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

Tuesday, July 04, 2017

America. A Poem for July 4

That's what Katharine Lee Bates called the poem she wrote in 1895 after a trip to Pike's Peak in Colorado. When she got home to Wellesley College outside Boston, MA, where she taught English, she wrote the poem inspired by the sights she saw on the train trip out and back, and which was duly published in the Fourth of July edition of the church periodical The Congregationalist. In 1910 she adapted the words a little to be set to the hymn tune "Materna" by church organist and choirmaster Samuel A. Ward of Newark, NJ, and this became known as "America the Beautiful". It has been proposed as our national anthem throughout the 20th Century, especially during the administration of John F. Kennedy (and you know Jackie had to be the force behind that effort!), but entrenched habits don't give up easily, and "The Star Spangled Banner" remains the national anthem.

If you're a long-time reader of this blog you know I'm a fierce advocate for replacing "The Star Spangled Banner" with "America the Beautiful". I really don't like "The Star Spangled Banner"; the tune is horrible, an old London drinking song called "To Anacreon in Heaven" composed for a drinking society whose whole purpose was to get drunk and sexually assault the "serving wenches". That high note toward the end - "the land of the free..." - was where they lifted up their tankards to clash together and consequently slopped their beer over each other. The character Belize in Tony Kushner's "Angels in America" said of that passage, "The cracker who wrote that knew what he was doing; he set the note for the word 'free' so high that nobody can hit it!" It's really not a tune fit for a national anthem. Add to that the fact that the song is about a single battle in the War of 1812, and not a particularly significant battle at that.

Now look at "America the Beautiful". Lyrics by a teacher and music by a church organist and choirmaster; seriously, how hometown America can you get? The tune is is both simple and memorable, and the harmonization lends itself well to instrumental orchestration and SATB choral arrangement. And most important, the song is about America, the land, the people, and the ideals it was founded upon, everything a piece of music representing a nation should be. Plain and simple, it's a beautiful and meaningful piece of music and it's a travesty that it's not our national anthem.

O beautiful for spacious skies,
For amber waves of grain,
For purple mountain majesties
Above the fruited plain!
America! America!
God shed His grace on thee
And crown thy good with brotherhood
From sea to shining sea!

O beautiful for pilgrim feet,
Whose stern, impassioned stress
A thoroughfare for freedom beat
Across the wilderness!
America! America!
God mend thine every flaw,
Confirm thy soul in self-control,
Thy liberty in law!

O beautiful for heroes proved
In liberating strife,
Who more than self their country loved
And mercy more than life!
America! America!
May God thy gold refine,
Till all success be nobleness,
And every gain divine!

O beautiful for patriot dream
That sees beyond the years
Thine alabaster cities gleam
Undimmed by human tears!
America! America!
God shed His grace on thee
And crown thy good with brotherhood
From sea to shining sea!

And here's a beautiful rendition of the song from the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and the Philadelphia Orchestra under the direction of the late Eugene Ormandy:

So there's my argument in favor of "America the Beautiful" as the US national anthem. What say you?

© 2017 by A. Roy Hilbinger 

Sunday, July 02, 2017

Sunday Morning

I believe in God, only I spell it Nature. 
– Frank Lloyd Wright

I went to my church this morning, and wandered in the aisles among the cattails, and by the creek, and finally to my pew under the Kentucky Coffeetree by the pond. I listened to the hymns - the birds singing, the water bubbling over the rocks in the creek, and the banjo plunks of the Green Frogs vocalizing in the marsh. This is my Sunday morning worship.

Cool water on a hot Summer morning
Looking up from my pew through the stained glass window of the Kentucky Coffeetree
A sweeping view of the upland meadow after the haying's done
St. John's Wort by the north pond
© 2017 by A. Roy Hilbinger 

Sunday Bach - Third Sunday After Trinity

Bach wrote two cantatas for the third Sunday after Trinity. BWV 21, Ich hatte viel Bekümmernis (I had much sorrow) is very grand, very monumental, and is arguably one of the greatest of Bach's cantatas. But I'm not in the mood for the monumental Bach today. I'm more in the mood for the more reflective Bach of BWV 135, Ach Herr, mich armen Sünder straf nicht in deinem Zorn (Ah, Lord, punish not me, poor sinner, in Thine anger). This is a chorale cantata based on Hans Hassler's hymn tune for Herzlich tut mich verlangen (I do desire dearly), which Bach also used in his great St. Matthew Passion. Here's what Simon Crouch has to say about this cantata:
Bach uses Hassler's Herzlich tut mich verlangen (The Passion Chorale) several times in different harmonisations, to tremendous effect, in the St. Matthew Passion. In the opening chorus of this cantata we have a completely different and quite stunning setting, which is almost a chorale fantasia, of this hymn tune. The tune is given (in slow time) to the basses who hold the final note of each line to provide a pedal point to the parts above who weave their variations. This establishes a deeply sad and affecting atmosphere for the cantata. The pattern for the rest of this short cantata is fairly standard with recitative, aria, recitative, aria and final chorale. The first recitative has the tears running down the sinners face illustrated by demisemiquaver runs! The following tenor aria allows the oboes to chase each other up and down hill with the soloist eventually making it a threesome. The bass aria is a vigorous affair with a lovely touch at the da capo: Mein Jesus Trostet mich is set to the second line of the chorale melody. A beautiful moment. The final chorale is a much more conventional setting of the hymn tune.
Copyright © 1996 & 1998, Simon Crouch.
Today's performance is from 2000 by the Amsterdam Baroque Orchestra and Choir under the direction of Ton Koopman. Enjoy!

Photo © 2017 by A. Roy Hilbinger