Sunday, July 29, 2018

After the Rain

It rained most of last week, starting just after I got home from last week's Sunday walk. And I'm not talking a gently falling rain to help water the Summer crops. We're talking full tropical downpours, with thunder and lightning and hail and the whole shebang, and resulting in floods all throughout the area. Not much in the flooding here in Shippensburg, as we're fairly high up, but further downstream, and especially up around Harrisburg and the big creeks that feed into the Susquehanna River - Swatara and Yellow Breeches and the Conawego. Hershey Park and Zoo America were closed most of the week due to flooding, and two people drowned in the Conawego in separate incidents. As I said, up here we didn't get that kind of flooding, but Branch Creek and Burd Run were pretty full and feisty. 

Finally a cold front moved through on Friday evening, and the weather has been dry and cooler since. I went walking through the Dykeman Spring Nature Park this morning on my weekly pilgrimage, and it seemed as if all of Nature was rejoicing in drying out. There were lots of butterflies and dragonflies flitting about, the greenery was very lush indeed, and there were lots of blooms. When I came to my favorite bench by the north duck pond to sit and contemplate in the shade of the Kentucky Coffee Tree, there were three Muscovy ducks (a domestic farm breed, frequent visitors to the park) in possession of the area. They gave me the eye as I approached but refused to flee. After I sat down on the bench they continued with some personal grooming, and then settled in for a nap. They barely even opened their eyes when I eventually stood up and moved on.

Here are some scenes from this week's walk.

White Campion in the wetland
A pond-side seat 
Honeysuckle along the trail around the pond
The trio of Muscovies giving me the eye
This year's Mallard ducklings are growing up fast
An American Painted Lady sipping on some Red Clover up on the meadow
© 2018 by A. Roy Hilbinger 

Sunday Bach - Trinity 9

Bach wrote three cantatas for the ninth Sunday after Trinity, and this year I've chosen the second one - BWV 94, Was frag ich nach der Welt (What should I ask of the world, Leipzig 1724). This is a delightful chorale cantata, based on the hymn of the same name from 1664 by Balthasar Kindermann. This one is unusual for Bach's chorale cantatas in that it doesn't follow his usual format for the genre; it's also unusually delightful for its potentially dark subject matter. The late Craig Smith of Emmanuel Music explains all:
The unpleasant reading from Corinthians I itemizing the destruction of immoral people, combined with the difficult passage from Luke about the disloyal servant, had surprisingly produced from Bach two marvelous cantatas by the time he came to write Cantata BWV 94 in 1724. One of those previous works, BWV 105, is unarguably one of the great masterpieces of the genre. It is interesting to compare it with our cantata here. While BWV 105 is clearly the more successful of the two pieces as a work of art, BWV 94 is an ambitious and unjustly neglected work. 
The rather peculiar proportions of the work are part of the problem. We are used to seeing the weight of the cantata borne by the opening movement. In the 1st Leipzig year most of the cantatas, including BWV 105, start with a biblical quote which is set in a grand fashion, followed by arias and ensembles, usually shorter and less ambitious. It is a satisfying formula. Our present work follows a different train of thought. The opening chorus of this long (almost thirty minutes) cantata lasts barely three minutes. The arias and, most importantly, the lengthy trope-with-recitative movements are much larger. 
Bach almost always sets sin not as something ugly but something irresistibly and dazzlingly beautiful. In the first movement of BWV 54, "Widerstehe doch der Sünde" gorgeous suspensions pile one on top of each other to create a luscious sonority, all of it describing the danger of sin. The "Herzeleid" in the first chorus of BWV 3 prompts some of Bach’s most gorgeous chromaticism. Here the rejection of life’s "Schätzen"(treasures) sets off a jewel like movement with dazzling roulades and scales from the flute, oboes and strings. Bach makes it brief because it is characterized in the text as something that is immediately rejected. 
Except for the German Magnificat in the Cantata BWV 10, we have with Cantata BWV 94 the use of the first chorale in the 2nd Jahrgang that is not in Bar form. In "Was frag ich nach der Welt" there is no repeat of the opening phrases and the first phrase of text is repeated at the end. That repetition can casually look, in movements such as the alto aria #4, like a da capo. The form of an aria like this is actually much more unconventional. We find that even in the da capo arias such as the tenor aria #6 or the soprano aria #7 the repetitions of the A sections are often ruthlessly condensed. 
The bass aria #2 is also brief. Its precipitous falling arpeggio is surprisingly weighty for the text about smoke and shadow. There are virtually no sequences; it is the kind of detailed through-composed work that only Bach, among his contemporaries, was writing. 
The first chorale with recitatives is astonishingly verbose. Instead of commentaries on the chorale phrases there are little narratives between each line of text. Bach finds an interesting solution to the problem of this text’s characterization. Oboes sing lyrically and the solo tenor sings, equally lyrically, an ornamented version of the chorale. The recitative portions are jagged, chromatic in language and harrowing. Each return of the chorale phrases is a relief. 
In the period when Bach wrote this work there was in Leipzig a guest and evidently quite accomplished flutist. Certainly the series of arias and ensembles with flute written at this time are among the high points of the literature. The text for the alto aria with flute continues the self-flagellation of the previous verses, but the tone is softer and more forgiving. The eight lines of text are divided up irregularly. The first three comprise an extended slow section with poignant chromatic sequences in the flute. The next two lines are taken up with a tiny 7 bar allegro, over before you know it. Lines 6 and 7 are a kind of arioso resembling the beginning but not really a tempo. The last line is the faux da capo, using all of the opening material but very condensed. 
The second chorale with tropes contains what it almost inevitable in the cantatas, a redemption. It is characterized by a change in direction of the chromatic bass line at the moment the sinner decides to take Christ as his savior. Virtually every cantata contains such a moment; this is one of the most subtle. 
The text to the Tenor aria #6 contains one of the most graphic metaphors in all of the cantatas, comparing vanity to moles gathering yellow rot in their burrows. The low scratchy unison string writing captures the image brilliantly. For all of its grittiness, the work has a kind of grandeur of release. 
Bach again reverts to the child-like soprano to bring the work to a close, but instead of the innocence of the end of Cantata BWV 92, there is an exhausted quality to the aria #7, particularly the haunting repetition of the opening text with its droopy melody over a held bass note. 
As with many of Bach’s great, lesser-known works, the difficulty and ambiguity of this piece have kept it from being famous rather than any lack of musical quality. It also must be said that Cantata BWV 94 is an example of a work that can have devastating effect in a liturgical setting and makes virtually no musical sense in a concert. 
© Craig Smith
This week's performance is from a recording by the Amsterdam Baroque Orchestra and Choir under the direction of Ton Koopman. Enjoy!

Photo © 2013 by A. Roy Hilbinger 

Sunday, July 22, 2018

Another Sunday Walk

We had lots of rain yesterday, and there's more coming today through Thursday. We have two fronts facing off against each other, one out on the Atlantic Ocean and one coming in from the west, and they're pushing each other back and forth over us, and pulling up lots of humid air from the Gulf of Mexico in the space between them. When I went out this morning the sky was sort of clearing, but in the course of my walk through the Dykeman Nature Park it clouded over again, so my walk was taken with one eye on the sky, prepared to duck for cover if the rain decided to return. Here's what I found while I walked.

A Mallard family outing on the north duck pond
Reflections on the pond
A Black Walnut shell on the trail up to the meadow
A Monarch butterfly on Red Clover in the meadow
Queen Anne's Lace in the meadow
© 2018 by A. Roy Hilbinger 

Sunday Bach - Trinity 8

Bach wrote three cantatas for the eighth Sunday after Trinity. Last year we listened to the final one; this year we'll listen to the middle one, BWV 178, Wo Gott der Herr nicht bei uns hält (If God the Lord holds not with us, Leipzig 1724). This is a chorale cantata, and for Bach it's very unusual, stormy almost, with recitativ eruptions during the chorale and aria movements like lightning lashing out in a storm. Given the current weather here in the eastern US, I thought this very fitting to the atmosphere. Here's the late Craig Smith of Emmanuel Music on this unusual cantata:
Bach Cantata BWV 178 is one of the most obscure in all of the canon. It is a pity, because after penetrating its difficult exterior it is one of the best. The opening chorus does something that no other chorus does. While the orchestra remains consistent in texture and affect, the chorus lives in two different worlds. The opening phrase is presented in simple block chords. The next phrase is highly colored and ornamented in the bottom three voices. The simple block phrasing recurs in the third phrase. After this, the bottom voices ornament their lines for the rest of the movement. Obviously Bach is associating the simple block phrasing with God, and the wild, extravagant writing with the raging foes. 
The next movement uses the chorale in its pure form sung by the alto with continuo. Each phrase is interrupted by “tropes” which here are recitative comments on the chorale. This is an old technique, more common in medieval music with comments on Gregorian chant, than in Bach. Next, a bracing aria for bass with strings uses its terrific energy to propel us into another chorale setting, this time for tenor and oboes d’amore. Tropes reappear in the next chorale setting for full chorus, with individual voices doing the recitative comments. The very intellectual text of the following tenor aria is portrayed as a marvelous and stormy seascape. It is an interesting and surprising take on these words. The chorale harmonization at the end brings us back to the block-like portrayal of the power of God.

© Craig Smith
This week's performance is from a recording by the Amsterdam Baroque Orchestra and Choir under the direction of Ton Koopman. Get out your umbrella and hang on!

Photo © 2009 by A. Roy Hilbinger 

Sunday, July 15, 2018

A Serene Sunday Morning

Sunday morning in these parts is always a quiet time, and my favorite hang-out is no different. The nature park is usually deserted on Sunday mornings, and the birds and beasts go about their business undisturbed. Walking in the park at this time is always a joy!

It's bunny breakfast time!
A Spring Azure butterfly
Yellow Jewelweed
Horse Nettle
A young (hatched this Spring) Painted Turtle on the north duck pond
A serene scene on the pond, with ducks
Butter-and-Eggs, a Snapdragon relative, at the meadow's edge
The meadow's resident feral cat; it's been living up there around five years now
© 2018 by A. Roy Hilbinger 

Sunday Bach - Trinity 7

Bach wrote several cantatas for the seventh Sunday after Trinity, and last year we listened to BWV 107. This year I've chosen another gem - BWV 187, Es wartet alles auf dich (Everything waits for you, Leipzig 1726). It expands on the theme of the Gospel reading for the day, Mark 8:1 - 9, which is the story of Jesus feeding the thousands on two fish and five loaves of bread [note: I wrote an essay on that story back in 2000 and posted it here in 2008], with arias based on Psalm 104 and Matthew 6:31 & 32, all on the theme of don't fret, don't worry, God will provide. The music is gentle rather than dramatic, just perfect for such a message. Here's the lated Craig Smith (with later additions and editing by Ryan Turner) of Emmanuel Music:
The cantata Es wartet alles auf dich, BWV 187, although more widely known as the Mass in g minor, BWV 235 (1738-39) for which the opening chorus and all arias were reused, has never been very well known in its cantata form. Composed in Leipzig in 1726, it is a two-part cantata. The gritty and complex chorus at the beginning is one of his best and most energetic fugues, truly rousing and satisfying. The bass recitative almost overflows with graphic images yet Bach chooses not to paint them, save the question that ends the recitative on a point of non-resolution.  The alto aria is a marvelous portrayal of the wavering believer with its halting and jerky continuity. It is the kind of piece that makes perfect sense with its text and would seem merely eccentric without it.

Bach often differentiates between personal and communal religious expression. Likewise, the two parts of the overall cantata contrast in a similar way. Bach scholar Alfred Dürr noted the change from third to first person in the second part, a shift in emphasis. The great striding bass aria with an obbligato of all of the violins is almost Handelian in its simplicity, but is purely Lutheran in its content. The gorgeous soprano aria with oboe is clearly the musical high point of the cantata. The falling octave in both the oboe and voice line is a perfect picture of God’s forgiveness. The quick middle section is interestingly followed by a repetition of the opening material but without the voice. While the soprano aria is stunning in its conception and musical expression, the essence of the cantata is to be found within the first line of the recitative that follows: “if I can only hold on to Him with a childlike trust.” The cantata ends with a harmonization of the rarely heard chorale, “Singen wir aus Herzensgrund. 
~ Craig Smith with Ryan Turner 
For today's performance we have a wonderful recording from the J.S. Bach Foundation of St. Gallen under the direction of Rudolf Lutz, recorded just last year. Enjoy!

Photo © 2018 by A. Roy Hilbinger 

Monday, July 09, 2018

Racing to Finish the Job

My friend Wade hasn't had the best of luck getting the first haying of the Summer done up on the meadow. June was a particularly wet month, and you just can't cut and bale wet hay. He's just had a few brief dry stretches interrupted by the rains, and he's way behind schedule. But it looks like he'll finally finish up during this current dry stretch; the hay is all cut, and yesterday morning he was turning and lining it up to be baled. He was certainly pushing that that rusty old tractor of his when I last saw him!

© 2018 by A. Roy Hilbinger 

Sunday, July 08, 2018

A Sunday Ramble

I'm back to my previous schedule at work, which means that once again I have Sundays and Mondays off. Today the weather is knock-your-eyes-out gorgeous - low humidity and bearable temperatures, and a deep blue sky. I went for my Sunday ramble in the Dykeman Spring Nature Park and found lots to show you.

Tall Meadow Rue growing by Gum Run, perfect for July because they look like a sky full of star shells bursting
A Spring Azure butterfly along the Dykeman Walking Trail
A Painted Turtle sunning in the north duck pond
Moth Mullein growing beside the pond
Chicory growing up on the meadow
The view from the top of the meadow
© 2018 by A. Roy Hilbinger 

Sunday Bach - Trinity 6

The first of Bach's cantatas for the sixth Sunday after Trinity (we listened to the second one last year) is one of his most beautiful - BWV 170, Vergnügte Ruh', beliebte Seelenlust (Pleasant rest, beloved soul's desire, Leipzig 1726). A solo cantata for alto voice, this cantata has an almost pastoral atmosphere, just perfect for a July Sunday. Here's Simon Crouch on this gem:
The text of this solo cantata for alto may make one think that we're in for twenty minutes of unremitting chest beating but fortunately for the listener, most of the depressing stuff is contained in the relatively compact middle recitatives and aria. The outer movements provide the rays of hope and some very beautiful music too! The cantata opens with lovely aria to a text based on the Epistle. This is certainly one of those pieces that deserves to be much better known and you may very well feel that it could quite easily stand on its own as a concert piece - give it to a great alto (male or female), ask them to tone the scale of their voice down and the result should be wonderful. The aria that follows the first recitative may strike one initially as being "interesting" rather than "attractive". Repeated listening reveals the skill with which Bach matches tortured chromaticisms to the desolation of the text. Skillfully played and sung, this becomes a very effective and moving piece. The next recitative is followed by a much more upbeat aria with a corresponding return to optimism right at the end of the text. The organ (or flute) twirls away in accompaniment to provide a buoyant finish to the cantata.

Copyright © 1997 & 1998, Simon Crouch.
This week's performance is a beautiful rendition by the ensemble of the Academy of St. Martin-in-the-Fields under the direction of Sir Neville Marriner, and featuring the lovely voice of alto Janet Baker. Enjoy!

Photo © 2018 by A. Roy Hilbinger 

Friday, July 06, 2018

The Park in the Rain

I went for a walk in the Dykeman Spring Nature Park this morning. In the beginning there was a light drizzle falling, but by the time I left the park it had elevated to a light rain. I find rain adds an extra dimension to photography, a bit of mystery.

Roses in the rain
Pond-side hideaway
Rain on water

Photo © 2018 by A. Roy Hilbinger 

Thursday, July 05, 2018

A Wetland Walk

I went for a walk in the Brookside Ave. wetland this morning after running an errand. It's been a wet Spring and early Summer, and the ground is so wet in there that they can't get a mower in to clear the trails, so they've just let it go wild. Exactly how I like it! It's very lush, and many of the streamlets in that maze are hidden by the grasses and the sedges and the cattails that have grown up so thickly. And the collection pond is full as well. It's very humid out and I was soaked with sweat in my first five minutes of beating my way through the trackless waste. But it was worth it! Butterflies, dragonflies, all kinds of birds; the place was teeming. The birds were staying out of my range, especially the Red-winged Blackbirds; apparently their young just recently fledged, and the young'uns were all over the place with their flustered parents yelling at me if I got too close. But I did get one prize bird - a Green Heron perched on a dead tree in the pond. It was a good day!

An Appalachian Brown Satyr butterfly
Yarrow growing by the collection pond
A Green Heron kept a wary eye on me from his perch on a dead tree in the pond
Bindweed grows all through the wetland
A Clouded Sulphur butterfly sipping on some Canada Thistle
An Eastern Pondhawk dragonfly
This Painted Skimmer dragonfly landed right in front of me and posed politely
This Blue Dasher, on the other hand, took forever to find a spot to settle
 © 2018 by A. Roy Hilbinger 

Sunday, July 01, 2018

Sunday Bach - Trinity 5

Bach composed two cantatas for the fifth Sunday after Trinity, and we listened to the first one last year. Today we'll listen to the later one, BWV 88, Siehe, ich will viel Fischer aussenden (Behold, I will send out many fishers, Leipzig 1746). This is a small, pleasant solo cantata featuring the bass voice, although others join in from time to time. The focus is on the Gospel reading for the day, and especially Jesus' statement to Simon Peter, "I will make you fishers of men" (hence today's photo, part of the Newport fishing fleet docked at the State Pier, taken in 2009). Here's Simon Crouch on this cantata:
The opening bass aria of this cantata displays two of Bachs most attractive devices, pedal bass and compound duple time. Indeed, swinging along nicely, this is the most attractive movement in this piece, reinforcing very effectively the message of the libretto. A recitative is followed by a tenor aria, attractive but not outstanding, which brings the first half of this short cantata to a close. The second part opens with an attractive figure leading into a bass arioso. The following duet for soprano and alto is pleasant enough but not truly memorable and, following a recitative, the cantata is brought to a close by a straightforward setting of a very beautiful chorale, verse vii. of Neumark's Wer nur den lieben Gott lasst walten.

Copyright © 1996 & 1998, Simon Crouch
As you can see, Crouch wasn't all that enthusiastic about this cantata, but I find it an easy, relaxing listen, just perfect for a lazy weekend. This week's performance is by the Amsterdam Baroque Orchestra & Choir under the direction of Ton Koopman. Kick back and enjoy!

Photo © 2009 by A. Roy Hilbinger