Sunday, September 30, 2018

Walking in the Park

The weather was perfect for this week's Sunday walk in the Dykeman Spring Nature Park - a cool morning with temps in the 50s (10º - 12º C), a slight breeze, and sun filtered through some wandering cirrus clouds. More signs of Fall are popping up. The season is advancing!

The Bittersweet berries in the wetland are starting to pop out of their green husks
The Goldenrod is in full bloom and attracting lots of visitors, like this Paper Wasp
An Autumn leaf floating on the north duck pond
Cabbage White butterflies were all over the Daisy Fleabane up on the meadow
A view across the meadow to the mountains to the north
© 2018 by A. Roy Hilbinger

Sunday Bach - Trinity 18

Today is the 18th Sunday after Trinity, and today's cantata is BWV 169, Gott soll allein mein Herze haben (God alone shall have my heart, Leipzig 1726). This is a beautiful solo cantata featuring the alto voice. And if that opening sinfonia sounds familiar, it should; it's the first movement of the E major harpsichord concerto, rearranged and transposed to the key of D. Bach often borrowed from himself. Here's the late Craig Smith of Emmanuel Music on this lovely solo cantata:
After the first two cantata cycles in Leipzig, Bach became discouraged with the level of players and singers at his disposal. More and more frequently he wrote prominent parts in his cantatas for organ, knowing that his son Carl Philip Emmanuel would play them well and emphasized solo voices over the chorus. Today’s cantata is a prime example. It begins with an arrangement of the first movement of the E major harpsichord concerto transposed to D. The solo part is given to the organ and the original string orchestra is enriched by two oboes and English Horn. The sung portion of the cantata begins with an extended arioso for alto with the continuo instruments. The opening line of text “Gott soll allein” functions as a litany through out both this movement and the following delightful aria with organ obbligato. After a brief recitative the strings of the orchestra reappear in a marvelous adaptation of the second movement of the E major harpsichord concerto. Once again the organ takes the solo part with the voice part laid on top of it. What is fascinating is Bach's enrichment of the harmony in order to color the text particularly the word "stirb”(to die). After another brief recitative the work ends with an harmonization of one of the most beautiful chorale tunes, “Nun bitten wir den heiligen Geist.”

© Craig Smith
Today's performance is from a beautiful 1983 recording by the Gächinger Kantorei Stuttgart and the Württembergisches Kammerorchester Heilbronn under the direction of Helmuth Rilling and featuring alto Carolyn Watkinson and organist Hans-Joachim Erhard. Enjoy!

Photo © 2016 by A. Roy Hilbinger 

Sunday, September 23, 2018

Welcome to Autumn!

The Autumnal Equinox occurred around 9:00 yesterday evening, and today is the first full day of my favorite season. The Dark Half of the year begins, and the earth slowly cools and sheds its fancy clothes before sliding under the snowy quilt of the long Winter sleep. After a warm and unusually wet Summer things are still very green and lush, but some tinges of color have begun to appear, and the various Fall Asters have begun to bloom. The season has begun!

Unfortunately, the Mosquitos didn't get the memo about the change of season. On my weekly Sunday walk in Dykeman Park this morning they were ferocious! They were traveling in swarms, and whenever I paused to get a shot of something they descended on me. Because the temperature dropped overnight I had a jacket on against the morning chill, but they went right for my open spots, my hands and face. When you get to the photo of the Calico Asters below you'll see one of the culprits in the lower right corner.

A fallen Black Walnut leaf along the Dykeman Walking Trail in the wetland
The wetland is starting to show a tinge of seasonal color
White Wood Asters in the wetland woods
Calico Asters by the north duck pond. Yes, that's a *#$@*! mosquito in the lower right corner
An unidentified small moth up in the meadow
For me, Autumn has always been a particularly Pagan time, when I love to wander in the woods among the rough trunks and falling leaves, looking for Ents and gnomes sitting under mushrooms. What better way to celebrate it than with the title song of Jethro Tull's unabashedly Pagan album "Songs from the Wood". Enjoy!

Photos © 2018 by A. Roy Hilbinger 

Sunday Bach - Trinity 17

Bach wrote three cantatas for the 17th Sunday after Trinity, and I've chosen the last one for today - BWV 47, Wer sich selbst erhöhet, der soll erniedriget werden (He who exalts himself shall be humbled, Leipzig 1726). This is Bach's fugal majesty at its finest, and the rest of the cantata, while not quite as majestic, is still a pleasant listening experience. Here's musicologist Simon Crouch on this cantata:
If you know the prelude and fugue in c minor BWV 546 for organ, you may very well recognise the opening movement of this cantata. A lot of the material from the organ work has gone into fashioning this mighty choral movement. The text is from the very final part of the Gospel: Whoever himself exalteth shall be abased and he who gains humility shall be exalted over. Stand back and admire this mighty fugal work!

After the opening chorus Bach immediately cuts down the scale of things with a very simple, sparely accompanied soprano aria. The aria, at nearly ten minutes, is very long and you may well feel, as I do, that it outstays its welcome. The recitative is followed by a bass aria that is far more interesting. There's a very genial accompaniment from the oboe and violins that lightens the mood, as is appropriate to the more positive message of the libretto. The cantata ends with a straightforward chorale setting.

Copyright © 1996 & 1998, Simon Crouch
I have to disagree with Mr. Crouch on one item in his critique; he complains that the soprano aria is too long, but for me, it depends on the soprano. For today's performance I've chosen a recording by the Amsterdam Baroque Orchestra and Choir under the direction of Ton Koopman, and the soprano featured is Sandrine Piau, whose voice is not tiring at all. Listen and see if you agree.

Photo © 2018 by A. Roy Hilbinger 

Sunday, September 16, 2018

This Week's Walk in the Park

The Autumnal Equinox is fast approaching (Friday), and there are signs of the approaching season, but it still looks more like Summer because of the warm, wet Summer we had this year. And there's more rain yet to come as the remnants of Hurricane Florence approach early in the coming week. There are still plenty of flowers in this week's walk, including some early Fall bloomers, as well as plenty of bugs. And there were two surprises: a squash vine growing by the parking lot and beginning of the Dykeman Walking Trail that has sprouted blossoms (one with a visitor); and a juvenile Great Blue Heron hanging out by the north duck pond.

A note on how the final pictures emerge... The first shot below started out as a shot of the complete blossom and part of the vegetation, but as I cropped and tweaked it became obvious that the star of the show was the little pollen-covered critter in the middle. So one more crop and the real picture from that shot emerged.

A Dwarf Bumblebee gathering goodies in a Squash blossom
White Snakeroot growing along the Dykeman Walking Trail
Arrowwood Viburnum with berries along the Dykeman Walking Trail. When the berries ripen they'll be a dark blue/black.
A juvenile Great Blue Heron by the north duck pond
The resident pair of Muscovy ducks by the north duck pond
A faded Painted Lady butterfly on Snakeroot up on the meadow
© 2018 by A. Roy Hilbinger 

Sunday Bach - Trinity 16

In Bach's time the Gospel reading for the 16th Sunday after Trinity was from the 7th chapter of Luke, the raising from the dead of the son of the widow of Nain, emphasizing Christ's compassion for the grieving widow and his mercy toward her in reviving her only son. True to his time, Bach saw death as a blessed relief at the end of a long struggle, and all four of his cantatas for this Sunday emphasize this belief. Today's choice is the last of those four, BWV 27, Wer weiß, wie nahe mir mein Ende? (Who knows how near my end is?, Leipzig 1726). By this time in his career Bach's reputation is firm and settled, and he has begun to expand his parameters, experimenting and playing with new ideas, and this chorale cantata is a fine example of that. Here's the late Craig Smith of Emmanuel Music on this beautiful work:
After the extraordinary concentration and consistency of effort in Bach’s first two years in Leipzig, his output becomes spottier. There are, after the first two years in Leipzig, no more complete yearly cycles. The pieces that are from the third and fourth years, however, are in no way inferior to the dazzling works from the first years. Our cantata is from the fourth year of Bach’s Leipzig tenure. It is in some ways quite experimental. Stylistically the chorus is a curious combination of Bach’s first tentative forays into the gallant style. At the same time, for all of the sighing grid of the strings and the ornamental, very detailed oboe parts, the affect is similar to the most serious of the earlier pieces. The chorale tune is sung block style by the chorus with trope commentaries by the various soloists. While this technique will be familiar to cantata listeners from interior movements in earlier cantatas, this method first appears here in an opening chorus.

After a tenor recitative, the alto sings a compelling aria with accompaniment of English horn and organ. By this time in Bach’s Leipzig tenure, the composer had become discouraged with the level of instrumental playing available to him. More and more he writes obbligati and prominent parts for organ, the instrument that he was most confident would be well played because his son Carl Philip Emmanuel was by this time old enough to participate in the cantatas. The sparkling organ texture surrounding the melancholy English horn and the expressive alto voice makes for a marvelous and unique texture. The soprano recitative that follows is operatic in character with the strings illustrating the birds’ wings. The bass aria with strings is very much in the mode of the most serious arias of the contemporaneous St. Matthew Passion. Two characters, a lyrical sighing line tinged with regret, and an agitated militaristic string figure, illustrate the conflict between heaven and the tumultuous world. The chorale, a five-voice setting, is the only chorale harmonization in all of the cantatas not by Bach. Here he takes over a 1682 harmonization by Johannes Rosenmüller. The slightly archaic harmony and the touching movement to triple meter when talking of Heaven is a perfect close to this really remarkable masterpiece. 
© Craig Smith
Today's performance is from a recording by the Collegium Vocale Gent under the direction of Philippe Herreweghe. Enjoy!

Photo © 2018 by A. Roy Hilbinger 

Monday, September 10, 2018

Wet, Wet, Wet!

It has already been a wet Summer here in Central PA, and now we've had even more rain for the whole weekend, including the leftovers from Tropical Storm Gordon moving in yesterday, and there looks to be even more rain for the rest of the week, including possible fallout from Hurricane Florence next weekend. So it's been very wet, and the landscape is a rich, lush green.

I couldn't do my customary Sunday walk in the Dykeman Spring Nature Park yesterday because it was pouring rain, so I did the walk today in a light, misty drizzle. No closeup shots today because downpours tend to wipe out details, so I took more panoramic shots so you can see the mist and the green. Despite the fact that it was a mist rather than a downpour, it was still a very wet walk!

Branch Creek is running full!
Gum Run is full, too
Entering the park on the Dykeman Walking Trail
Looking out into the wetland
The north duck pond
Looking east across the upland meadow
© 2018 by A. Roy Hilbinger 

Sunday, September 09, 2018

Sunday Bach - Trinity 15

Bach wrote four cantatas for the 15th Sunday after Trinity, and I chose this particular one for today because I need cheering up. It's pouring rain out, it's dreary, and a little musical sunshine is required, I think. So for today I chose BWV 99, Was Gott tut, das ist wohlgetan (What God does is well done, Leipzig 1724), a chorale cantata. The theme is from the Gospel reading for the day in 1724, Jesus' famous sermon in Matthew 6 - Consider the lilies of the field, they neither sow nor reap, yet even Solomon in all his glory was never arrayed like one of these (hence the Day Lilies in the photo above). The cantata, and especially the opening chorus, has a lilt to it and is full of warmth. Here's the late Craig Smith of Emmanuel Music on this lovely cantata:
The beautiful passage about the servant of two masters and the lilies of the field is the Gospel for the 15th Sunday after Trinity. Its feeling of warmth and abundance permeates the gorgeous opening chorus of Cantata BWV 99. This chorus overlays the wonderful chorale tune ”Was Gott tut das ist Wohlgetan” upon a concerto movement for flute, oboe d'amore and strings. The lilting tune sets the tone for the whole chorus. The whole movement has a marvelous sense of generosity and openness. Just the first violin line of the first cadence illustrates this. The actual chorale is a big arching tune, quite different than the stepwise motion that we are used to in most of the chorales. There are too many felicities of detail to enumerate here, but one should notice the structure of the opening. Strings play an opening tutti for 16 bars. The oboe d'amore enters in the seventeenth bar with the theme, the flute playing a bubbling obbligato. One would expect the chorale to enter either with the concerto soloists or on, perhaps the second phrase. Instead the first entrance is put on the cadence of the first solo concerto phrase, where one least expects it. The actual treatment of the chorale is significant. The soprano in long notes always begins alone with the bottom three voices imitating at a respectful distance. Certainly Bach hears the soprano here as the voice of God, leading the way for the poor mortal altos, tenors and basses. The final tutti, instead of being a repetition of the opening is even more extravagant in its sheer beauty. Bars 106-109 will suffice [#1 106-109 score]

Most of the cantatas that we have been dealing with have begun with a conflict and ended up, some of them rather near the end, with a resolution. Our cantata here begins with great faith and confidence. Both of the subsequent concerted pieces, an aria and a duet have darker sides, although they are composed with the lightest of touches. The tenor aria with flute (#3) has passing chromatic passages and some quite daring harmony. It retains however a mood of quiet confidence. Notice how all of the vocal lines are literally turned upside down in the B section, as if one were seeing the situation from God's point of view.  
As marvelous as this aria is it is the soprano-alto duet with flute and oboe d'amore obbligatti that brings the cantata to its climax Again the first thing that one notices is the lightness of touch. The opening continuo line moves with the quietest of steps [#5 bar continuo bars 1-2]. The flute and oboe d'amore play a haunting little theme in canon with the most delicate of chromatics. Although the text sung by the singers is about the “Kreuzes Bitterkeiten” It is clear that this is but a dim memory. The whole tone is of an elevated state of grace. How different are the long melismas of the two singers than the rather dogged ones three weeks earlier in the soprano-alto duet of Cantata BWV 113. Here, they have a kind of shimmering quality that illuminates the text like a lantern in the night. One is surprised that the duet is not a da capo until it becomes clear that the final chorale is the resolution and that its first line of text is almost identical with the last line of text in the a section of the duet. Surely this is one of the most perfect cantatas in the whole literature.

© Craig Smith
Today's performance is from a recording by the Amsterdam Baroque Orchestra and Choir under the direction of Ton Koopman. Enjoy!

Photo © 2018 by A. Roy Hilbinger 

Sunday, September 02, 2018

Late Summer Abundance

August has gone by and September has begun. But it's still hot and humid; this morning's walk in the Dykeman Spring Nature Park was a damp one indeed. Lots of late Summer flowers are blooming - Wingstem, New York Ironweed, Goldenrod, Gaura, and Jewelweed - and soon the Fall Asters will start up. Here's something of a pictorial record of this morning's walk.

Yellow Ironweed, aka Wingstem, along the Dykeman Walking Trail by Gum Run
The Jewelweed is prolific in the Dykeman Spring wetland this year
There's lots of Goldenrod this year, too. Get out the antihistamine! 
Yet another pond reflections shot
Scarlet Pimpernel up on the meadow
The view north from the top of the meadow
This Groundhog sentinel at the east end of the meadow saw me out of the park
© 2018 by A. Roy Hilbinger 

Sunday Bach - Trinity 14

Of the three cantatas that Bach wrote for the 14th Sunday after Trinity, this one has to be my favorite - BWV 17Wer Dank opfert, der preiset mich (He who offers thanks praises me, Leipzig 1726). Cheerful, bright, and uplifting, it moves the listener onward and upward, just the kind of thing we need after a long and stressful week. Here's the late Craig Smith of Emmanuel Music on this beautiful cantata:
The pairing of the rather preachy passage from Galatians and the parable of the ten lepers from Luke at first seems an odd one. Jesus’ point – that none of us appreciate enough the gifts of God, since only the Samaritan thanks him for being cured – is really in line with the idea that living by the spirit is the only way to avoid sin in our lives. What is for most people the “straight and narrow” clearly means to Jesus the fullness of all experience. 
That sense of abundance is evident throughout Cantata BWV 17. The opening chorus, based upon the last verse of Psalm 50, is one of the richest and most brilliant of Bach’s choral fugues. There is nary a hint that this verse comes at the end of one of the severest and most unremittingly stern Psalms. The long opening ritornello is so lacking in profile, really only a little figure that is played in sequence over and over, that the entrance of the big high-flying tenor theme in bar 28 comes as a relief. Verticality is established on the words, “thanks” and “offering.” Horizontal writing prevails in the word “praise.” These two styles of melisma are identifiable throughout the cantata. The minimalist introduction is, of course, carefully calculated by Bach to bring this bravura choral theme into high relief, We have seen how the third Jahrgang is notable for its marvelously integrated choral fugues. Here there is no real necessity for that kind of integration; the choral music is so much more in the foreground than the orchestration. This is a fugue that neither has nor needs elaborate stretti or other contrapuntal wizardry. The working out is simple and straightforward, the episodes clear, even boxy. It makes its effect by brilliance and a wonderful rhythmic drive that propels it in a compellingly clear manner through the final cadence.

The lofty secco alto recitative has a grandeur that is in opposition to the humility of the following aria. It is interesting that all of the recitatives in this cantata have a tone noticeably absent in the concerted music. The rising scale passages that we heard throughout the first part of the chorus are again evident in the soprano aria. The two solo violins with the child soprano voice gives the aria a miniature quality in contrast to the opening chorus, but much of the material is basically the same. There is lightness, almost humor, here in the childish efforts at praise.

The tenor recitative is unique in all of the cantatas in that it sets part of the Gospel as a pure secco recitative, no arioso, no string accompaniment. The tenor aria again emphasizes abundance. The main theme is cut from the same cloth as the chorus and the soprano aria, but is enriched by a detailed and interesting bass line. The shape of the melody is unusually specific to the character of the words. “Übermass” is set refulgently, the “offering” is horizontal. For all of the very detailed dissection of the text throughout the aria, this distinction of the two types of writing remains. There is a wonderful plasticity of phrasing; often the voice goes its own way against the more rigorous orchestra. 
Bach finds remarkable richness of harmony in the long and very diatonic choral “Nun lob mein Seel, den Herren.” The chromatic bass line in the last two phrases in particular is surprising and satisfying.

© Craig Smith
Today's performance is from a recording by the Amsterdam Baroque Orchestra and Choir under the direction of Ton Koopman. Enjoy!

Photo © 2018 by A. Roy Hilbinger