Sunday, December 09, 2018

Bleak

Winter is coming along apace; the air is cold, the leaves have changed and fallen, and everything but the evergreens and the red berries is bare and gray or brown. And no snow... yet. There's an air of waiting in nature, waiting for real Winter to set in. My boots are ready for when it comes at last!

Creek, causeway, and duckweed
Bittersweet berries add a dash of color here and there
Canada Geese circling for a landing
Paper Birches and a bench add some color to the drab landscape
Shelf fungi along the Dykeman Walking Trail
© 2018 by A. Roy Hilbinger 

Sunday Bach - Advent 2


Bach only wrote one cantata for the second Sunday in Advent, and we just listened to its expanded version (BWV 70) two weeks ago. Bach originally wrote it in Weimar for Advent, but concerted music wasn't allowed during Advent in Leipzig, his next job, so he expanded it for the last Sunday of the Trinity period, and in the passage of years the original Weimar manuscript (referred to as BWV 70a) was lost; modern performances are just the expanded version minus the movements known to be added in Leipzig in 1723.

So rather than repeat something you just heard, I went looking amongst the cantatas Bach wrote for unspecified occasions. And found a gem! BWV 51, Jauchzet Gott in allen Landen! (Praise God in all lands, Leipzig 1730), a solo cantata for soprano, is absolutely lovely, and certainly festive enough to be performed in Advent. Here's musicologist Simon Crouch on this beautiful cantata:
Pow!! Imagine dragging yourself to church early in the morning, eyes heavy with sleep, mind full of cotton-wool and being hit with this! And pity the poor boy (?) who had to sing it! (Do refer, though, to the discussion of BWV 51 in Robert Marshall's essay Bach the Progressive in his excellent book The Music of Johann Sebastian Bach. He suggests that Bach may have written the soprano part for Faustina Bordoni, the "leading prima donna of her age" at the Dresden court opera (and married, incidentally, to J.A. Hasse, the exceedingly succesful Dresden composer), or possibly even for Giovanni Bindi, a castrato at Dresden). These days this work is always performed by a female soprano and it had better be a good one too!

The spectacular and florid opening movement leads, after an intervening recitative, into the gentler second aria which rather alarmingly brings to mind a more recent tune: Favourite things from The Sound of Music! The soprano then sings the wonderful chorale melody Sei Lob und Preis mit ehren with an elaborate instrumental accompaniment. This leads without a break into a final virtuoso Alleluia.

This beautiful solo cantata must be rated among the greats of the cantatas and has certainly been a favourite with audiences and record companies. There are many fine recordings available. It's a brilliant, joyous exaltation in praise of God.

Copyright © 1995 & 1997, Simon Crouch.
Today's performance is from a recording by the English Baroque Soloists under the direction of Sir John Eliot Gardiner and featuring soprano Emma Kirkby. Enjoy!



Photo © 2008 by A. Roy Hilbinger 

Sunday, December 02, 2018

Soft Day!

We had some more rain for most of yesterday, and it was a cold rain indeed! It finally moved off in the wee dark hours of the morning, and it left behind a lot of soggy ground and patchy fog. On my walk through the Dykeman Spring Nature Park this morning the fog was there but thinner in the wetland and quite a bit thicker up on the meadow. It reminded me of a story an old friend of mine, the late Michael Shorrock, used to tell. Mick owned property in Doolin on the West Coast of Ireland, and he said that on a morning like this the local farmers used to show up at the local pub around 9:00, grab a pint and a seat, put up their feet, and let out with a huge sigh: "Ahhhhhhhh! Soft day!" Work was done for that day, and it was time to give weary bones a little rest. This is the first day of my weekend, and while my feet were busy getting wet on that soggy ground rather than propped up in front of a fire, I still definitely enjoyed relaxing on a soft day.








© 2018 by A. Roy Hilbinger 

Sunday Bach - Advent 1


Today Advent begins, the official start of the Christmas season and also the beginning of the new liturgical year. Bach wrote three cantatas for this Sunday, and this year we'll listen to his first one, BWV 61, Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland (Come now, savior of the gentiles, Weimar 1714). This is a chorale cantata based on the hymn of the same name, written by Martin Luther. It's small, and written for a small ensemble - Bach had limited resources in Weimar - but it packs a punch. Here's musicologist Simon Crouch on the subject:
The opening chorus of cantata BWV 61 grandly introduces the tune of Luther's hymn tune Nun Komm der Heiden Heiland with a fine dotted rhythm accompaniment. Having got the theme out of the way, it's down to business with a fugue. It's nice to know that there are things in life that you can rely upon. A recitative is followed by a lovely tenor aria in triple time. The violins get a pretty and lush tune in accompaniment. Next a recitative. Usually I pass over recitatives without comment, after all a recit. is a recit. isn't it? This next one, though, is a peach. Pizzicato chords accompanying Behold, I stand at the door and knock. OK, so maybe it's corny but I like it. The final aria is given to the soprano soloist. This is a lovely and delicate aria and the soloist must show great sensitivity to get the most from it.

When I first heard Harnoncourt's recording in the Teldec series, I thought that the poor boy treble was badly under-rehearsed but I've grown to like it, since his slightly lispy voice makes it sound rather cute! Also, the words are Open wide, my heart, Jesus is coming and entering in, so it seems rather appropriate that it's sung by someone sounding sweet and innocent rather than sophisticated.

My only regret about the closing chorus is that it doesn't go on for longer. It's one of those off-to-the-races pieces upon which amateur choral societies love to work up a head of steam. A glorious ending!

Copyright © 1996 & 1998, Simon Crouch
Today's performance is again from the wonderful J.S. Bach Foundation of Trogen, Switzerland, led by musical director and conductor Rudolf Lutz. And if you're wondering at that awfully small orchestra, that's absolutely historically accurate; Bach scored this cantata for two violins, one viola, and continuo (continuo being the "rhythm section" of a Baroque ensemble, usually consisting of a keyboard instrument and one or more bass instruments, in this case organ, cello, double bass, and bassoon). Bach's career proved that you can create massive beauty with limited resources. Enjoy!



Photo © 2012 by A. Roy Hilbinger 

Sunday, November 25, 2018

Bejeweled

We had an ice storm yesterday, and this morning the twigs and branches of the trees and shrubs in the Dykeman Spring Nature Park were bedecked with shining ice jewels. Plus, on the trail up to the meadow I found a Groundhog skull, complete with the two big rodent front teeth. I cleaned it up when I got home, took a formal portrait, and added it to my Earth Altar. It was a very good walk today!






© 2018 by A. Roy Hilbinger

Sunday Bach - Trinity 26

Blow the fanfare, trumpets! Rise up to the heavens, choir! Christmas is coming!
Heh, heh! Not exactly what those Carolina Wrens were singing, but it's the theme for the 26th Sunday after Trinity. Technically, the theme for this Sunday is the second coming of Christ, but in terms of the liturgical calendar it's the last Sunday before Advent and the Christmas season, and so serves as an announcement that the celebration of the first coming is about to begin. Bach only wrote one cantata for this Sunday, but it's a real crowd-rouser - BWV 70, Wachet! betet! betet! wachet! (Watch! Pray! Pray! Watch!, Leipzig 1723). The first version of this chorale cantata was written in Weimar in 1719 for the second Sunday in Advent, but since cantatas weren't performed in Advent in Leipzig, Bach updated and expanded it for this Sunday in his first year in that city. I can't help but think that the Leipzig city fathers were well pleased with this; it is absolutely glorious! Here's musicologist Nicholas Anderson on this magnificent cantata (from the liner notes of an Erato recording):
"Wachet! Betet! Betet! Wachet!" (BWV 70) is a parody of a Weimar cantata intended for the Second Sunday in Advent. For performance in Leipzig on the 26th Sunday after Trinity, 1723, Bach added four recitatives and an additional chorale (which concludes Part One of the Leipzig version). Since the Gospel reading for each of these Sundays concerns the Last Judgement and the coming of Christ, Bach was able to retain the original text by the Weimar poet, Salomo Franck, with complete propriety. 
The opening "da capo" chorus is immediately arresting for its trumpet calls, heralding the Last Judgement, and for the declamatory character of the vocal writing. This is more subtle than may at first appear, for Bach skilfully, and to great effect, highlights the contrasting images implied by "Wachet" (Watch), on the one hand and "Betet" (Pray), on the other. The oboe, strings and trumpet of this resonant opening movement are retained for the accompanied bass recitative, in arioso style. It pronounces fearfully on the fate of hardened sinners but gives way to more restrained and contemplative emotions which prevail throughout the remainder of Part One of the work. This consists of an alto aria with cello obbligato and continuo, two short unaccompanied tenor recitatives, a soprano aria with strings, and a verse from the hymn, "Freu dich sehr, o meine Seele" (1620) with instruments doubling the four-part vocal texture. 
Part Two of the Cantata begins with a tenor aria accompanied by oboe and strings. This wonderfully lyrical piece, with its expansive, cantabile melody and expressive octave intervals, first heard in the second bar of the ritornello, must rank among Bach's finest achievements in aria form. But its meditative spirit is shattered by the uncompromising seventh-chord intrusion of the following accompanied bass recitative, impetuously recalling the horrors of the Day of Judgement. This vividly pictorial section is lent further colour by the trumpet which intones the melody of the hymn, "Es ist gewißlich an der Zeit". The last aria is for bass. The structure is unusual since it not only dispenses with a ritornello but is also cast in three parts without "da capo". In the opening and closing "adagio" sections, which provide the framework, the text anticipates Heavenly joy. Here the voice is accompanied by continuo alone. The contrast between these and the centrally placed "Presto" is both stark and startling as Bach, for the last time, depicts the apocalypse with trumpet calls, agitated string passages and declamatory vocal writing. The Cantata ends with a verse from Christian Keymann's hymn, "Meinem Jesum laß ich nicht" (1658), in which the voices are accompanied by the full instrumental complement, with trumpet and oboe augmenting the chorale melody.
Today's performance is from the 1978 Archiv recording by the Munich Bach Orchestra and Choir under the direction of Karl Richter. Enjoy!



Photo © 2012 by A. Roy Hilbinger 

Thursday, November 22, 2018

Thanksgiving 2018



Happy Thanksgiving!




Photo © 2018 by A. Roy Hilbinger 

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Snowy Woods

[Note: This post was inspired by my walk in the woods in the snow last week.]


Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening

Whose woods these are I think I know.
His house is in the village, though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.

My little horse must think it queer
To stop without a farmhouse near
Between the woods and frozen lake
The darkest evening of the year.

He gives his harness bells a shake
To ask if there is some mistake.
The only other sound's the sweep
Of easy wind and downy flake.

The woods are lovely, dark and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep. 

– Robert Frost




Photo © 2018 by A. Roy Hilbinger 

Sunday, November 18, 2018

Mixed Messages

We were hit by our first storm of the season, with lots of snow and cold temperatures. Yet it doesn't exactly look like Winter. Sure, there are bare trees, but there are also trees with the characteristic Fall foliage colors, as well as trees with green foliage. All with snow on the ground. I'm so confused! Here's what today's weekly Sunday walk in the Dykeman Spring Nature park looked like.

Along the Dykeman Walking Trail
In the Dykeman Spring wetland
Where the Dykeman Spring creek passes under the railroad tracks
The creek at the red bridge
The north duck pond
Leaving the park at the east end of the meadow
© 2018 by A. Roy Hilbinger 

Sunday Bach - Trinity 25


 Bach wrote two cantatas for the 25th Sunday after Trinity, and I chose the later one - BWV 116, Du Friedefürst, Herr Jesu Christ (Thou Prince of Peace, Lord Jesus Christ, Leipzig 1724). This is a chorale cantata about the Second Coming. Musically, it's magnificent; the opening chorale, the trio in the fourth movement, and following alto recitative are absolutely brilliant, and the rest of the cantata matches up. Theologically, it's schizophrenic, but then that's 18th Century Lutheran theology when it comes to the second coming - the event itself will be glorious, but Augustinian guilt makes Bach and his contemporaries wail that they don't deserve it, and the chaos surrounding the event (wars, persecution, etc., see Revelation!) is the result of that lack in humanity. Heh, heh! I give you the late Craig Smith's essay as a perfect example of the 20th Century mind's perplexity at 18th Century theology:
Cantata BWV 116 Du Friedefürst, Herr Jesu Christ was composed in Leipzig in 1724. The section from Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians is one of the most radiant passages from all of the Epistles, a vision of paradise that comes to the blessed. Bach chooses the perfect chorale to illustrate these two points of view, for the text of “Du Friedefürst, Herr Jesu Christ” is remarkably of two minds about the Last Judgment. In the very first verse the joyful and positive picture of the Prince of Peace degenerates into a cry for help. Is there something disappointing about this chorus? It is a musically euphonious and wonderfully energetic piece. There is great profile and an interesting shape to it, with simple block statements of the chorale phrases alternating with fugal settings of the bottom three voices underpinning the long notes of the sopranos in the 3rd and 4th phrases. All of this would seem fine if the rest of the cantata didn’t live up to a much higher standard. In fact with the trio at the end we have one of the loftiest peaks of Bach’s inspiration, a major theological statement that separates him from virtually all other artists. Why does this opening chorus not measure up? One possible answer that the character of the opening chorus is not what it seems. If one sees those block chorale phrases and the general energy as militaristic – Christ as the soldier, not always the comforter – then the progression of isolation in the alto aria to supplication in the trio becomes more understandable. 
The alto aria, with oboe d’amore obbligato, begins with a tortured, jagged melody all the more painful because it is circular and seemingly in a never-ending series of sequences. The continuo seems to ratchet up the thumbscrews. When the voice enters with “Ach” it is unable to finish its sentence. Gradually the horror is spoken and the first 2 lines of text are declaimed. It is interesting that Bach keeps the same kind of declamation for the next lines of text, as if the “Ach” was always in the back of his mind. 
Bach reminds us that the chorale described the “Prince of Peace” by using the first phrase as a bass in the tenor recitative. It has the inadvertent effect of reminding us of the “traveling” music that Mozart often introduces into his Italian recitatives to denote a passage of time. This has the same effect here, for there is an enormous spiritual gulf between the stuttering, horrified alto aria and the unearthly calm of the trio. 
All three of the trios written for the cantatas in the 2nd Jahrgang have a special quality. They are obviously ensembles, but they have no sense of dialogue or love duets that we find in the duets. At the same time they are more personal than the choruses. Our trio here begins calmly, six rhythmically identical phrases each without a downbeat, each like a soft breath of air, followed by a cadence. The three voices enter one by one. One notices that the tenor part is actually identical to the continuo introduction except that it provides downbeats. It actually makes phrases out of a neutral pattern of notes. The imitation of the three voices is very sophisticated. The text underlay is interesting. Bach seizes upon the word “Geduld” ‘patience’ and repeats it over and over. The third line of text intensifies the longing and the melancholy of the music and makes a modulation to the dominant. After a relentlessly contrapuntal texture, the very personal and heartbreaking confession that our sins broke your (Jesus) heart, and that the pain of Adam made you come into this world, is set in blocks. Very close and rich faux bourdon harmony personalizes this whole middle section. The work is in a very complex da capo form. The whole first 39 bars are repeated and a long section using the third line of text is newly composed to end the work in the tonic. The emotional distance traveled from the alto aria to this point is almost unequaled in all of Bach. The renewed ferocity of the string entrance in the alto recitative almost makes the trio seem like a circumscribed event. The effect is very like the renewing of the action after the soprano aria “Aus Liebe will mein Heiland sterben” in the St. Matthew Passion. The final chorale has the same strange emotional neutrality of the opening chorus. 
© Craig Smith, adapted by Ryan Turner
Today's performance is a magnificent one just released on YouTube by the J.S. Bach Foundation of Trogen, Switzerland, under the direction of Rudolf Lutz. Enjoy!



Photo © 2018 by A. Roy Hilbinger 

Thursday, November 15, 2018

First Snow!

WHEEEEEE! We got our first snow of the season today! It's a tad early, but I'm not complaining. It's also more than we expected; it seems that a wedge of cold air stalled over us as the precipitation moved in and stubbornly stayed put. It's transitioned to sleet and freezing rain now, but it happened later than first expected. And despite the current sleet and rain, after midnight it'll return to snow and give us another couple of inches.

Of course, this had an impact on work for me. I was supposed to work this evening, but my boss texted about 1:30 and announced she was closing the store early and the two of us on the closing shift didn't have to come in. Heh, heh! Anybody who knows me knows that I immediately made plans to head out into the storm, camera in hand. Nothing, absolutely nothing, makes me happier than walking in the woods in snow, especially if the snow is still falling. So I headed out for Dykeman Park around 2:30 to wrap myself in Mama Gaia's white Winter cloak.

The gazebo across the street from me
Branch Creek at King St.
Entering the park on the Dykeman Walking Trail
Snow on the trail
A scene in another part of the park
The creek looking south on the red bridge
The creek looking north on the new bridge
Waiting for Spring
© 2018 by A. Roy Hilbinger