety and number of the butterfly population there. It didn't disappoint, although I only managed to find two sitting still for long enough to get a decent portrait. Still, they were well worth the visit.

A view of the former pond area, which is showing signs of Fall color
Another view of the former pond area, from a different angle
Moth Mullein
A Monarch butterfly feeding among the Calico Asters
A small Two-Stripe Grasshopper trying to hide from the fearsome predator (me)
A Painted Lady butterfly
© 2017 by A. Roy Hilbinger 

Sunday, September 24, 2017

The First Sunday Walk of Autumn

The Autumnal Equinox was on Friday, and this was my first walk in the Dykeman Spring Nature Park since then. Despite the Summer-like heat and humidity today, autumnal changes and colors are moving along on schedule. Fall Asters and berries are everywhere, and the foliage colors are starting to add reds and yellows to the prevailing green. The year is aging!

Calico Asters, a prolific Fall flower
Panicled Asters, another abundant Fall bloom
Honeysuckle berries aren't edible for humans, but the birds and deer like them
A view of rolling hills up on the meadow
See? Fall color is starting to appear!
© 2017 by A. Roy Hilbinger 

Sunday Bach - 15th Sunday After Trinity

Consider the flowers of the field... (Corn Speedwell)
This week's cantata is pure joy! BWV 51, Jauchzet Gott in allen Landen! (Praise God in all the lands!), composed in Leipzig in 1730, is a solo cantata for soprano. This is Bach in one of his more joyous and exuberant moods! Even though Bach's church, the Thomaskirche in Leipzig, used only boys for sopranos, there's no way a young boy could sing this technically advanced soprano part. It's been suggested that a female singer was the intended artist, and it's even been speculated that he wrote it for his wife, Anna Magdalena, to sing. Here's what Simon Crouch had to say about this most joyful solo cantata:
Pow!! Imagine dragging yourself to church early in the morning, eyes heavy with sleep, mind full of cotton-wool and being hit with this! And pity the poor boy (?) who had to sing it! (Do refer, though, to the discussion of BWV 51 in Robert Marshall's essay Bach the Progressive in his excellent book The Music of Johann Sebastian Bach. He suggests that Bach may have written the soprano part for Faustina Bordoni, the "leading prima donna of her age" at the Dresden court opera (and married, incidentally, to J.A. Hasse, the exceedingly succesful Dresden composer), or possibly even for Giovanni Bindi, a castrato at Dresden). These days this work is always performed by a female soprano and it had better be a good one too!

The spectacular and florid opening movement leads, after an intervening recitative, into the gentler second aria which rather alarmingly brings to mind a more recent tune: Favourite things from The Sound of Music! The soprano then sings the wonderful chorale melody Sei Lob und Preis mit ehren with an elaborate instrumental accompaniment. This leads without a break into a final virtuoso Alleluia.
This beautiful solo cantata must be rated among the greats of the cantatas and has certainly been a favourite with audiences and record companies. There are many fine recordings available. It's a brilliant, joyous exaltation in praise of God.

Copyright © 1995 & 1997, Simon Crouch.
Today's video is of a beautiful performance from February of 2011 by the Real Filharmonia de Galicia under the direction of Helmuth Rilling, featuring the exquisite voice of soprano Lenneke Ruiten. Enjoy!  

Photo © 2014 by A. Roy Hilbinger 

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Sunday Bach - 14th Sunday after Trinity

The first hints of Autumn
Today's cantata is the second of the three that Bach composed for the 14th Sunday after Trinity. BWV 78, Jesu, der du meine Seele (Jesus, you are my soul) was written in Leipzig in 1724, and is one of Bach's early chorale cantatas, composed at a time when he was still developing his approach to the format and considered one of his best. Here's what Simon Crouch has to say:
Cantata 78 starts with one of the most glorious choruses in all music. In the form of a passacaglia above a chromatic descending motif built from a basically simple figure and incorporating the chorale melody, this astonishing piece simply takes the breath away. An equally astonishing contrast is provided by the following movement: Wir eilen - We hasten with weak but diligent steps to you for help, Oh Jesus, Oh Master which you simply have to hear to believe! The accompaniment simply patters along. It's difficult but to picture members of the congregation having to stifle a few giggles. A recitative is followed by a tenor aria with a delicious obbligato flute part. A further recitative is followed by another aria, this time with a lovely sinuous oboe part. A straightforward chorale setting finishes the cantata.

For more on this astoundingly beautiful cantata, do please look at Marshall's essay On Bach's Universality in his collected essays. "I can think of no more spectacular demonstration of Bach's powers of synthesis, his unparalleled combinatorial genius…"

Copyright © 1996 & 1998, Simon Crouch.
Today's video is a performance by the Collegium Vocale under the direction of Philippe Herreweghe. Enjoy!


Photo © 2017 by A. Roy Hilbinger 

Saturday, September 16, 2017

A Saturday Walk

I took a walk through the Dykeman Spring Nature Park today on the way to the grocery store. Signs of autumnal changes are advancing - the Calico Asters, another Fall flower, are blooming; and some of the vines and shrubs are turning color, especially the Virginia Creeper. There was a lot to see on today's walk!

Yellow Wingstem Ironweed with some very busy visitors
The Virginia Creeper is starting to turn red
Mushrooms on the forest floor beside the creek
Calico Asters on the banks of the north pond
Fall colors are even appearing in the reflections on the pond
A Clouded Sulphur butterfly on Goldenrod up on the meadow
Cloud castles over the mountains to the north, viewed from the meadow
© 2017 by A. Roy Hilbinger 

Sunday, September 10, 2017

More Signs of Approaching Autumn

On my usual Sunday walk in in the Dykeman Spring Nature Park this morning I saw more signs of approaching Autumn. The Boneset is blooming, another Autumn bloomer, and the Bumblebees are slowing down and getting sleepy. Plus it's gotten drier again, so Wade is up on the meadow on his old Case tractor haying away. My favorite time of the year is getting into swing!

The Dykeman Spring wetland is looking a little more autumnal
Boneset with a sleepy visitor
Winterberry growing by the north pond
Wade Asper cutting hay up on the meadow
A panoramic view of the mountains to the north from the meadow
Another view to the north from the meadow
© 2017 by A. Roy Hilbinger 

Sunday Bach - 13th Sunday After Trinity

South Mountain, September
Of the three cantatas Bach composed for the 13th Sunday after Trinity, I've always found his earliest one the most compelling - BWV 77, Du sollt Gott, deinen Herren, Lieben (Thou shalt love the Lord thy God), Leipzig, 1723. This is Bach's commentary on the parable of the Good Samaritan, and especially Jesus' statement that above all commandments is this one, that we love our neighbor as ourselves. The opening chorus is one of Bach's greatest, exploring the complexities of the Law and the one law upon which it all rests. Here's Simon Crouch's commentary on this most magnificent yey most intimate of cantatas:
The text for the day concerns the parable of the Good Samaritan and the theme of this early Leipzig cantata is a meditation upon the ten commandments. Immediately, Bach plunges us into symbolism, the opening chorus is absolutely stuffed full of it! For example, there's immediately a canon, canon=law (a pun, but a common one of the day). The trumpet intones Luther's chorale These are the holy Ten Commandments above the chorus and orchestra. The bass performs the melody in enlarged note values (Thou shalt love the Lord your God is the fundamental commandment) and the trumpet has ten entries, corresponding to the ten commandments. Despite (or perhaps because of, knowing Bach's skill in these matters) all this extra-musical baggage, the chorus is quite superb. After this, the rest of the cantata might have become an anticlimax but it's not so. Following a recitative, there's a superb, optimistic, soprano aria introduced and accompanied by the most meltingly gorgeous oboe duet. The alto aria, that follows the final recitative, is more reflective (Lord, my love is unworthy, Ever prone to fault and guilt) and is accompanied by a haunting trumpet line. The cantata ends with a simple chorale setting. There is some ambiguity here since the movement has come down to us without a text and authorities differ as to which hymn verse should fit.
This short cantata is a most beautiful and profound and yet, at the same time, intimate work.

Copyright © 1996 & 1998, Simon Crouch.

Today's performance is from 1997 by the Amsterdam Baroque Orchestra and Choir under the direction of Ton Koopman. Enjoy!


Photo © 2012 by A. Roy Hilbinger

Sunday, September 03, 2017

Sunday in the Park

On my weekly Sunday walk in the Dykeman Spring Nature Park I noticed more signs of approaching Autumn - the Ironweed, both Yellow Wingstem and New York (purple), is blooming, and Wade has been haying up on the meadow. I bumped into him last Sunday, and while talking he told me that while the cutting was good the conditions for baling haven't been great; it needs to be drier than it's been so the bales won't grow mold. He wasn't up there today as everything was still too wet from our rainy day yesterday. But he's all ready to finish the job; the wagons and other equipment are up there waiting for action.

Yellow Ironweed, also known as Wingstem, is blooming, a sure sign of approaching Autumn
After 5 years I still don't know what this is called, but I managed to get the perfect shot of it today
Somebody's been doing the painted rocks thing in the park lately
Wade Asper's hay wagons up on the meadow, waiting for the next load
More of Wade's haying equipment waiting for action
© 2017 by A. Roy Hilbinger 

Sunday Bach - 12th Sunday After Trinity

September scene
Of the three cantatas Bach composed for the 12th Sunday after Trinity, the one I've chosen to post today intrigues me the most. BWV 35, Geist und Seele wird verwirret (Spirit and soul become confused) was composed in Leipzig in 1726, yet the text is a poem composed by Georg Christian Lehms in 1711, and the musical setting seems to be made up of a potpourri snippets of earlier Bach compositions which have become lost with the passage of time. A very interesting situation! The late Craig Smith of Emmanuel Music had this to say about it:

Bach Cantata 35 is set to an early cantata poem by Lehms, first published in 1711.  Because Bach seldom set older poems it is possible that parts of this work were earlier than the first recorded Leipzig performance in the 1720's.  The work has two large concerto movements for organ and orchestra.  These movements were presumably from a lost keyboard concerto and may have also been originally part of a violin concerto.  The whole cantata leans heavily on the organ, for the second of the three arias is also for solo organ.

The whole cantata is of a serious, even sober, cast.  The organ music is of particular complexity.  Bach wrote more solo cantatas for alto than any other voice type.  Certainly this one is the most crabbed and thorny, but also one of the most ambitious.

This is a solo cantata for alto voice, which seems to be Bach's favored solo voice. Hmmmmm... I wonder if Bach's second wife, Anna Magdalena (who was a singer) was an alto. It's also worth noting that structurally this is a very odd cantata for Bach: it's a two-part cantata, and both parts begin with a sinfonia; and there's no concluding chorale. See why this one intrigues me?

The video I've chosen for today is a 2009 performance by the Choir and Orchestra of the J.S. Bach Foundation at the Evangelical Church of Trogen, Switzerland. As you can see on the video, they perform on period instruments. Enjoy!

Photo © 2016 by A. Roy Hilbinger