Monday, May 29, 2017

Memorial Day 2017

My subject is War, and the pity of War.
The Poetry is in the pity ...
All a poet can do today is warn.
– Wilfred Owen

British composer Benjamin Britten's War Requiem, first performed on 30 May 1962, was commissioned to mark the consecration of the new Coventry Cathedral, which was built after the original fourteenth-century structure was destroyed in a World War II bombing raid. The reconsecration was an occasion for an arts festival, for which Michael Tippett also wrote his opera King Priam.

Britten, a pacifist, was inspired by the commission, which gave him complete freedom in deciding what to compose. He chose to set the traditional Latin Mass for the Dead interwoven with nine poems about war by the English poet Wilfred Owen. Owen, who was born in 1893, was serving as the commander of a rifle company when he was killed in action on 4 November 1918 during the crossing of the Sambre-Oise Canal in France, just one week before the Armistice. Although he was virtually unknown at the time of his death, he has subsequently come to be revered as one of the great war poets.

In time this piece has become the world's most powerful anti-war statement, played by orchestras all over the US for Memorial Day, and on Armistice Day, also known as Remembrance Day, in other countries in the British Commonwealth and Europe.

Wilfred Owen's poetry is an integral part of Britten's piece; it is poetry written by a front line soldier during the action of war, and accurately reflects the feelings, thoughts, and reactions of people directly involved in the fighting. As such it is a powerful, and personal, argument against the waging of war, and especially the deceptive attitude of "we must fight this war in order to end all war." History has shown that war only begets more war, a point emphatically made in Eric Bogle's song "No Man's Land":
Did they really believe that this war would end wars
Well the sorrow, the suffering, the glory, the pain
The killing and dying was all done in vain
For young Willie McBride it all happened again
And again, and again, and again, and again.
Before I post the video of a performance of the War Requiem, conducted by Britten himself, I'd like to post this Wilfred Owen poem called "Strange Meeting" one of the last poems he wrote before his death and the final poem used by Britten in the requiem.
It seemed that out of battle I escaped
Down some profound dull tunnel, long since scooped
Through granites which titanic wars had groined.

Yet also there encumbered sleepers groaned,
Too fast in thought or death to be bestirred.
Then, as I probed them, one sprang up, and stared
With piteous recognition in fixed eyes,
Lifting distressful hands, as if to bless.
And by his smile, I knew that sullen hall,—
By his dead smile I knew we stood in Hell.

With a thousand fears that vision's face was grained;
Yet no blood reached there from the upper ground,
And no guns thumped, or down the flues made moan.
“Strange friend,” I said, “here is no cause to mourn.”
“None,” said that other, “save the undone years,
The hopelessness. Whatever hope is yours,
Was my life also; I went hunting wild
After the wildest beauty in the world,
Which lies not calm in eyes, or braided hair,
But mocks the steady running of the hour,
And if it grieves, grieves richlier than here.
For by my glee might many men have laughed,
And of my weeping something had been left,
Which must die now. I mean the truth untold,
The pity of war, the pity war distilled.
Now men will go content with what we spoiled.
Or, discontent, boil bloody, and be spilled.
They will be swift with swiftness of the tigress.
None will break ranks, though nations trek from progress.
Courage was mine, and I had mystery;
Wisdom was mine, and I had mastery:
To miss the march of this retreating world
Into vain citadels that are not walled.
Then, when much blood had clogged their chariot-wheels,
I would go up and wash them from sweet wells,
Even with truths that lie too deep for taint.
I would have poured my spirit without stint
But not through wounds; not on the cess of war.
Foreheads of men have bled where no wounds were.

"I am the enemy you killed, my friend.
I knew you in this dark: for so you frowned
Yesterday through me as you jabbed and killed.
I parried; but my hands were loath and cold.
Let us sleep now. . . ."
And now, Benjamin Britten's War Requiem. May all those killed in war rest in peace, and may we end this madness so that no more need to die!

Photo © 2009 by A. Roy Hilbinger 

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Sunday Bach - Sixth Sunday After Easter (Exaudi)

Approaching Storm
Bach wrote two cantatas for the sixth Sunday after Easter, and I've chosen the first one, BWV 44, Sie werden euch in den Bann tun (They will turn you out...) from 1724. This is still drawing from Jesus' farewell to the disciples in the 15th and 16th chapters of John, and this week the reading emphasizes the trials and tribulations the disciples will experience from now on. Here's what musicologist Simon Crouch has to say about this cantata:
Jesus warns the disciples that their task will not be easy after He has left them. Though not an outstanding piece, I rate this quite highly because it is concentrated: It demonstrates the art of the cantata in a short, succinct and effective way. The pessimistic scene is set very quickly with text taken from the Gospel. The tenor/bass duet on the first line (Out from their church will they cast you) leads immediately into a chorus on the next (Yea there cometh the time that he who kills you will think that he doeth service to God thereby). The first aria allows the alto to meditate on what it means to be a Christian and the following chorale and recitative emphasise the pain and strife involved. But, at a stroke, the pessimism is banished by the soprano singing Our Christian faith is ever safe, with God on guard on our behalf) and the concluding chorale dots the i's and crosses the t's on a simple lesson about faith. The music amplifies the message of the words in a very subtle and most effective way. For example, both of the arias make extensive use of triplet figures but the first is a sad reflective dance on the solitary oboe whereas the second is a confident, forthright dance from all the instruments together.
Copyright © 1995 & 1998, Simon Crouch
For this week's Sunday Bach I've chosen a performance by Collegium Vocale under the direction of Philippe Herreweghe. Enjoy!    

Photo © 2009 by A. Roy Hilbinger 

Sunday, May 21, 2017

A Sunday Morning Walk in the Park

My weekly Sunday morning walk in the Dykeman Spring Nature Park was pleasant as usual. It was overcast and cool, with temperatures in the mid 50s (around 12º C); the light was just right for capturing the colors of late Spring/early Summer. Everything is very lush now, and the animals are pretty lively, too. I got surprised by a Mink suddenly dashing onto the nature trail, who when it saw me immediately dashed right back into the underbrush (no, no photo). Orioles sang to me, and Grackles and Red-winged Blackbirds scolded me for being too near their nests, but nobody came out into clear view. A flock of Bank Swallows was whipping over the north duck pond too fast for me to capture one, but I did manage to get the splash trail of one across the pond. All in all it was a pleasant morning spent in the company of Mama Gaia!

Multiflora Roses along the Dykeman Walking Trail
Reflections on the north duck pond
Splash trail left by a Bank Swallow as it skimmed the surface of the pond
The forest floor along the Upland Trail
© 2017 by A. Roy Hilbinger 

Sunday Bach - Fifth Sunday after Easter (Rogate)

Multiflora Roses
Today is the fifth Sunday after Easter. Bach wrote two small, intimate cantatas for this Sunday, and I chose the first of them, BWV 86, Wahrlich, wahrlich, ich sage euch (Truly, truly I say to you), from 1724. The theme is still from the 16th chapter of John, where Jesus speaks to the disciples, preparing them for his final departure. Here's what the late Craig Smith of Emmanuel Music had to say about this beautiful little gem of a cantata:
Cantata 86 is a product of Bach’s first Leipzig cantata cycle. It focuses on a passage from Jesus’ extensive farewell to his disciples in the Book of John. The key lines are “Whatsoever ye shall ask the Father in my name, He will give it you,” and “the time cometh when I shall no more speak unto you in parables.”
The first movement is equivalent to a five-voice choral motet, the bass soloist, representing Jesus, sharing musical materials with four string parts. This is followed by an unusual aria for alto, in which the violin part has little thematic activity, but is instead given over to frenetic figuration. The listener can decide if this refers to the thorns, risked in the breaking of the rose, or a vision of shining assurance, the reward of belief.
A driving version, for soprano and two oboes d'amore, of a verse from the chorale ‘Come to me, says the Son of God,’ leads to a tenor recitative and aria, which makes use of a metaphor: a very spare, reiterative statement, “God will surely help,” is buttressed by fugal, compact musical ideas.
Even the closing chorale is unusually economical in its range of harmonic color, lending further support to the cantata’s emphasis on trust, and simplicity of spirit.
For today's Sunday Bach I chose a lovely performance by the Amsterdam Baroque Orchestra and Choir under the direction of Ton Koopman. Enjoy!

Photo © 2017 by A. Roy Hilbinger

Friday, May 19, 2017

Spring into Summer

The calendar says it's May, but it feels like August here with the temperature hovering around 90º (32º C). And across the country, in Colorado, it's snowing! We have the Multiflora Roses and Blackberries blooming, and while there's no snow, the Black Locust blossoms have been falling like it and covering the ground beneath the trees like a Summer version of a snow blanket. Mama Gaia is very green and lush, with lots of floral highlights. Come walk through the Dykeman Spring Nature Park and see.

Multiflora Roses along the Dykeman Walking Trail in the wetland area
Blackberry blossoms along the trail
Fallen Black Locust blossoms cover the trail like a quick snow squall
Yellow Wood Sorrel along the nature trail
Reflections on the north duck pond
© 2017 by A. Roy Hilbinger 

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Sunday Bach - Fourth Sunday After Easter (Cantate)

Buckeye butterfly
Today is the fourth Sunday after Easter, and the Gospel reading is the passage in John (16:5 - 15) where Jesus tells the disciples that he has to go away  so that the Comforter (παρακλητος [parakletos] - intercessor, consoler, comforter, advocate can come. Bach wrote two cantatas for this Sunday, both of them small, intimate works. I've chosen BWV 166, Wo gehest du hin? (Where are you going?) The late Craig Smith of Emmanuel Music had this to say about the cantata:
After Easter, Bach’s first cantata cycle included several large masterpieces such as last week’s Cantata BWV 104. In addition there are several exquisite smaller-scale works, including today’s cantata BWV 166. The strangeness and ambiguity of all of the readings from the Gospel of John after Easter come to a climax with Jesus’ speech to the disciples about his going away. Jesus announces that they would all be stuck if he were not to leave them and that the “Advocate” were not to replace him. It becomes clear by Pentecost that the advocate is the Church. The superb text for today’s cantata begins with Christ’s question to the disciples. The gentle questioning music for oboe and strings manages to be both ambiguous and deeply profound. The sweet expressive melismas for the voice of Christ are laid across the caressing and gentle strings and oboe. The piece rightly ends with a question mark. The profound tenor aria lays out the choices – Heaven or Hell, to go or to stay. The piece is in the form of an elegant sonata à 4. The violin part is lost but has been reconstructed by Alfred Dürr from a version of the piece as a violin trio sonata. The Chorale “Herr Jesu Christ, du höchstes Gut” appears in an arrangement with all the strings playing a wide-reaching and melancholy line against the tune in the sopranos. The alto aria manages to smile and yet contain the undertow of the last judgment that is implicit in its text. A rich harmonization of “Wer nur den lieben Gott lässt walten” ends the cantata.
For this week's Sunday Bach I've chosen this beautiful performance by the Amsterdam Baroque Orchestra and Choir under the direction of Ton Koopman. Enjoy! 


Photo © 2016 by A. Roy Hilbinger

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Butterflies and Swallows

I popped over to visit the Brookside Ave. wetland on Monday and Tuesday. The water level there is up again after it almost dried up totally last year. Burd Run is looking good, all the little streamlets in the wetland area are full, and there's even water in the collection pond (not much, and only in the places they dredged deeper last Fall to try and coax a little more water in the place). And the butterflies are coming back for the season; I managed to get shots of (top to bottom) a Clouded Sulphur, a Pearl Crescent, and an American Painted Lady.

Birds are also back in the wetland. Lots and lots of Red-winged Blackbirds, all yelling at me when I got too close. Ditto the Canada Geese; I had a 5-bird, very vocal escort around the berm that holds in the collection pond. I kept wondering when they were going to rush me! But what really got my attention was the presence of lots of Tree Swallows and Baltimore Orioles. As is usual with Orioles, I heard them before I saw them, and they stayed well out of my camera range on both days. And the Tree Swallows are actually nesting in the nest boxes set up for them throughout the wetland. I got some shots that didn't really work on Monday, so I went back yesterday in the course of running some errands and finally managed to get some decent shots. 

© 2017 by A. Roy Hilbinger 

Sunday, May 07, 2017

Sunday Constitutional

It rained the last two days, at  least 2" (5 cm), so the green and color has gotten even more lush for my Sunday walk in the Dykeman Spring Nature Park. There have also been some other Spring events: I saw my first-of-the-season Green Heron in the wetland; the insect nymphs are all over the ponds, which has attracted even more Swallows to come and skim them up; and the first goslings have hatched. Come see what I saw today!

Dame's Rocket along the Dykeman Walking Trail
The forest floor along the trail
Daisy Fleabane in the wetland
A Green Heron in the wetland
A Bank Swallow in the wetland
A family outing on the north duck pond
Black Locust blossoms along the trail
© 2017 by A. Roy Hilbinger 

Sunday Bach - Third Sunday After Easter

Upland meadow on a rainy day
Bach wrote three cantatas for Jubilate, the third Sunday after Easter. The theme for all three is the Gospel reading from John 16:16 - 23, where Jesus tells the disciples that they'll be sorrowful for a while when he leaves them, but soon enough they'll be joyful again when he returns. Of the three cantatas, BWV 103, Ihr werdet weinen und heulen (You shall weep and lament), best captures that mood of sorrow followed by joy. Here's what the late Craig Smith of Emmanuel Music had to say about this lovely cantata:
Bach Cantata BWV 103 dates from Bach's second year in Leipzig. As is true of so many cantatas from that period, the work is heavily weighted to the remarkable and profound opening chorus. The simultaneous weeping and rejoicing that is the basis of the text is something that music can do better than words. The mournful chromatic lines of the chorus are punctuated by the laughing, almost cackling, arpeggios of the piccolo. Almost imperceptibly the harshness of the chromaticism and the laughing arpeggios join forces to make, by the end of the movement, a euphonious whole. The gracious alto aria with flute softens much of the harshness of the message of the opening chorus. The triumphant tenor aria with obbligato trumpet announces a sea change in the character of the cantata. The final chorale harmonization of "Was mein Gott will, dass g'scheh allzeit" announces a proper benediction.
For today's Sunday Bach I've chosen a wonderful performance by the Amsterdam Baroque Orchestra and Choir under the direction of Ton Koopman. Enjoy!

Photo © 2016 by A. Roy Hilbinger

Monday, May 01, 2017

Beltane/May Day 2017 (with May Flowers!)

Happy May Day, Joyous Beltane! Today we celebrate the start of the growing season, and also the time when young couples meet and start new lives together (that's what the Maypole is all about!). This year our April was full of showers and has produced a bumper crop of May flowers, and I found a bunch while walking along the Dykeman Walking Trail (or crawling, in some cases; these are all macro shots and I had to get flat on my belly to get some of them). So let's welcome May with a wildflower tribute.

Okay, so they're not flowers! But the April showers produced them, all the same.
Dame's Rocket
Tartarian Honeysuckle
Ground Ivy
Daisy Fleabane
Swamp Buttercup
© 2017 by A. Roy Hilbinger