Sunday, January 27, 2019

A Dreary Day

Today's Sunday walk in the Dykeman Spring Nature Park was a dreary one. Now that the latest snow has melted everything looks messy and disheveled, and the colors are drab and muted. Still, there were objects of interest, including a shelf fungus and a Great Blue Heron. The Heron flew by me by the north duck pond and set up by the creek at the outflow from the other duck pond across the street, a great fishing spot any other time of the year; I doubt there are many fish moving around in these icy waters!

The Dykeman wetland is looking a tad dreary these days
So is the creek
A shelf fungus on a tree along the nature trail
Great Blue Heron fishing
© 2019 by A. Roy Hilbinger 

Sunday Bach - Epiphany 3

Bach wrote four cantatas for the third Sunday after Epiphany. This year I've chosen a beautiful and moving work - BWV 73, Herr, wie du willt, so schick's mit mir (Lord, as you will, so let it be done with me, Leipzig 1724). This cantata addresses the early controversy in the church, whether the message of Jesus is just for the Jews or for Jew and Gentile alike, with the Gospel reading for the day, the story of the faith of the Roman centurion. Here's the late Craig Smith of Emmanuel Music (edited by Ryan Turner) on this interesting and beautiful cantata:
The cantata BWV 73, composed in 1724 in Leipzig, begins as an unsolvable knot, which in the course of the piece unravels to produce music of the greatest peace and comfort. The Gospel reading – Matthew 8:1-13, for which our cantata was conceived, speaks of the faith of the Centurion. The reading emphasizes the lessons that can be learned from the faith of a Gentile. The issue of undying faith becomes the issue that is repeatedly hammered home in this text. 
The work begins with a chorus that is as single-minded and thunderous as the famous opening of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony. The oft-repeated motif in both the horn and the chorus actually resembles the “fate” motif in the symphony and functions in exactly the same way. The hard-hitting chorale theme is troped by some of the most emotional and over-the-top recitatives in all of Bach. The chorus ends without musical or emotional resolution. The gently descending oboe line that begins the tenor aria acts like the dove descending and bringing a balm to mankind. It is one of the most striking releases of tension in all of Bach. The middle section of the aria is like a memory of the despair of the opening chorus. The bass recitative and aria go even deeper. The recitative sets up education and submission to God’s will as the only hope of salvation. The aria is, unusually, a set of three quatrains, a form rare in the Bach cantatas. Our opening chorus motif, “Herr wie du willt” has been transformed into something malleable and plastic, one can almost see the soul descending into submission. The magical funeral bells – string  pizzicati- in the third verse are unbearably poignant. A direct and affirming verse of the chorale, “Von Gott will ich nicht lassen” ends the cantata.

© Craig Smith, with Ryan Turner
Today's performance is a magnificent one by the Collegium Vocale Gent under the direction of Philippe Herreweghe. Enjoy!

Photo © 2018 by A. Roy Hilbinger 

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

More Visitors

Papa and Mama Red have returned to the feeder station. Yesterday Papa hopped around on the snow, but today he went right to the source, the Sunflower seeds in the tray feeder. Meanwhile, Mama decided to check out the leftovers below.

© 2019 by A. Roy Hilbinger 

Sunday, January 20, 2019

Another Storm

We had another Winter storm move through last night and this morning. It was a bit more intense than the last two. We got probably four or so inches before it turned to rain, and we woke up this morning to two or three inches of very soggy snow. While I was out walking in the Dykeman Spring Nature Park later in the morning the following cold front started moving through; the wind picked up and the temperature started to plummet, and all that soggy snow started to harden. This is going to be a royal pain until it gets warm enough to melt again. Meanwhile, it's very scenic, as you can see from the following photos.

The storm moving off
A streamlet in the wetland in the snow
The wetland in the snow
The cold front moving in over the mountains
© 2019 by A. Roy Hilbinger 

Sunday Bach - Epiphany 2

Bach wrote three cantatas for the second Sunday after Epiphany, and all three are a tad gloomy despite being based around the story of Christ's first public miracle, changing water to wine at the wedding in Cana. The point of the message for the day is less the festive occasion and more about Mary's doubt at what her son is planning to do and Jesus' chastising her for her lack of faith. For this year I've chosen the first of Bach's cantatas for this Sunday - BWV 155, Mein Gott, wie lang, ach lange? (My God, how long, oh how long?, Weimar 1716). This is a small, intimate little solo cantata, lasting only 15 minutes and consisting only of the four vocalists, two violins, a viola, a bassoon, and continuo (in this case double bass, cello, and organ). Michael Beattie of Emmanuel Music gives some insight on this lovely little cantata:
Today’s Gospel on the miracle of the Wedding at Cana is about transformation - water into wine, doubt into trust. It is the exact reading that Bach’s congregation would have heard just before the first performance of today’s cantata. Bach’s wonderful Weimar librettist Salomo Franck weaves in the general theme of the reading while making full poetic use of the images of water, wine and tears. An arresting recitative opens the cantata - we hear Bach the hypothetical opera composer at work as the soprano (the Soul) expounds her troubles over an anxious throbbing bass line with dissonant interjections from the upper strings. The word ‘Freude’ [joy] is ironically colored by a dazzling upward melisma from the soprano, accompanied by downward string arpeggios - more descriptive of the abundant tears than the absent ‘wine of joy’.  In the second movement, the bassoon takes on the role of the troubled (perhaps weeping) soul in an extraordinary solo obbligato, with the alto and tenor - standing off to the side of the drama - offering encouraging words in parallel thirds and sixths. The extended bass recitative provides words of solace to the Soul from the voice of Christ - the wine of comfort and joy nicely mirrored in the continuo line. The lively triplets prevalent in the soprano aria suggest the energetic shrugging off of care and worry as the Soul casts herself into the arms of God. A verse from the chorale ‘Es is das Heil’ concludes the cantata, providing further thematic clarification.

© Michael Beattie
Today's performance is another gem from the J.S. Bach Foundation of Trogen, Switzerland, under the direction of Rudolf Lutz. Enjoy!

Photo © 2018 by A. Roy Hilbinger 

Wednesday, January 16, 2019


I haven't been keeping the camera eye on the bird feeders out my kitchen window for a while, but lately I've been having a regular visitor, and that got me to aim the camera out the window again. The regular is a Carolina Wren who seems to be in love with my suet feeder. While I was at it I got a shot of some other regulars - a Junco and a male House Finch at the tower feeder. Check 'em out!

Carolina Wren

Male House Finch (left) and Dark-eyed Junco (eating)
© 2019 by A. Roy Hilbinger 

Sunday, January 13, 2019

A Snowy Sunday Walk in the Park

We had some snow overnight, the first of the new year. It's only about 2 inches, but it still adds magic to the usual Sunday walk in the park. I went with black and white this time to bring out the contrast between the snow and the trees, and used Alien Skin's Exposure with its Kodak Tri-X 400 emulator to give it that film's silvery shine. 

During the walk in the park it was still snowing, very lightly with very fine flakes that didn't so much fall as dance their way to the ground on the slightest breeze. This put me in mind of Claude Debussy's "The snow is dancing", the fourth movement of his Children's Corner suite. So naturally I went on YouTube to find it, and here it is. Enjoy!

Photos © 2019 by A. Roy Hilbinger 

Sunday Bach - Epiphany 1

Bach wrote several cantatas for the first Sunday after Epiphany; I chose this one for its uniqueness - BWV 32, Liebster Jesu, mein Verlangen (Dearest Jesus, my desire, Leipzig 1726). This is one of Bach's dialogue cantatas, a solo cantata for two interacting voices. In this one he casts the story of Jesus in the Temple at age 12, and Mary's panic when she can't find him, as a dialogue between the soul (soprano) and Jesus (bass). The plaintive oboe solo, taken up by the soprano, at the very beginning sets the tone for the whole cantata. Here's the late Craig Smith of Emmanuel Music on this beautiful and intriguing cantata.
The cantata BWV 32 is perhaps the most perfect of all of the Bach "Dialogue" cantatas. The story of the twelve-year-old Jesus is here turned into a sophisticated dialogue between Christ and the soul. Here Mary's panic when she discovers Jesus is lost becomes the soul's panic at the loss of Jesus. The child Jesus is made a bass voice further abstracting this very personal and parochial story. The opening aria for soprano, oboe and strings is one of the great heavenly laments in all of Bach. Over calm string arpeggios the oboe weaves a chromatic and poignant melody. The soprano soon joins and the two weave amazingly expressive garlands over the inexorable strings. The bass voice Jesus asks why Mary is searching for him; doesn't she know that he is about his father's business? This beautiful arioso becomes an aria with solo violin, describing his father's mansions. The story of the twelve-year-old Jesus has always been associated with Psalm 84. In the following duet arioso, Jesus and Mary sing lines from that Psalm leading into the wonderful duet with oboe and strings. Here a bouncy yodeling motive that is both sung and played dominates the sparkling rhythmic drive. A simple four-voice version of "Freu dich sehr" concludes the work. 
© Craig Smith
Today's performance is by the Monteverdi Choir and the English Baroque Soloists under the direction of Sir John Eliot Gardiner. Enjoy!

Photo © 2015 by A. Roy Hilbinger 

Sunday, January 06, 2019

Sunday Bach - Epiphany

Today is Epiphany (aka Twelfth Night, aka Three Kings Day), a major festival in the Church Year, celebrating the visit to the infant Christ in Bethlehem by the three wise men from the East (or kings, as tradition sometimes has it). It's also the final day of the Twelve Days of Christmas; the Christmas season officially stops here. Bach wrote several cantatas for this festival, most notably the sixth and final cantata of his massive Christmas Oratorio. But of all the cantatas he wrote for the Christmas season, the one I've chosen for today is the only one actually telling the story of the events celebrated rather than focusing on the theology - BWV 65, Sie Werden aus Saba alle kommen (They will all come from Sheba, Leipzig 1724). And it's a beauty, incorporating all kinds of musical effects to act as a sort of soundtrack to the story of the Three Kings. Here's the late Craig Smith of Emmanuel Music on this unique cantata:
Many cantatas for the Christmas season are not deeply involved with the Christmas story, but assume a contemplative attitude with a minimum of narrative. The Cantata BWV 65 not only directly quotes Isaiah’s prediction of the Wise Men, but contrasts it with a chorale description of how that prediction came true. Thus, the unusual placement of a chorale immediately after the opening chorus sets off the principal thrust of the piece: the gifts of the Wise Men are a reflection of the gift of God in fulfilling the words of Isaiah. 
The opening chorus has a wonderful, exotic, “Eastern” sounding orchestration with pairs of recorders, oboes da caccia and horns as well as the usual strings and continuo. The loping 9/8 meter gives the piece a charming “camel music” quality. This cantata contains the only example of horns in C in all of Bach’s music. The beginning tutti shows the richness of color available to Bach with this combination of instruments. The sound of the piece comes not only from the exotic combination of instruments but also from the abundance of octave doublings. This interest in octaves culminates in the final cadence of the tutti, which contains a rarely-heard unison from the entire orchestra. The choral writing is marvelously varied with block-like writing, imitative writing, and a full-fledged choral fugue. In his book “The Compositional Process of J.S. Bach,” Robert Marshall describes ingeniously how Bach “thinks on his feet” in the writing of this fugue. In fact, one of the great glories of the first Jahrgang is the new way in which Bach is able to fold choral fugues into a more homophonic texture. This is particularly striking in a work such as this that has horns with few available chromatic notes. Bach makes an event out of the return of the horns to the orchestral texture by surprisingly overlapping them with the end of the fugue. 
The chorale that follows, a verse of “Ein Kind, geborn zu Bethelehem,” is austere, almost barren in its harmonization. It is as if the richness of Isaiah’s prophecy is contrasted with the meager circumstances of Christ’s birth. The recitative that follows is a classic example of Bach’s sensitivity to the shape and function of the text. The first half, which recounts the story of the wise men, begins in F major and modulates to G major. At the beginning of the contemplative section, where the speaker examines how these events affect him, the bass moves down to a six-four-two chord and sends the recitative in a harmonically different direction. 
Bach uses the dark sound of the two oboes da caccia as obbligati for the bass aria. Notice how the opening theme, so closely imitative and evocative of gold, is transformed into the gold torn from the earth by the drop of an octave at the end of the third line. The canon here is exclusively associated with the inadequacy of the gold offerings. The offering of the Christian’s heart is accompanied by euphonious parallel thirds in the obbligato instruments. 
The secco tenor recitative is appropriately didactic, and offers a perfect foil for the return to the extravagant orchestration that accompanies the opening of the next tenor aria. The main tune of this aria is clearly related to the opening idea of the chorus. Even more, the “oriental” octave doublings bring us back into that world. There is something popular in the character of this spirited piece. It is bar-form, something rather unusual in non-chorale related pieces in Bach. The simple folksy vocal writing at the beginning is a wonderful contrast to the exuberant melismas of the final section. 
Not only the choice of a verse from “Was mein Gott will, das g’scheh allzeit,” but also its austere harmonization, is surprising compared to the color of the rest of the cantata. Perhaps Bach is preparing us for the sobriety of the Epiphany season. Its simplicity is very much in keeping with the presentation of the other chorale, and gives us a slightly different relationship between the chorale and the concerted music that we are used to in first Jahrgang pieces.

© Craig Smith
Today's performance is from a recording by the Gabrieli Consort and Players under the direction of Paul McCreesh. Enjoy!

Photo © 2017 by A. Roy Hilbinger 

Tuesday, January 01, 2019

Happy New Year!

I raise my glass and salute you all for the New Year. Slainte!

Photo © 2014 by A. Roy Hilbinger