Sunday, August 20, 2017

Sunday Bach - Tenth Sunday After Trinity

Soon after his death Bach's music passed into obscurity; the chase after the newest trend has a tendency to leave quality behind in its quest. It wasn't until the mid 1800s that his music was raised from obscurity and put back into its preeminent place in Western musical development. Today's featured cantata - BWV 102, Herr, deine Augen sehen nach dem Glauben! (Lord, your eyes look after faith), Leipzig 1726 - was one of the first to be published, in 1830, after the long hiatus. And it truly does have a prized place in Bach's compositions. Here's what the late Craig Smith of Emmanuel Music had to say:
Bach Cantata BWV 102 was one of six cantatas published early in the 19th century, long before the complete Bach Edition, as examples of the then rather unknown composer's art.  Certainly our cantata is a brilliant example of Bach at his brilliant and austere best.  The opening chorus is like granite. Both the rigorous opening statement and the two highly individual fugues are brilliantly incorporated into the austere texture.  This is Bach at his most unforgiving and Lutheran.  The alto aria with obbligato oboe is on a more personal, almost theatrical note. The bass aria with strings has extraordinarily high energy. Its stunning end on a question mark is but one of its unique features.  The spiky tenor aria with violin obbligato continues the nastiness of the opening chorus. An extended alto recitative with two oboes leads us into the brilliant harmonization of "Vater unser im Himmelreich" that ends the cantata.
Today's performance is from the 2002 recording by the Amsterdam Baroque Orchestra and Choir under the direction of Ton Koopman. Enjoy!

Photo © 2016 by A. Roy Hilbinger 

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Saturday Morning

I have today off and I needed to do some grocery shopping, so as is usual when I go grocery shopping I wandered through the Dykeman Spring Nature Park on the way. The Summer has stayed humid and warm with at least two if not three rain events per week, so everything is very green and lush. I got some pictures for you, but some things I just couldn't catch: a female Ruby-throated Hummingbird buzzing around the trees in the wetland area (probably looking for Jewelweed to sip from); and two Turkeys in the high grass up on the meadow, too far away and obscured by the grass to get a good shot. But here's what I did manage to capture.

A particularly lush section of the nature trail
The creek in the park seen from the red bridge
This Green Heron flew across the pond into a Hemlock to keep an eye on me from a safe distance
Up on the meadow looking at the mountains to the north
© 2017 by A. Roy Hilbinger 

Sunday, August 13, 2017

The Weekly Sunday Morning Walk

My usual Sunday morning walk in the Dykeman Spring Nature Park yielded some nice shots today. I was especially pleased to see the Jewelweed blooming; it's a sure sign that Autumn approaches!

A Silver-spot Skipper butterfly by the north pond
Young Mallards - this tear's hatchlings - on the north pond
The north duck pond
Moth Mullein growing by the north pond
The Jewelweed is blooming!
© 2017 by A. Roy Hilbinger 

Sunday Bach - Ninth Sunday After Trinity

Of the three cantatas Bach composed for the ninth Sunday after Trinity, my choice for this week's Sunday Bach is considered one of his masterpieces - BWV 105, Herr, gehe nicht ins Gericht mit deinem Knecht (Lord, do not pass judgement on thy servant), first performed in Leipzig on July 25, 1723. With the opening chorus a setting of Psalm 143 and the theme of the entire cantata the parable of the unjust steward from Luke 16, Bach perfectly matches the music to the text and creates a masterpiece. Here's what Simon Crouch had to say about it:
There are two essays concerning Cantata 105 in Robert Marshall's collection of essays The Music of Johann Sebastian Bach. The first The Autograph score of Herr, gehe nicht ins Gericht describes what we can deduce from the autograph about Bach's composing practice and the second The Genesis of an Aria Ritornello attempts to "get inside the composers head" while he's composing the first aria Wie zittern und wanken. They both make for fascinating reading. The most astonishing deduction is that of the speed with which Bach was able to compose this masterpiece. Marshall's analysis suggests that the score was completed within two or three days!

Masterpiece it is. This is one of those "perfect" cantatas where there is a wonderful text exactly allied with excellent music. The mood is contemplative and reflective, meditating on the meaning of Christian faith. The opening chorus is a prelude and fugue, taking as text the second verse of psalm 143. The first sentence is accompanied by a sighing, lamenting theme and the second sentence is a magnificent choral fugue. I would love to sing this one! The first aria, which follows a recitative, is beautifully balanced over a trembling viola/violin line: How tremble and waver the sinners' thoughts, while they accuse one another and again dare to excuse themselves. Following a lovely bass arioso, there is a change of mood in the driving, optimistic tenor aria If I can only make a friend of Jesus, Mammon is worth nothing to me. Even the closing chorale receives extra special attention from Bach. That's really the feeling that I'm left with, that Bach paid extra special attention when composing this cantata, inspired by an outstanding text.

Copyright © 1996 & 1998, Simon Crouch.
It seems that the definitive performance of this cantata is the 1990 recording by the Collegium Vocale Ghent under the direction of Philippe Herreweghe; there are at least four videos on YouTube using the recording. I agree. I find the performances of Bach cantatas by Herreweghe, Ton Koopman, and John Eliot Gardiner to be my favorites; they all eschew the full orchestral treatment of German conductors like Richter and Rilling, stripping back to Bach's original chamber orchestrations and small choirs, Gardiner even using period instruments. It's a more intimate sound, aiming for the experience of the congregants in Bach's churches in the 18th Century. This recording of BWV 105 by Herreweghe fits that bill perfectly. Enjoy!


Photo © 2014 by A. Roy Hilbinger 

Sunday, August 06, 2017

Sunday Bach - Eighth Sunday After Trinity

Again, Bach wrote several cantatas for this Sunday in the liturgical calendar, and I chose this particular one, BWV 45, Es ist dir gesagt, Mensch, was gut ist (It has been told to you, oh man, what good is), from 1726 in Leipzig. Of the three choices I find this one the most beautiful, and also the most complex. Here's what Simon Crouch has to say about it:
An energetic orchestral introduction leads the opening movement to the choral entry on Es ist dir gesagt whose frequent repetition throughout certainly gets the message home. (He showeth to thee, man, what right is, from Micah). This is one of Bach's very fine choral opening movements where there's something for everyone. It's a joy to sing and it certainly sounds as if the violins and oboes enjoy their part. Oh, and there's a fugue too, what more could you want? The tenor aria, which follows the first recitative, has a very attractive string accompaniment and the melody itself, particularly at the opening, is a joy to sing. Bach takes particular care to emphasise Qual und Hohn (pain and scorn) and Drohet (threaten), the latter with extended vocal runs. The second part of the cantata opens with an extended arioso, directly quoting the Gospel of the day, with an agitated violin accompaniment that adds to the strength of the denunciation of the false prophets. The following alto aria is perhaps a little too musically gentle for words that include Hell's fires will sore oppress thee but the flute accompaniment is irresistible! The cantata closes with a recitative followed by a straightforward chorale setting.
Copyright © 1996 & 1998, Simon Crouch.
Today's performance was recorded at Waalse Kerk in Amsterdam in 2002 by the Amsterdam Baroque Orchestra and Chorus under the direction of Ton Koopman. Enjoy!

Photo © 2016 by A. Roy Hilbinger 

Tuesday, August 01, 2017


I have the day off so I went over to the Brookside Ave. wetland to see what might be going on there this morning. I was going to check out the butterfly situation, but instead I stumbled across some White-tailed Deer, a doe and her faun. I saw Mama first; she was staring intently into the adjacent cornfield, but I couldn't figure out what she was staring at. Then the faun wandered out of the corn next to her. It stared with Mama for a while, then looked around. It saw me, but I was standing stock still with only my index finger moving on the camera's shutter button, and I guess it figured I was a tree. Eventually Mama looked around, too, and saw me; she stomped her left front foot on the ground and boogied for the woods, and the faun followed. So I continued to walk along the trail and found out what Mama was looking for; I flushed a second faun not too far away from where the original two were standing, and it ran off in Mama's direction. So that was my excitement for the morning!

© 2017 by A. Roy Hilbinger 

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Sunday Bach - Seventh Sunday After Trinity

Bach composed several cantatas for the seventh Sunday after Trinity, and I've chosen BWV 107, Was willst du dich betrüben (Why are you distressed), composed in Leipzig in 1724. This is the cantata that set the format for Bach's chorale cantatas for the rest of his career. Essentially, he uses the chorale hymn's complete text as the text for all the movements of the cantata, although only the first and last movements use the actual melody of that hymn. This may have been born of necessity; Bach's librettist when he was in Weimar was court poet Salomon Franck, but when he moved to Leipzig he had no such easy access to a librettist, so he improvised, and this was the result. This is what Simon Crouch has to say about this cantata:
Cantata BWV 107 is a chorale cantata set per omnes versus, that is, with all the verses of a hymn set unaltered. This was an old-fashioned procedure even at that time but, musically, the form that Bach adopts for this work (the music of the inner verses bearing no relationship to the chorale melody) anticipates later style chorale cantatas. Ludwig Finscher suggests that Bach may have been having trouble with (or in finding) a librettist and was thus forced into this innovation! The music of the opening verse has a beautifully intimate feel to it, yet another fine example of Bach's opening choruses. After a recitative, there are four arias in a row for bass, tenor, soprano and tenor respectively. These are, perhaps, less interesting than the outer movements but the penultimate, for soprano has a lovely wind accompaniment and the last, for tenor (the most catching of the four) benefits from a delightful flute accompaniment. The cantata closes with a gorgeous siciliano setting of the chorale.
Copyright © 1996 & 1998, Simon Crouch. 
Today's performance is from 1993 by the Collegium Vocale Gent under the direction of Philippe Herreweghe. Enjoy!


Photo © 2016 by A. Roy Hilbinger 

Friday, July 28, 2017

Racing the Rain

I'm off work today and tomorrow, and with two days of soaking rain in the forecast I decided to get all my errands done this morning before the rains descended. Which, of course, means I walked through the Dykeman Spring Nature Park on my way to the grocery store, camera in hand. I captured some pretties on the way through.

A Morning Glory in the woods by the north pond
Young Mallards on the north pond
A Common Buckeye on the hay path in the meadow
Horse Nettle in the meadow
A Variegated Fritillary butterfly in the meadow
You'll be happy to know I beat the rain. As I'm putting this post together it's pouring buckets out there, with an occasional rumble of thunder. And of course, me being who I am, I can't help but add Dougie MacLean's "Ready For the Storm"; this version is from the Transatlantic Sessions featuring Dougie and his regular performing partner at the time, Kathy Mattea, and backed by the TS "house band" - Jerry Douglas on dobro, Russ Barenberg on mandolin, Danny Thompson on bass, and extra backing vocals from Molly Mason. Enjoy!

© 2017 by A. Roy Hilbinger 

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Sunday Bach - Sixth Sunday After Trinity

Bach composed two cantatas for the sixth Sunday after Trinity, both among the most beautiful of his cantatas. But the editors of the Bach Gesellschaft Edition, the definitive edition of Bach's works, considered BWV 9, Es ist das Heil uns kommen her (Salvation has come to us) to be among the top ten most important of his liturgical cantatas, and who am I to disagree with them? It's a chorale cantata written late in his career, around 1732 to 1735; in fact, it was written well after he'd stopped writing weekly cantatas. But because it was written so late in his career it carries the lessons Bach had developed over the years and is as fine an example of the craft of the cantata as there is. Here's what the late Craig Smith of Emmanuel Music had to say of it:
Bach's setting of "Es ist das Heil" is one of his freshest and most appealing chorale settings. Flute and oboe d'amore play a concerto-style movement accompanied very lightly by strings and continuo. Most of the musical material is not based upon the chorale tune, which appears high and light in the choral sopranos. Rather, all of the melodies act as countersubjects to the tune. All of the recitatives in our cantata are concerned with the rule of law so that Bach sets them all for a rather authoritarian-sounding bass voice. This is in extreme contrast to the passion of the tenor aria and the childlike simplicity of the soprano-alto duet. The sinking into the mire in the text of the tenor aria is characterized not only by the downward rush of the voice but the devilish Tartini-like violin writing. After the sinister tenor aria and the stern recitative, the re-entrance of the flute and oboe d'amore to accompany the soprano and alto adds a heavenly light touch. The musical material is so tuneful and attractive that the listener hardly notices that the work is an extremely skilled four-voice canon. Bach often uses the greatest learning to characterize childlike purity. The harmonization of the chorale that ends our cantata is as fresh and spring-like as the opening chorus.
This week's performance is from 2002 by the Amsterdam Baroque Orchestra and Choir under the direction of Ton Koopman. Enjoy!

Photo © 2017 by A. Roy Hilbinger 

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Saturday in the Park

I started a new job this week, and today was my first day off since Sunday, so of course I celebrated by cutting through the Dykeman Spring Nature Park on my way to the grocery store. Given the heat and humidity lately, and the rains that the humid air squeezes out from time to time, everything is very lush and green. While walking along this morning I often felt as if I were walking in a green tunnel. Here are some scenes from that walk.

A baby bunny on the Dykeman Walking Trail by the ball fields
Entering the Dykeman Spring Nature Park along the Dykeman Walking Trail
A particularly green section of the Dykeman Walking Trail
A Silver-spot Skipper butterfly in the Dykeman Spring wetland
A view of the creek from the red bridge
© 2017 by A. Roy Hilbinger 

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Another Sunday Walk in the Park

I took my usual Sunday morning walk in the Dykeman Spring Nature Park today. These are the things that caught my eye.

A juvenile Barn Swallow
Reflections in the north pond
A panoramic view from the top of the meadow
The rolling hills of Central Pennsylvania
© 2017 by A. Roy Hilbinger 

Sunday Bach - Fifth Sunday After Trinity


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 (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 Erik Eriksson of All Music has to say about it:
Another of Bach's remarkable Leipzig cantatas, Cantata No. 93 "Wer nur den lieben Gott lässt walten" (He Who Grants to God All Power) was composed for the fifth Sunday after Trinity. Scored for four-part chorus and soprano, alto, tenor, and bass soloists, it expands on the customary formula for a chorale cantata. The structure is freer, as is the feeling that results. The opening chorus is an example of such elaboration: the chorale is first heard in harmonized form, later worked out in counterpoint, and concludes with a straightforward restatement in four-part harmony. The second verse of the chorale is highlighted by the interjections of the bass soloist, creating a movement of considerable complexity. The fourth section, a graceful duet for soprano and alto soloists, poises itself above the chorale melody performed by strings playing a solitary line. The composer was pleased enough with this piece to recast it for organ as one of his six Chorale preludes "Schübler Chorales." The first part of the opening chorale makes reference to "building upon sand." He who trusts in God and believes in him will be protected through every tribulation. He who trusts in God does not build upon the sand. In the second verse, the bass soloist poses the questions and the chorus answers. What use are grievous worries, "Weh und Ach" (Woe and Alas)? They merely weigh the heart and bring distress. A Christian does better by bearing his cross with Christ-like assurance and calm. The tenor soloist maintains that if we are observant when the hour of the cross draws nigh, we shall finally see salvation. Over the instrumental sounding of the chorale, the soprano and alto soloists confidently observe that he who knows the time for gladness will discover God comes to bring a positive result. An ensuing restatement of the chorale with tenor recitative implores that no thought be wasted when fire and thunder crackle for, after the rains, Jesus brings sunlight. In an aria of comforting certainty, the soprano soloist sings that she will place her trust in the Lord, for he can work the rarest wonders. The seventh and concluding chorale urges the faithful to sing, pray, and travel along God's own pathways, performing good works and resting in the Lord, who forsakes not his people.
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 

Saturday, July 15, 2017

A Walk in the Country

I haven't been out walking the country roads outside of Shippensburg in a while now, probably not since last Summer. And I actually hadn't intended to do so today. I went up to the Spring Hill Cemetery, but once I got there I didn't really feel like taking more pictures of gravestones, so I headed over to Roxbury Rd. and up to Old Mill Rd., heading for Bard Rd. where Middle Spring Creek crosses it and where the spectacular barn at Willow Run Farm is. When I got out to Earl St./Newburg Rd. I had a choice - turn right and head back home, or turn left and go up to Fogelsonger Rd. I turned left and got some pictures I think you'll like.

Middle Spring Creek at Bard Rd.
The barn at Willow Run Farm from Bard Rd.
An old stone farmhouse with a new roof on Newburg Rd.
A farm along Burd Run viewed from Fogelsonger Rd.
Jerusalem Artichoke growing beside Fogelsonger Rd.
Cornfields, rolling hills, and a beautiful Summer day
© 2017 by A. Roy Hilbinger 

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Into the Green

This morning I told a friend that despite the heat and humidity I needed to get "into the green". I did just that, going for a walk in the Dykeman Spring Nature Park before the day turned too hot. In fact, if you didn't move at all it was actually pleasant, with temps in the mid 70s (around 24º C) and a nice breeze. But it was a wet breeze, with a dew point in the 70s, meaning tropical humidity, and any movement created instant pouring sweat. It has also rained some in the last month or so, so that with moisture and heat combined the landscape is indeed very green. See for yourself.

A path in the wetland woods
The red bridge emerging from greenery
A view of the north pond
On the banks of the north pond
© 2017 by A. Roy Hilbinger 

Sunday, July 09, 2017

Weekend Wanders

The best shots from my wanderings in the Dykeman Spring Nature Park yesterday and today. As you can see, things are quite lush right now; unlike last Summer, we've had more than adequate rainfall this year.

Along the Dykeman Walking Trail
Bindweed growing in the wetland area
A Spring Azure butterfly
Unidentified ghostly mushrooms growing in the mulch on the trail by the creek
A Painted Lady butterfly sipping on Nodding Thistle up on the meadow
© 2017 by A. Roy Hilbinger 

Sunday Bach - Fourth Sunday After Trinity

Purple Mountains and Waves of Grain
Bach wrote three cantatas for the fourth Sunday after Trinity, but I have a particular fondness for his earliest one, BWV 185, Barmherziges Herze der ewigen Lieb (Merciful heart of eternal love), written at Weimar in 1715. This is a small, lightly orchestrated cantata based on the hymn Ich ruf zu dir, Herr Jesu Christ (I call on thee, Lord Jesus Christ) by Johann Agricola. This is a beautiful little piece. Here's what Simon Crouch has to say about it:
The cantata opens with a duet between soprano and tenor in which the chorale melody of the hymn Ich ruf zu dir by Johann Agricola is played by the oboe, entering at the end of the first of the vocalists' lines. The singers continue by weaving their lines around the chorale melody. This melody returns in the final stanza of the cantata, where the first verse of Agricola's hymn is sung in full, harmonised in the usual way and accompanied by full orchestra. In the mean time, a recitative is followed by a beautifully expressive alto aria, pastoral in its feel (as befits the words that speak of scattering and reaping, though here referring to love and to the soul). One of Bach's little masterpieces! A further recitative is followed by a bass aria more athletic than attractive. The chorale ends this short cantata.
Copyright © 1996 & 1998, Simon Crouch.
Today's performance is by the Amsterdam Baroque Orchestra and Choir under the direction of Ton Koopman. Enjoy!


Photo © 2012 by A. Roy Hilbinger 

Saturday, July 08, 2017

A Lively Experiment (Re-post)

[Note: On this day in 1663 the British King Charles II granted a royal charter to the colony of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations. A unique issue presented in this charter was the granting of full freedom of religion in the colony, a principle that paved the way for Rhode Island's insistence on the implementation of additional amendments specifying the basic rights of citizens, especially the first amendment, to the US Constitution before it would ratify that document in 1789.   
This article was first published in 2008 and published again in December of 2009. I no longer live in Rhode Island, but to me it represents the true spirit of freedom of religion and should be relevant wherever we live in the US. The article got much positive response on this blog, but when originally published on the old it stirred up a bit of controversy. It seems that many in the fundamentalist and evangelical camp see religious toleration as spiritual slackness and sin, and consider it a slap in their faces for some reason. In the face of such opposition to such a basic principle, I find it apropos to post this again on the anniversary of the granting of the original charter.]

Rhode Island has a history of religious tolerance and freedom of conscience. It was originally a sanctuary for those fleeing the despotism of the Puritans in the Massachusetts Bay Colony; Roger Williams, founding father of the American Baptist movement, settled on the mainland at the head of Narragansett Bay, while Anne Hutchinson and her followers settled on Aquidneck Island (officially known as Rhode Island). In 1663 the two entities united as a single colony and were granted a charter by Charles II, the charter itself being written by Dr. John Clarke of Newport.

The key phrase in that charter declared: "... that it is much on their hearts (if they may be permitted), to hold forth a lively experiment, that a most flourishing civil state may stand and best be maintained... with a full liberty in religious concerns." The charter further declared: "... that our royal will and pleasure is, that no person within the said colony, at any time hereafter, shall be in any wise molested, punished, disquieted, or called in question, for any differences of opinion in matters of religion, and do not actually disturb the civil peace of our said colony; but that all and every person and persons may, from time to time and at all times hereafter, freely and fully have and enjoy his and their own judgments and consciences in matters of religious concerns..."

The freedom of conscience guaranteed in the charter created in Rhode Island, and especially in Newport, a truly amazing religious diversity that added to the cultural wealth of its society. The Society of Friends (Quakers) became a major presence in Newport (which was the capital city of the colony, and later the state, until well into the 19th Century), and their Great Meeting House (built in 1699) eventually became the host of the New England Yearly Meeting of the Society (the New England Yearly Meeting was one of the sources of the Abolition movement).

In 1658 fifteen Jewish families moved to Newport after hearing of the colony's "lively experiment" and founded the Congregation Jeshuat Israel. In 1759 the congregation purchased land and hired famed colonial architect Peter Harrison to design Touro Synagogue (named after Isaac Touro, the congregation's first spiritual leader). The synagogue was finished and dedicated in 1763, and is still standing today. Touro Synagogue also played a major role in establishing religious freedom in the newly established United States when a member of the congregation wrote to George Washington, who replied with his famous "To the Hebrew Congregation in Newport" , which stated that the government of the United States "gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance..."

The Quaker and Jewish presences in Newport aren't the only result of that colonial charter, just the most famous. Newport is dotted with old buildings that, at the start of their history, served as houses of worship for small gatherings of believers: the Union Congregational Church on Division St., the first free African-American church in America; the Sabbatarian Meeting House on Touro St., now the home of the Newport Historical Society; The John Clarke Memorial Church on Spring St., one of the first churches of the American Baptist movement (and now pastored by a good friend of mine, Paul Hanson, a very genial, easy-going guy with a dry, wicked sense of humor); St. Paul's Methodist on Marlborough St., the first Methodist church to sport a steeple; and a score of other former churches which, like the Union Congregational church, have since been converted to residences.

Because of the vision of the founders of the colony, and because of the guarantee of freedom of conscience written into their colonial charter at their request, Newport has a rich spiritual heritage and holds a major place in the development of the concept of religious freedom in the history of the United States. It's something we take pride in here, and something we celebrate.

But look back at that original charter, that guarantee that within the colony no one would be pressured, harassed, punished, or otherwise disturbed because they enjoyed freedom of religious belief. How refreshing that is! And how far from the current state of affairs in the contemporary US, where we have a major effort being launched by religious despots, direct descendants of the Puritans of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, to impose their beliefs and their methods of governance on the people and the government of the United States. People who consider freedom of conscience to be "slack", "lax", "lazy", and most important of all, a sin. People who think that those who believe differently than they must either be converted or punished and removed from "their" society. People who would re-write our history to accommodate their own vision of what that history should have been. People who view any kind of diversity as evil.

The colony of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations gained great benefit from their practice of freedom of conscience. Given the present situation, I think it's time that our entire country revived that "lively experiment." What say you?

Photos & text © 2008 & 2009 by A. Roy Hilbinger