Sunday, June 30, 2019

Sunday Bach - Trinity 2

In the late Spring of 1723 Bach was just starting his career as Cantor at the Thomaskirche in Leipzig, a post which pretty much made him the music director for the whole city, both sacred and secular. His cantata for the second Sunday after Trinity was also his second cantata in his new position - BWV 76, Die Himmel erzählen die Ehre Gottes (The heavens declare the glory of God). He's still showing off here, with lots of bells and whistles we've come to associate with his music - complex fugues, rich harmonies, and the weaving together of the human voice with orchestral instruments to create harmony and movement that would be the envy of the most skilled Swiss watchmaker. Here's the late Craig Smith of Emmanuel Music on this magnificent work:
Bach's first perfect Leipzig masterpiece is cantata BWV 76, for the second Sunday after Trinity. The cantata is in two parts on a large scale, with identical chorale settings ending each section. For the second Sunday after Trinity, the parable of the Great Banquet from the 14th  Chapter of Luke is paired with a beautiful  passage from the first Epistle of John on brotherly love. The somewhat harsh aggressive quality of the Gospel reading is reflected by the high bright keys of the concerted music of the first part of this cantata. The second part, with its muted minor mode keys and introduction of the dark-hued oboe d’amore and viola da gamba, perfectly reflects the gentleness of the Epistle. This is an interesting case where Bach never attempts to combine the meaning of the two readings, but rather pursues each in a parallel course. The darkness of the chorale harmonization that ends both sections of the cantata functions as a kind of mediation between the two characters.

It begins with a large chorus in two sections, an introduction and a fugue. It is not only one of Bach perfect choral fugues, but one of the most dazzlingly energetic Psalm settings in all of the cantatas. The chorus begins with a fanfare figure in the trumpet, echoed by the strings and oboes. Presumably this generates from the opening image of the first chorus, of the heavens resounding, with the glory of God. Echo effects are, of course, a staple of the Baroque style, but they are also an important image in this Psalm. There is a grandeur and breadth to both the opening tutti and the opening choral statement, with its solo bass incipit, that is new to Bach.

Most of the recitatives in this cantata are broadly ambitious. The first, an accompagnato for tenor, is in three sections: the first and third accompanied by sustained string chords; the middle section, a description of creation, is accompanied by expressive meandering sixteenth notes in the violins. 
The soprano aria is so geared to the child’s perspective that it is difficult for an adult singer to bring off. The purity of the little imitations between the violin solo and the bass and the gamboling run upward to the cadence can sound arch and insincere.It is an important statement, however, and an significant part of the “Great Banquet” parable that is the basis for this cantata. Bach clearly wants us to be amazed in a childlike way that any one would reject the abundance offered to him. 
The darkening of the harmony and the introduction of an adult voice in the secco bass recitative brings in the concept of human foolishness and idolatry. The ensuing bass aria with strings and trumpet contains the same canonic relationship between the bass and the melody as we saw in the soprano aria. Here, however, it is turned on its ear. There is a wicked devilish quality to the tight little imitations among the continuo, viola and trumpet. The upward rush of the violins adds a jittery, hysterical effect.  There is an ungrounded unstable sense to this music that perfectly reflects its text. 
After the uneasy energy of the bass aria the secco alto recitative leads us inward to the heavenly melancholy of Luther’s great chorale”Es wohl uns Gott genädig sein.” This is one of Bach’s most elaborate chorale harmonizations. Each phrase is introduced by a statement in the trumpet, accompanied by high string and oboe parts in a dense bed of suspensions and chromaticism. Each choral phrase is introduced by the orchestra playing the first few notes of the theme. The very continuousness of the texture and the density of harmony give the work an oppressive and dark cast.

The second part opens with a sinfonia for oboe d’amore, viola da gamba and continuo. It is an arrangement of the first movement of the E Minor Organ Trio Sonata BWV 528. Not only does this music perfectly establish the dark seriousness of the text that follows, but the colors of the two main instruments also work marvelously together. It is curious that Bach never again resorted to this combination of instruments. The accompanied bass recitative introduces immediately the themes of this section of the cantata. We must love our brothers, even when they hate us.

The ferocity of the following tenor aria with continuo is startling after the warmth of this recitative and the sinfonia. On top of spiky, jagged continuo lines, the tenor sings brutal long notes on the word ”hasse.” The heart-stopping rests at the end of the 2nd and 4th bars and the mounting energy of the stinging sixteenth note pattern at the end of bars 5-7create an atmosphere of paranoia and fear. The wonderful softening of the vocal line at bar 40 comes like a balm. This is remarkably high profile music. 
As at the end of the first section of the cantata, the alto leads us inward in the secco recitative. Its gentle walking bass accompanying the expressive repetition of the text “he feeds me with manna from heaven” is the perfect introduction to the sublime 9/8 aria with oboe d’amore and viola da gamba obbligati. The beautiful rolling theme is given just enough edge by the slightly unsettling syncopes of the viola da gamba. As with the opening chorus, Bach by this time has the wherewithal to write a very extended introduction without ever seeming long-winded. The exhortation to show your love by your works is compellingly portrayed by the gorgeous richness of the little answers to the phrase by the two obbligati. We have here one of Bach’s very greatest arias; a work that seems to go deeper and deeper into the soul of the words. After a secco tenor recitative, the return of the same harmonization of “Es wohl uns Gott”seems perfectly in character to the seriousness of this great aria. With cantata BWV 76 we have one of the great visionary Bach works. The very strangeness of the pairing of the Gospel and the Epistle has made a structure distinctive, yet compellingly right. 
© Craig Smith, edited by Pamela Dellal
Today's performance is from a recording by the Amsterdam Baroque Orchestra and Choir under the direction of Ton Koopman. Enjoy!

Photo © 2017 by A. Roy Hilbinger 

Wednesday, June 26, 2019

Yesterday in Black & White

I knew some of yesterday's shots on my hike in farm country would work in black & white, and I actually shot some of them with that in mind. Today I used Alien Skin's Exposure 2 Photoshop plug-in, using its Kodak Tri-X 400 setting, to see. Sure enough, some of them did very well indeed. Take a look.

© 2019 by A. Roy Hilbinger 

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Another Visit to Farm Country

Today I went on another hike in farm country, up Possum Hollow Rd. past my brother's place, across I-81 on Olde Scotland Rd., across Woods Rd. to White Church Rd. and into Mainsville to head home on Mainsville Rd. It was another hot and humid day, but I seem to be getting acclimated to the Summer weather already. Although I did get pretty tired; after eating lunch once I got home, I promptly fell asleep for a couple of hours. But it was worth it, and these shots will give you an idea of what there was to see on the way.

A cornfield on Possum Hollow Rd. at the foot of Timber Hill
The Mennonite farm across the road from my brother's place on Possum Hollow Rd.
A view of South Mountain from the far end of Possum Hollow Rd.

The grain elevators on the railroad tracks off Mt. Rock Rd.
A view from Olde Scotland Rd.
An old barn on Woods Rd.
A ramshackle farm along White Church Rd.
A meadow along Mainsville Rd. on the way home
© 2019 by A. Roy Hilbinger 

Monday, June 24, 2019

This Week's Walk in the Park

We had some gorgeous weather over the weekend - dry air finally! - but the humidity moved back in today, and we're waiting for showers later. I think the drier air over the weekend knocked the bugs back some, because even though it was plenty humid as I walked through the Dykeman Spring wetland, there were no mosquitos trying to drive me crazy. Thanks heavens for small favors!

Apparently the parks and recreation people took advantage of the drier weather, too, and came and cut the grass and cleared the trails, so things weren't nearly as overgrown as last week. Still and all, there's plenty of moisture in the ground and heat in the air, so things are still quite lush. And poor Wade cut and baled some more hay over the weekend; now pretty much half of the meadow is mowed. After today's (and possibly tomorrow morning's) rain it's supposed to remain rain-free through the next weekend, so maybe he'll be able to get a lot more done, if not finish up. Fingers crossed!

Today's walk seems to have been dominated by critters - a rabbit, two turtles, and the Groundhog sentry at the eastern end of the park all made an appearance, and there are also plenty of flowers blooming. Let's take a walk!

Scritch, scritch, scritch! Bunny has an itch!
The footbridge over Gum Run is still pretty overgrown
The Daylilies are in full bloom
A young Snapping Turtle in the north duck pond comes up for air
A young Painted Turtle up on the berm around the pond keeps a wary eye on me
Daisy Fleabane up on the meadow
There's our storm front, moving in over the mountains to the northwest
The Groundhog sentry at the eastern exit/entrance to the meadow was on duty again
© 2019 by A. Roy Hilbinger 

Sunday, June 23, 2019

Sunday Bach - Trinity 1

Pennsylvania Farm
The first Sunday after Trinity starts Ordinary Time, the period of lessons from the parables of Jesus. This week's parable is from Luke 16: 19-31, the story of Lazarus and Dives, showing the gap between rich and poor and the duty to feed and render aid to the poor. Bach wrote three cantatas for this Sunday, and I've chosen his first offering as the Cantor at the Thomaskirche in Leipzig, BWV 75, Die Elenden sollen essen, daß sie satt werden (The wretched should eat, that they may be full, Leipzig 1723). Bach had already pleased his employers with the two cantatas he'd written as his job application, and now he was all set to wow the folks who would be listening every week, the congregation at the Thomaskirche. This one has all kinds of bells and whistles meant to impress the audience. Here's the late Craig Smith of Emmanuel Music:
BWV 75 is one of the longest and grandest of all of the cantatas. It and its companion piece BWV 76 were the first two pieces written after Bach's appointment to be Cantor at Leipzig. The opening chorus is in two parts: a slow, halting section illustrating the plight of the hungry and a quicker, but still expressive fugue begun by four soloists and then taken up by the chorus. The themes of helping the poor and the evil of pride and selfishness are taken up in the bass recitative and further elaborated upon in the lovely lyrical tenor aria with oboe and strings. The other theme, the Bible reading that we must suffer for an eternity for our sins, is proclaimed by the tenor in the following recitative. The soprano takes a lovely, childlike point of view in the aria with oboe d'amore solo. After a recitative the chorus sings a beautiful, elaborated version of the chorale "Was Gott tut, das ist wohlgetan." That chorale then appears played by a high trumpet in the sinfonia that starts the second part of our cantata. The alto aria is melancholy and insistent, a new mood in this cantata. The bass brings back a positive note with both the recitative and the bravura aria with trumpet and strings. Another tenor recitative ushers in the second performance of the elaborated chorale "Was Gott tut, das ist wohlgetan." 
© Craig Smith
This week's performance is from a recording by the Collegium Vocale Gent under the direction of Philippe Herreweghe. Enjoy!

Photo © 2015 by A. Roy Hilbinger 

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

Another Wet Walk in the Park

Yesterday I took my weekly walk in the Dykeman Spring Nature Park, and once again it was a wet, humid experience. Everything's very lush right now, all green and blooming and teeming with life. I took a lot of shots; below are the cream of the crop, but after them is a video I made with the full contingent of shots that passed quality control, set to Peter Mayer's "Holy Now". Let's take a walk!

The foliage is especially lush by Branch Creek at the King St. bridge
A sure sign of Summer - the Daylilies are blooming
The Blackberries are also ripening
One of the resident Muscovy Ducks decided to go for a paddle in the north duck pond
Another pond-side bench buried in Mama Gaia's green blanket
Up on the meadow the butterflies, like this Silver-spotted Skipper, are going crazy over the abundant Red Clover
And off the east end of the meadow, this partially hidden Groundhog sentry was making sure I was leaving

And now, the video:

Photos © 2019 by A. Roy Hilbinger 

Sunday, June 16, 2019

Sunday Bach - Trinity Sunday

Fibonacci Thistle
Trinity Sunday marks the start of the second half of the liturgical year. The first half celebrates the life of Christ, from Advent to Pentecost, a time of the major festivals of the Church. Trinity Sunday starts what is known as Ordinary Time and is dedicated to explicating the teachings of Christ and the Church, and starts it all off today with a celebration of the Trinity, which became complete with the descent of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost.

Bach wrote four cantatas for Trinity Sunday, and this year I've chosen the last one he wrote for the holiday - BWV 129, Gelobet sei der Herr, mein Gott (Praised be the lord, my God, Leipzig 1726). This is a chorale cantata, based on the hymn O Gott du Frommer Gott by Johann Olearius, and features three arias, each focusing on an individual person of the Trinity. Here's the late Craig Smith (with editing by Ryan Turner) of Emmanuel Music:
Written for Trinity Sunday of 1725, today’s cantata, BWV 129, is also thought to have been brought back into service for the October Reformation Festival in 1726. The Epistle reading for Trinity Sunday of 1725 from the first book of Thessalonians coincides with our Epistle lesson today. The chorale text was written in 1665 and performed to the tune “O Gott du Frommer Gott.” This is one of only nine cantatas in which Bach sets the chorale text with no interpolations of text or readings. Every verse, except the last, begins with the words “Gelobet sei der Herr” (the Lord be praised). 
The opening chorus with trumpets and timpani is a vivid and energetic piece that features a wonderful motoric theme in the strings and winds with marvelous brass punctuation. After all of the wonderful stepwise energy there is a passage of real extravagance and imagination that keeps reappearing throughout the movement. Although the text uses personal pronouns (my God), the choral declamation and large forces suggest a universal, rather than personal, expression of faith. 
The bass aria with continuo, which begins with an ornamented version of the chorale tune, shifts our focus away from God to that of his son. This is evident in the dotted rhythms of the opening motive that pervade the entire movement. The image brought to mind is of Christ carrying the cross, walking unsteadily, stumbling from time to time. Still it is a lively affair. Notice how Bach transforms the dotted rhythms to whiplash 32nds at the top of the big leaps. For all of its speed, there is an elegant and ornamental quality to the opening ritornello.

The soprano aria is dominated by two fundamental images, the Spirit of the Lord and the individual who receives and is uplifted by it. The first is spiritual and ephemeral, the second physical and concrete. Bach combines and integrates them. The ritornello begins with a solid, balanced theme that occurs seven times. Simultaneously, a glassy scale figure in the continuo, later to be taken up by the flute and violin, represents the spiritual world. 
The ritornelli in the alto aria with Oboe d’amore obbligato are very long; the first one lasts full 24 bars. Although by this time our chorale has virtually disappeared as a melodic element, there is a sense that its six phrases are represented in each of these ritornelli. The only melodic relationship is that the melody lands on the sixth degree of the scale, just like the first phrase of the chorale. The aria is so blandly pretty in such a generalized way that the striking gesture of all voices going to a unison at the mention of the Trinity comes as something of a shock. We are used to this kind of extreme text painting in much more specific music. 
The final chorus is more pompous and ceremonial than the first but much the same in scoring and effect. This is one of the rare times that Bach departs from his usual practice of presenting it in four-part vocal harmony doubled by all available instruments. 
© Craig Smith and Ryan Turner
Today's performance is from a recording by the Amsterdam Baroque Orchestra and Choir under the direction of Ton Koopman. Enjoy!

Photo © 2017 by A. Roy Hilbinger 

Monday, June 10, 2019

Another Soft Day in the Park

Today has been what the Irish call a soft day (for an explanation click here), and the weekly walk was a damp one. But as my friend Patrice likes to point out, it's perfect light for photography - no glare, no drastic contrast, just a soft, even light that makes the colors just pop. So here are some things I saw on my weekly walk in the Dykeman Spring Nature Park.

A young Eastern Cottontail enjoying the clover on the walking trail
The park's creek as it runs between the ball fields 
Yarrow growing by Gum Run
A patch of Crown Vetch growing along the walking trail
Catalpa blossoms along the walking trail
My favorite bench by the north duck pond. The parks and recreation folks haven't been able to keep up with the lush conditions due to the soft ground. Which is fine by me; I like my Nature messy and wild rather than trimmed and tame.
A view of the north duck pond
Yellow Goatsbeard growing up in the meadow
© 2019 by A. Roy Hilbinger 

Sunday, June 09, 2019

Sunday Bach - Pentecost

In Bach's time, and indeed through much of the history of the Church, Pentecost was the major festival of the church year, even more so than Christmas and Easter. Why? Because Pentecost marks the birthday of the Church itself, when the disciples, energized and emboldened by the descent of the Holy Spirit, emerged from hiding in the upper room and went out into the world to spread the Good News. These days, and especially here in the United States, it's less so, mostly due to the influence of evangelicalism, which has that uniquely American distrust of any and all institutions and sees Christianity not as the Church Universal but more as a way to advance the "salvation" of the individual; for them Pentecost is a nod to the emergence of the Holy Spirit as another of those personal benefits of being a Christian.

But in Bach's time Pentecost was a three-day celebration of the birth of the Church, and some of Bach's best writing was done for this celebration. For this year's offering, I give you BWV 34, O ewiges Feuer, o Ursprung der Liebe (O eternal fire, o source of love, Leipzig 1727), a truly magnificent and beautiful cantata, the height of Bach's mastery, and absolutely fitting for the celebration of the major festival of the church year. Here's the late Craig Smith of Emmanuel Music on this wonderful cantata:
Bach Cantata BWV 34, "O Ewiges Feuer," is a relatively late work. It began life in the 1730's as a wedding cantata. [Blogger's note: Since Mr. Smith's essay was written it's been found that the cantata for Pentecost is actually the earlier original, and the wedding cantata is the later adaptation.] Certainly the ardent text of the opening chorus is both appropriate to a wedding as well as Pentecost. The beginning chorus is one of Bach's great choruses with trumpets. Bach never wrote a work in which the trumpets were more perfectly integrated into the choral and orchestral texture. The fugue on the text "Entzünde die Herze" is one of the most wonderful and passionate of all the Bach choral fugues. After a tenor recitative, the alto aria with flutes and muted strings is an amazing contrast. The gently rocking melody with its rich contrapuntal underpinning is magical in its floating harmony and its evocation of the "floating spirits." A bass recitative leads forcefully into the great choral exhortation for peace in Israel. The joyous quick music that follows brings the very great cantata to a rousing close. 
© Craig Smith
Today's performance is from a 1975 Archiv recording by the Munich Bach Choir and Orchestra under the direction of Karl Richter. Enjoy!

Photo © 2017 by A. Roy Hilbinger 

Tuesday, June 04, 2019

Pennsylvania Farms in Black & White

Last night it occurred to me that I hadn't done a black and white shoot in a very long time, and for a photographer that's not a good thing. Black and white teaches the skills needed for all photography, even color. And for me, Central Pennsylvania farm country provides the perfect subject matter for a black and white shoot. So I went for a stroll in the country between I-81 and South Mountain and let my inner Ansel Adams take over. Here's the result.

The footbridge over Gum Run in Dykeman Park, at the start of the hike
A farmhouse and barn on Mainsville Rd. on the way to I-81
South Mountain from Peiper Rd.
Horses on the farm at Peiper and Means Hollow
Ponies along McCulloch Rd.
A curious young bull on McCulloch Rd.
One of my favorite old barns on Baltimore Rd.
Another old barn on Baltimore Rd.
© 2019 by A. Roy Hilbinger 

Monday, June 03, 2019

A Beautiful Day

Saturday was the meteorological first day of Summer, but today felt more like mid Spring; after warmer, humid air and much more rain over the weekend, last night a cold front passed through the area and we were blessed by drier, cooler air and a prefect day for walking. The cooler air and the breeze had the bugs at bay as well, so today's walk in the park was perfect.

The good weather also had Wade out starting the June haying up on the meadow. He's not happy; for a good haying you need three dry, sunny days - one for cutting, one for drying, and one for baling. We haven't gotten such a three-day stretch yet. We aren't due for more rain until later Wednesday, so he's hoping to be able to get at least the eastern third of the meadow done before the rains move in. We had a long discussion about global climate change (which Wade, unlike the other farmers in the area, believes is real and it has him scared) and the effect it's having on farming in this area. He's seriously thinking it might be time for him to retire. I can't blame him!

Daisy Fleabane in the wetland
Crown Vetch by the north duck pond
An Eastern Kingbird perched in a tree by the north duck pond
The meadow grass is high and thick; time for haying!
Flowers in the meadow
Looking across the meadow
This Yellow Hawkweed waved goodbye to me as I left the meadow at the eastern end
© 2019 by A. Roy Hilbinger