Sunday, April 30, 2017

Sunday Bach - Second Sunday After Easter

Pennsylvania Pastorale
Today is the second Sunday after Easter, often informally called Good Shepherd Sunday because the Gospel reading for this Sunday is the famous "I am the good shepherd" passage of John 10:12 - 16. Bach wrote three cantatas for this Sunday, and my favorite of those has always been BWV 104, Du Hirte Israel, höre (Thou shepherd of Israel, hear!) of 1724. It's the most pastoral and gentle of the three, something we need more of in these tumultuous times. Here's what the late Craig Smith of Emmanuel Music had to say about this gentlest of cantatas:
The pastoral ideal is a significant and common occurrence in music of the Baroque. The twin concepts of the secular Arcadia and the sacred Eden not only stimulate the composer’s imagination but create a sort of nostalgic world that was a favorite of opera composers for the 17th and 18th centuries. This bucolic world doesn’t fit very well with the austere “Weltanschaung” of Lutheran Saxony. Yet several readings in the yearly lectionary summon up this important style. Obviously one is about the shepherds at Christmastime. The other spot in the church year is the so-called “Good Shepherd” Sunday. One of the most gorgeously and purely pastoral pieces is one written for that Sunday, BWV 104. This is a work that was known even before most of the cantatas were published. In the early 1800s a volume of six cantatas later to be numbered 101 through 106 appeared in Germany. These six pieces became significant in the Bach revival culminating in the 1829 performance of the St Matthew Passion by the young Felix Mendelssohn. Our cantata, BWV 104, was particularly influential upon Mendelssohn. The opening chorus is the obvious model for the chorus “He watching over Israel” in that composer’s “Elijah.” The Bach chorus is a marvel. Permeated with a beautiful and easy counterpoint, the spinning out of the fugue themes is both masterful and irresistible. Each of the three subsequent fugues is more ecstatic and passionate. 
The tenor aria continues in a pastoral vein but is darker and more colored. The chromaticism is so easy and elegant that it slips in almost unnoticed. Compound triple meter, a common characteristic of all baroque pastoral music, reappears in the lyrical bass aria. There is something more personal and dark about this aria that throws it in relief of the opening chorus. A rich harmonization of “Allein Gott in der Höh” ends the cantata.
I've chosen this beautiful performance by the Amsterdam Baroque Orchestra and Choir under the direction of Ton Koopman for today's Sunday Bach. Enjoy!

Photo © 2012 by A. Roy Hilbinger

Friday, April 28, 2017

Arbor Day 2017

In 1872, J. Sterling Morton started what would become Arbor Day in Nebraska City. Nebraska. This "holiday" is meant to recognize and support the planting of trees. Morton and his wife Caroline challenged people around the country to plant trees. In 1872, on the first Arbor Day, approximately one million trees were planted in Nebraska alone. National Arbor Day is celebrated every year on the last Friday in April; it is a civic holiday in Nebraska. Other states have selected the time of year in which to celebrate their own Arbor Day. The customary observance is to plant a tree. On the first Arbor Day, April 10, 1872, an estimated one million trees were planted.

I didn't plant any trees today, and there was no public event associated with Arbor Day here. But you know me, I'm a born treehugger and I celebrate trees (and birds, and flowers, and all Nature) every day. In any case, I went for a walk in the Dykeman Spring Nature Park to go say hello to some of my favorite trees, and along the way there were some other natural wonders to get pictures of.

A big Pin Oak in the park near the picnic area
Looking across the wetland to the trees, with a very large Maple in the middle next to the north duck pond
A very large Norway Maple that hangs over the creek by the railroad embankment
Tree reflections in the north duck pond
Hey guys, there's room for one more on the log!
Celandine on the forest floor along the Dykeman Walking Trail
In 1990 the late John Denver wrote a song for the National Arbor Day Foundation, with whom he made a TV commercial promoting the holiday and the planting of trees. I thought this would be the perfect way to wrap up this post. Now go plant a tree, or sit under one and meditate, or wander among a whole forest of them. Whatever you do today, make some time to celebrate trees!

© 2017 by A. Roy Hilbinger

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

A Damp Morning Walk

It rained for the last two days, and this morning things were very damp and misty. I walked through the Dykeman Spring Nature Park on the way to the grocery store and gained a pair of wet feet, especially in the wet grass up on the meadow, where the mist was most evident. 

© 2017 by A. Roy Hilbinger 

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Sunday Bach - First Sunday After Easter

Forest Floor in April
Bach wrote two cantatas for the first Sunday after Easter, and for me this solo cantata, BWV 42 (Am Abend aber desselbigen Sabbatas, On the evening of that same Sabbath) from 1725 is a veritable Bach masterpiece. It takes place in the upper room after the Marys have come back with the news that the tomb was found empty and the events that occurred there. Here's what musicologist Simon Crouch has to say about this lovely work:
One of the fascinating features of the cantatas is the use of parody. This is the adaptation of previously existing material to a new work. This occurs all over Bach's oeuvre, perhaps most notably in the b-minor Mass and in the Christmas Oratorio. This procedure was rather frowned upon in the past, perhaps because of our romantic notions of artistic originality. So what? I say. I rather enjoy hearing great material being used in different contexts. One of the most fortunate consequences of the parody technique where Bach is concerned is that occasionally we come across bits of otherwise lost works. An excellent example of this is the St. Mark Passion where we have the libretto but the music is lost. However, musicologists have been able to make reasonable reconstructions of the work because much of the music appears in the cantatas (especially BWV 198). Here we have another example. The opening sinfonia of this cantata sounds decidedly as though it's the opening movement of a lost concerto and since Bach did use known concerto movements in this way, it's a fair bet that here we do have a bit of such a work. It's rather good, well up to Brandenburg Concerto standard. After a recitative, there's a long alto aria that itself may use music from a slow movement of the same concerto. It's a very gentle and very beautiful piece. The rest of this cantata is, perhaps, not up to the standard of these movements but still is enjoyable. The following duet is driven nicely by a jerky, octave leaping continuo part and after another recitative, the final aria is workmanlike rather than inspired. As usual, the cantata finishes with a chorale setting.
I also suggest that you follow this link to read the late musicologist Craig Smith's take on this wonderful cantata. It's a tad long to post here, but it's well worth the read!

The performance I've chosen today is from 1990 by La Chapelle Royale and the Collegium Vocale Gent under the direction of Philippe Herreweghe. Enjoy!


Photo © 2017 by A. Roy Hilbinger

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Earth Day in the Park

As long as I live, I'll hear waterfalls and birds and winds sing. I'll interpret the rocks, learn the language of flood, storm, and the avalanche. I'll acquaint myself with the glaciers and wild gardens, and get as near the heart of the world as I can. – John Muir

Today is Earth Day, and yesterday was the original environmentalist and founder of the US National Parks system John Muir's birthday. What a happy pairing! To celebrate, I headed down to the Dykeman Spring Nature Park to get my feet on dirt and mud and humus, no pavement interfering with the contact between human and Earth. It's a cloudy, damp, and cool day, with occasional showers, which in a way is good for my photography because it brings out the lush greens and vibrant colors of the flowers and blossoms adorning Mama Gaia. There were also groups of school-age kids with garbage bags wandering the park, picking up tossed litter as part of Shippensburg's Earth Day festivities. Since some of them were walking out in the cattail swamp and down along some of the streamlets in the wetland to collect trash, I thought it a good idea to warn them to watch their toes; that's where three or four good-sized Snapping Turtles live!

I wandered through the whole park - the wetland area, the woods along the Upland Trail, and the meadow. And then I came back down the hill and headed home when the rain started coming down harder. And now I have some photos from the walk for you to enjoy. Happy Earth Day!

The sun shines not on us but in us. The rivers flow not past, but through us. Thrilling, tingling, vibrating every fiber and cell of the substance of our bodies, making them glide and sing. The trees wave and the flowers bloom in our bodies as well as our souls, and every bird song, wind song, and tremendous storm song of the rocks in the heart of the mountains is our song, our very own, and sings our love. – John Muir

The Dogwoods over the creek at McLean House are blooming!
Entering the park along the Dykeman Walking Trail
Mama Redwing Blackbird was less than pleased at my presence
Meanwhile, Papa Redwing yelled at me from out in the cattails
The Redbuds in the park, like these along the creek, are in full bloom
White Campion along the Meadow Trail
The forest floor along the Upland Trail 
On the way home I passed by the north duck pond again
© 2017 by A. Roy Hilbinger 

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

A Hodgepodge

Some pictures taken here and there on Sunday and Tuesday. The Sunday shots were in the Dykeman Spring Nature Park, and Tuesday's shots were on a visit to the Cumberland Valley Rail Trail while checking out the new footbridge over Fogelsanger Rd., part of the trail extension project. As you can tell from the shots, both days were gorgeous!

The Tree Swallows are back, but they're fast, so this quick shot of a female was the best I could get
A family of Painted Turtles sunning on a log in the Dykeman Spring wetland
The new footbridge. Now the Rail Trail starts virtually around the corner from my house
Spring Beauty flowers growing along the Rail Trail
A male Northern Flicker along the Rail Trail
© 2017 by A. Roy Hilbinger 

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Bach for Easter - Peace Be With You (Easter Tuesday)

Mustard Garlic
Bach had three cantatas for Easter Tuesday, and I chose this little gem, BWV 158, (Der Friede sei mit dir / Peace be with you), a solo cantata for bass and chorus from 1727. Actually, it may have been written earlier in Weimar (1713 - 1717), but the first performance was in Leipzig in 1727. Here's what musicologist Simon Crouch has to day about it:
Blink and you'll miss it! At around twelve minutes long and with only four movements (recitative, aria/chorale, recitative, chorale), BWV 158 is thought to represent only a fragment of a larger work. Certainly, looking at the form of other cantatas, one would at least expect another aria before the closing chorale. If this hypothesis is true then it is a great shame since the surviving movements are all excellent and hint at a masterpiece. The major part of the cantata is taken up with a bass aria woven around a soprano chorale accompanied by a beautiful, singing, violin accompaniment. Robertson suggests comparison with Schlummert ein from the great BWV 82 and Schuhmacher (in the Teldec series notes) suggests Erbarme dich from the St. Matthew Passion. Can I say more in praise of this movement? The opening recitative includes arioso sections of outstanding beauty and the second recitative is hardly less impressive. The cantata finishes with the fifth verse of Luther's great hymn Christ lag in Todesbanden.
I've chosen the performance by the chorus and orchestra of La Chapelle Royale under the direction of Philippe Herreweghe, featuring the glorious low tones of bass Peter Kooy. Enjoy!

Photo © 2017 by A. Roy Hilbinger

Monday, April 17, 2017

Bach for Easter - The Road to Emmaus (Easter Monday)

Cumberland Valley Rail Trail
The Gospel reading for Easter Monday is Luke 24:13 - 35, the story of the two disciples walking on the road to Emmaus several days after the crucifixion, discussing the distressing events of the last few days, when they are joined on the road by the risen Christ. Bach composed a very beautiful chorale cantata for this day based on that walk - BWV 6, Bleib bei uns, denn es will Abend werden (Abide with us, for the evening draws on), 1725. Here's what musicologist Brian Robins has to say about this work:
First performed in Leipzig on April 2, 1725, BWV 6 ("Abide with us, for the evening draws on") is a cantata for the second day of Easter (Easter Monday). Although it therefore belongs to the second annual cycle (Jahrgang) Bach composed for Leipzig after his appointment as cantor there in 1723, it does not conform to the pattern of the so-called "chorale cantatas" that dominate his output at that stage of his career. The anonymous libretto is based on the Gospel for the day (Luke 24:13-35), the story of the walk of the two disciples to Emmaus. The text of the beautiful opening chorus is directly drawn from verse 29 of Luke's narrative. It is scored for SATB chorus, two oboes, oboe da caccia, strings, and bass continuo. The elegiac twilight scene as the disciples walk in conversation with the risen Christ is magically conveyed by Bach, with unison violins and violas suggesting the darkening shades of night. The alto aria that follows is believed by some authorities to have been borrowed from a lost secular cantata, Thomana sass annoch betrübt (1723), although there is apparently nothing to substantiate such a claim. Despite its dance-like rhythm and pizzicato bass it maintains the evocation of the darkening scene, the prayerful invocation to Christ to maintain his presence underlined by the expressive obbligato writing for oboe da caccia. The succeeding chorale for solo soprano is based on the hymn "Ach bleib bei uns, Herr Jesu Christ" by Nicolaus Selnecker. The accompaniment is for violoncello piccolo, a now obsolete instrument with a range between viola and cello employed by Bach in several of his cantatas. The movement has gained wider circulation as a result of its adaptation as the fifth of the "Schubler" Chorales for organ. Next comes a bass recitative, the only one in the cantata, a gloomy reflection on the theme of darkness. This somber mood is dissipated in the final confident aria for tenor, "Lord, let us look on thee." Here, resolute strength is the byword, the strings surging with bright optimism. The final number is a four-part harmonization of the second stanza of the anonymous melody of Martin Luther's hymn "Erhalt'uns, Herr, bei deinem Wort."
For today's post I've chosen a beautiful performance by the Collegium Vocale Gent under the direction of Philippe Herreweghe. Enjoy!


Photo © 2013 by A. Roy Hilbinger

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Bach for Easter - Easter Sunday

Forest Floor in Spring
Bach wrote five cantatas for Easter Sunday, but for me his Easter Oratorio, BWV 249 (Kommet, eilet und laufet / Come, hurry and run) is the best. First composed in 1725 as a birthday tribute to one of his patrons, he re-purposed and expanded it in the 1730s as an Easter Oratorio. This is a beautiful work, by turns reflective and triumphant. And as musicologist Simon Crouch points out, it dances. Here's his commentary on the work:
It may seem odd to include a work titled as an Oratorio amongst the cantatas but there is considerable justification for doing so, if one considers the origin of the piece. The original composition was the laudatory cantata BWV 249a written for the birthday of Duke Christian of Saxe-Weißenfels. The music from this cantata was then re-used for a sacred cantata for Easter Sunday 1725. Then came the secular cantata BWV 249b for Count Joachim Friedrich von Flemming and finally, in the early 1730's, Bach revised the score of the sacred version, titled it Oratorio and gave us the work that we so love today.
The work opens with a wonderful two part sinfonia-and-adagio. The former is gloriously upbeat and uplifting, the latter contemplative and spiritual. An introduction that promises one of Bach's finest works. The excellent first chorus (originally a duet) turns the tempo back up calling us to contemplate the empty tomb of Jesus. In the first recitative, Mary Magdalene, Mary (the mother of Jesus), Peter and John bemoan their loss and Jesus's mother (soprano) continues the theme in her quietly beautiful aria accompanied by a fine flute line. In the next recitative, Peter (tenor), John (bass) and Mary Magdalene (alto) find the stone moved aside and the sepulchre, leading Mary Magdalene to understand what has happened. This introduces one of the highest points of Bach's inspiration: Peter's aria Sanfte soll mein Todeskummer (Softly now my fear of death). This is simply one of the most gloriously beautiful pieces of music ever written. A gentle and evocative melody woven through with delicate tendrils of accompaniment. The next recitative sees the two Mary's sighing in thirds and Mary Magdalene asks where Jesus is in her more urgent, upbeat aria. John affirms Jesus's resurrection in the final recitative and the final chorus ends the oratorio with a glorious song of praise.
This outstanding work is suffused with the spirit of the dance. The fifth movement is a tempo di minuetto, the seventh a bourée, the nineth a gavotte and the eleventh a gigue. In addition to this, the opening three movements may well have been adapted from lost concerti. Hidden delights indeed.
I've chosen a magnificent performance on period instruments by the English Baroque Soloists and the Monteverdi Choir under the direction of John  Eliot Gardiner for your Easter morning pleasure. And stay tuned to this channel - Bach wrote cantatas for Easter Monday and Easter Tuesday, so there's more coming. Enjoy!  

Photo © 2015 by A. Roy Hilbinger

Friday, April 14, 2017

Spring Arrives in the Wetland

I woke up to the smell of manure on the fields wafting in my open windows for the second day in a row, and I knew Spring had finally settled in. After my walk up to the Peace Garden yesterday I figured the wetland area in the Dykeman Spring Nature Park had to be blooming, too. And the light was perfect, a light cloud cover that left it light but didn't glare, perfect to make the colors right. It was time to take a walk in there again.  

Stork's Bill flowers (yes that really is its name!), part of a large patch near the beginning of the Dykeman Walking Trail
A view across the wetland
The creek from the red bridge
A view of the north duck pond. The white-flowering tree on the right is an Apple
A Red-winged Blackbird singing in the cattails
Garlic Mustard growing in the wetland woods
© 2017 by A. Roy Hilbinger 

Bach on Good Friday - The Saint Matthew Passion

Bach wrote his greatest work for the Good Friday of 1727, his monumental St. Matthew Passion. This description by musicologist David Gordon says it best: "The massive yet delicate work, with its multiple levels of theological and mystical symbolism, its powerful and dramatic biblical teachings, and its psychological insight, is one of the most challenging and ambitious musical compositions in the entire Western tradition." [Note: You can read Gordon's excellent essay on this great work here. I highly recommend it!]

I've chosen the beautiful performance of this, Bach's greatest work, by the orchestra and chorus of the Collegium Vocale Gent, under the direction of Philippe Herreweghe. A warning: Save listening to this until you're settled for the day or night; it's almost three hours long. Enjoy!

Photo © 2006 by A. Roy Hilbinger

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Spring Blooms

The flowering trees and shrubs are blooming, so I thought it was time to go look at the Peace Garden in the Shippensburg Memorial Park in all its Spring glory. On the way up my eye was caught by a stone wall draped with Creeping Phlox that was begging to be photographed. All in all, Spring is looking good here.

A section of the Phlox-draped wall
Another section of the Phlox-draped wall
The entrance to the Peace Garden
Inside the Peace Garden
© 2017 by A. Roy Hilbinger 

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Mr. & Mrs. Red on a Dinner Date

I don't often see Papa and Mama at the feeder at the same time; they usually trade off one at a time. But this evening they arrived together, and I got some great shots. Ain't Spring grand?!

Thank you for a lovely time, Papa!

I can't help it, I just had to add these two videos!

© 2017 by A. Roy Hilbinger 

Sunday, April 09, 2017

Sunday Bach - Palm Sunday

A patch of Corn Speedwell
Bach wrote one cantata for Palm Sunday, BWV 182, Himmelskönig, sei willkommen, in 1714. You would have thought, considering both Bach's tendencies and the importance of Palm Sunday in the church calendar, that this would be a grand, sweeping, majestic thing. But this is an early cantata, and the mood is very intimate, written for a small chamber choir and orchestra. Here's what the late Craig Smith from Emmanuel Music had to say:
Bach Cantata BWV 182 was one of the earliest works written in Weimar and is thus one of Bach's earliest cantatas. It has a charming chamber-sized orchestration of recorder, one violin, two violas, cello and organ. The opening sinfonia has the sound of early morning about it. The recorder and solo violin trade off piquant dotted lines against the pizzicato of the other strings. The opening chorus is delightfully child-like in its portrayal of Jesus' entrance into Jerusalem. The solo bass intones a line from Psalm 40 as an introduction to the stirring aria with the strings. The solo recorder returns as the obbligato to the poignant alto aria. This is the beginning of the transition of the cantata from the joyous entrance into Jerusalem to a meditation on the Passion. The continuo aria with tenor is a further passion-like piece. It would not be out of place in one of the Passion settings. After the penultimate chorale prelude on the tune "Jesu Kreuz, Leiden und Pein," the light chorus "So lasset uns gehen in Salem der Freuden" ends the cantata.
I've chosen the recording of this charming cantata by the Montréal Baroque under the direction of Eric Milnes. Enjoy!

Photo © 2011 by A. Roy Hilbinger 

Saturday, April 08, 2017

Some Visitors to the Feeder

I refilled the feeders in my feeder station today, and added a feature. I removed the suet feeder and replaced it with one of those block feeders that look like a giant suet feeder (I've had it since I bought the feeders but found that the seed blocks didn't attract any birds) and filled it with unsalted peanuts in the shell. I want to see if it'll get me some Bluejays, Nuthatches, and Woodpeckers, all of whom seem to like peanuts. I haven't seen any of those yet, but some of the peanuts fell out and onto the ground, and my little buddy the resident Chipmunk came to lunch on them. There were lots of Finches, both House Finches and Goldfinches, and I was able to get shots of one of each. Spring is here, I guess!

© 2017 by A. Roy Hilbinger 

Wednesday, April 05, 2017

A Beautiful Spring Morning

I took a walk in the Dykeman Spring Nature Park this morning. Spring is coming on, slowly but surely; that green haze over the woods is starting to spread as little green vines and buds start to mature, and small wildflowers are popping up. And Frogs and Turtles are starting to show up as well. Not to mention a very large Rainbow Trout in the north duck pond. Have a look!

The green is growing around the creek
A pair of Canada Geese in the north duck pond
A big ol' lunker of a Rainbow Trout in the north duck pond
A Painted Turtle in the wetland area
One last look at the creek from the new bridge
© 2017 by A. Roy Hilbinger