Monday, September 16, 2019

Summer Is Fading

Summer is beginning the slow slide into Autumn. On today's walk in the Dykeman Spring Nature Park that slide is becoming more evident - Fall flowers are taking over, the Hummingbirds have disappeared, and the butterflies seem to have increased as a sort of last hurrah before they die off (or migrate, in the case of Monarchs) for the season. Here are some scenes from today's walk.

Bindweed (wild Morning Glory) along the nature trail
Virgin's Bower, an invasive but pretty vine, is all over the wetland
Small-flowered White Asters on the forest floor in the wetland
A Northern Crescent butterfly on Boneset up along the edge of the meadow
A Buckeye butterfly (with another in the background) on Boneset along the edge of the meadow
© 2019 by A. Roy Hilbinger

Sunday, September 15, 2019

Sunday Bach - Trinity 13

South Mountain, September
Of the three cantatas Bach composed for the 13th Sunday after Trinity, I've always found his earliest one the most compelling - BWV 77, Du sollt Gott, deinen Herren, Lieben (Thou shalt love the Lord thy God), Leipzig, 1723. This is Bach's commentary on the parable of the Good Samaritan, and especially Jesus' statement that above all commandments is this one, that we love our neighbor as ourselves. The opening chorus is one of Bach's greatest, exploring the complexities of the Law and the one law upon which it all rests. Here's the late Craig Smith of Emmanuel Music on this most magnificent yet most intimate of cantatas:
The opening chorus of Bach Cantata BWV 77 is conceptually one of the most brilliant things the composer ever achieved. Here he takes on an issue no smaller than the basis of all New Testament ideas on the bedrock of the Old Testament. The sung text is the new commandment, Christ's addendum to the Ten Commandments. The chorale tune representing the Ten Commandments appears in canon (which of course also means "law") between the trumpet and the continuo. This is only the beginning, however. The vocal parts are actually diminutions of the chorale theme turned upside down and backwards. Imagine a giant oriental carpet in which the front side is the choral music and the back side is the Old Testament underpinning. In addition the bass part which moves four times as slow as the trumpet becomes the harmonic underpinning for the whole piece. All of this sounds perhaps academic but the total effect is of a gorgeous moving wave. The resultant harmony of the modal chorale melody makes for one of the most harmonically inventive and moving of Bach's great choruses. The slim soprano aria with two oboes makes the greatest contrast. Here Bach seems to make a great effort to keep counterpoint to a minimum, to make the greatest contrast with the dazzling contrapuntal genius of the opening chorus. The alto aria is unusual. It uses as its obbligato a trumpet. This is the only time that the trumpet appears as a quiet, soulful instrument rather than as a military presence. An austere setting of the Luther Chorale "Ach Gott vom Himmel sieh darein" ends the cantata.

© Craig Smith
Today's performance is from 1997 by the Amsterdam Baroque Orchestra and Choir under the direction of Ton Koopman. Enjoy!

       

Photo © 2012 by A. Roy Hilbinger

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

Tucked Away

A couple of years ago I stumbled across a little family cemetery in the middle of a cornfield out in the farming country between Shippensburg and Newville, not far from the Rail Trail. I went back last Wednesday to get some better shots than I got when I first found the place; here they are.

The Smith family plot on Smithdale Road, smack in the middle of a corn field
A well-carved stone
An interesting stone. Unfortunately the first name is weathered beyond legibility
The farm across the road from the cemetery
And finally, on the Rail Trail heading home
© 2019 by A. Roy Hilbinger

Monday, September 09, 2019

Serenity

This week's walk in the Dykeman Spring Nature Park was very pleasant indeed. The temperatures have begun to moderate, and there was a gentle breeze to add to the atmosphere. Summer seems to be winding down a bit, but Autumn hasn't yet shown its face. Still, there were a few things to please the eye today.

I got this candid shot of a sunning Painted Turtle before it noticed me and slid into the water
Hooray! Winterberries! For some reason they didn't develop last year
My serenity spot, sitting on the bench under the Kentucky Coffee Tree and contemplating the north duck pond
Milkweed pods up on the meadow
The view north from the top of the meadow

© 2019 by A. Roy Hilbinger

Sunday, September 08, 2019

Sunday Bach - Trinity 12


Bach wrote three cantatas for the twelfth Sunday after Trinity, and I've chosen his final one this week - BWV 35, Geist und Seele wird verwirret (Spirit and soul become confused, Leipzig 1726). This is a solo cantata for alto voice, and what's unique about it is the fact that much of the music is borrowed from other pieces he composed, and most of the sources he borrowed from are now among the "lost" Bach catalog. So this cantata is, in a way, is the survival of all those lost pieces! Here's musicologist Simon Crouch on this cantata:
The solo alto cantata BWV 35 gets such a high rating from me primarily because of its oddity value! It becomes rapidly apparent upon listening to this work that almost all of it has been filched from other sources. Since almost all of those other sources are lost to us, we get a deeply valuable view of what might have been. The first few bars of the opening sinfonia agree with the nine remaining bars of the otherwise lost keyboard concerto BWV 1059 (itself possibly derived from a lost oboe concerto) and it's a reasonable bet that two of the other movements of this cantata are derived from other movements of the concerto. The first aria, a lilting siciliano, may very well come from from the slow movement of the keyboard concerto and the opening sinfonia of part 2 of the cantata is probably from the finale of the concerto. In this incarnation the organ gets the solo part. So, at the very least we probably have most of a lost concerto sitting inside this cantata. Fortunately there is enough left here to reconstruct the concerto and several recordings are avalable that allow us to enjoy this fine work. The second aria from part 1 of the cantata sounds as though it's adapted from a cello or gamba sonata and the final aria in part 2 suggests a violin concerto. (Again, throughout, the organ takes on the obbligato part). Both of these movements are very attractive and thus point to a considerable loss.

Having heaped all this praise upon the components of this cantata, I think that it's fair to tilt the balance the other way a little and say that, as a cantata, this is not a great work. The libretto (based on the gospel of the day) is nothing special and the structure of the composition as a whole feels rather unsatisfactory. (Great Heavens, there isn't even a concluding chorale!) So, listen to this for the music that we nearly lost. 

Copyright © 1996 & 1998, Simon Crouch. 
This week's performance is another gem from the J.S. Bach Foundation of Trogen, Switzerland, under the direction of Rudolf Lutz. Enjoy!



Photo © 2019 by A. Roy Hilbinger 

Monday, September 02, 2019

Another Damp Walk

We had something of a fierce downpour early this morning, so today's walk in the Dykeman Spring Nature Park was another wet one. There are definitely signs of approaching Autumn; the late Summer flowers are blooming, especially the Spotted Jewelweed and the Yellow Ironweed. And I saw two female Ruby-throated Hummingbirds flitting about in the wetland; the males leave for the trip south first, and the females hang around until just around now before they head off. I didn't get their pictures; they never settled, and my reflexes, especially with a long lens in low light, aren't fast enough to catch them in flight. But I got some decent shots of other things.

Spotted Jewelweed, also known as Spotted Touch-me-not, with a raindrop
The Yellow Ironweed is starting to bloom; this cluster had some visitors
Leaves sprouting out of a debris-filled knothole
A creeping vine and old wood
More rain on the way - looking north from the top of the meadow
© 2019 by A. Roy Hilbinger 

Sunday, September 01, 2019

Sunday Bach - Trinity 11


Bach wrote three cantatas for the eleventh Sunday after Trinity, and for today I've chosen his first one, BWV 199, Mein Herze schwimmt im Blut (My heart swims in blood, Weimar 1714). The text is somewhat grim, but the music is absolutely beautiful. It's a solo cantata for soprano, so you'd think it would get somewhat monotonous after a while, but Bach's instrumental accompaniment makes up for that lack of vocal diversity, and then some. Here's the late Craig Smith of Emmanuel Music on this beautiful work of art:
The texts of Georg Christian Lehms are the most extreme, self-flagellating texts ever set by Bach. Of all of his texts, the one for BWV 199 is perhaps the bloodiest. This is one of those texts that, if it weren’t set with such penetration and sincerity that one could not take it seriously. It has, however, generated one of the great Bach cantatas that is almost unique in its intensity and passion. The work was only known in fragments, and was published that way in the old Bach Gesellschaft until it was discovered whole by the Danish scholar Matiennsen early in the twentieth century. Since then four versions of the piece have come to light. 



The work has many distinctive features. Most immediately striking is the new and flexible recitative style. The three accompagnato recitatives are especially advanced; being genuine accompanied recitatives with flexible speech rhythms in the voice part and rather neutral, non-motivic string parts. The old quasi-arioso kind of recitatives of the Buxtehude type that we have seen up to this time are replaced here by something much more operatic. Certainly the intensity of the text has something to do with this, but also the new discipline and organization of the aria forms demands something freer and more contrasting in the recitatives. It is interesting that Mozart several generations later went through this same process in his operas. The elaborate ariosos of Idomeneo were replaced by much drier and more musically perfunctory recitatives in Figaro.


The first few lines of text in the opening recitative are a good example of Bach’s new found freedom. While the first several phrases have some melodic profile, it is tied to the sense of the words. (The little turn on the word schwimmt” the augmented sixth on the word “sünden”) Each phrase, both in its length, but here almost more importantly, in its range is autonomous. The strings provide a rigorous tonal context for the wide-ranging recitative but no melodic profile. When the intensity and direction of the ideas becomes fully formed, the music goes into a rigorous aria form. In both of our arias here, that form is a da capo, one that is not so common in the earlier Bach cantatas. 



The second aria with oboe obbligato is one of the first great oboe arias. The wonderful and inspired associative logic of the material in the first ritornello is so natural that one must be reminded that this style is still relatively new to Bach. While all of the musical ideas, the “sighing” in the word ”seufzer” and the hollow open fifth on the word “stumme” generate from the text, there is a structural rigor that is, of course not present in the recitatives. Bach has taken from the world of opera the idea that a recitative is perfect for random thoughts and the aria is the perfect form for the time when these thoughts become organized. The aria has an interesting feature that the end of the B section degenerates into a secco recitative only to be brought back into control by the da capo. 


The second accompagnato has a certain rigor at the cadences, not found in the first that very much sets up the sense and sound of the following aria. While the first aria has a kind of soaring almost keening quality, the second aria is melodically almost a mirror opposite. The huge opening ritornello of twenty four bars shows Bach reveling in his new-found structural control. Two or three years earlier he would not have even attempted such an edifice. The B section ends with a striking foray into the subdominant giving the whole movement a kind of vulnerability and softness that is a perfect setup for the denouement of the introduction of the chorale. 



The chorale movement is the section that underwent the most changes in the various versions of the cantata. The obbligato is written variously for viola, cello, viola da gamba and violoncello piccolo. The first version, for viola, is the one most often heard today. It is the most simple melodically and has none of the ornamental detail of the later cello version. Martienssen’s published version with the cello changes incorporated into the viola part is a good solution. As with the best of Bach’s pieces in this genre, the obbligato is a wonderful catchy tune, here based upon the first few notes of the chorale. It’s marvelous open-hearted quality is a relief after the inward looking intensity of the first two arias.



The final aria with oboe and strings is introduced by another accompagnato. The aria is a da capo but is so brief that it is hard to make work as a closing movement. Particularly odd is the lack of a closing ritornello. There is something to be said for playing again the opening nine bars at the end of the piece to provide a fitting conclusion.

© Craig Smith, adapted by Ryan Turner
Today's performance is by the English Baroque soloists and soprano Magdalena Kožená under the direction of Sir John Eliot Gardiner in St. David's Cathedral, Wales, in 2000. Enjoy!



Photo © 2019 by A. Roy Hilbinger