Monday, April 16, 2018

The Creek Is Up Again!

It started pouring last night, pouring so hard that it was a constant roar on my metal roof, and it didn't slacken until around 9:00 this morning. I knew Branch Creek/Middle Spring Creek would be up, so I went out around 11:00 to check it out. And indeed it is up! I took pictures from the bridge on King St. and then went upstream a block to take pictures from the bridge at Orange St. to give you all a look.

Looking south from the King St. bridge
Looking north from the King St. bridge
Looking north from the Orange St. bridge
Looking south from the Orange St. bridge
© 2018 by A. Roy Hilbinger 

Sunday, April 15, 2018


We had warmer than usual weather this past week, which spurred the greening and blooming progress. Heh, heh! So a back-door cold front swept through last night and now we're chilly again, making us wonder if the things that started greening and blooming are in danger. Well, it's not freezing, so maybe not. But in my walk through the Dykeman park this morning I noticed a lot of birds fluffing out the feathers to stay warm in the cold breeze that was blowing. Interesting weather indeed this year!

The shrubs and vines along the Dykeman Walking Trail are greening up nicely

A Daffodil along the trail as it parallels the creek

A patch of Daffodils by the trail

A Mourning Dove on the new bridge over the creek, fluffed up against the cold

© 2018 by A. Roy Hilbinger 

Sunday Bach - Second Sunday After Easter

The second Sunday after Easter is known as "Good Shepherd Sunday" from the Gospel reading for the day, the famous "I am the good shepherd" passage from the Gospel of John. Bach wrote three cantatas for this Sunday, and this year I've chosen his chorale cantata based on the 23rd Psalm ("The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want..."), BWV 112, Der Herr ist mein getreuer Hirt (The Lord is my faithful shepherd, Leipzig 1731). This is a short and delightful cantata, and full of surprises. Here's the late Craig Smith of Emmanuel Music on this cantata:
Bach's setting of the 23rd Psalm, to the great chorale tune “Allein Gott in der Höh sei Ehr,” was written for the so-called “Good Shepherd Sunday.” It assumes a tone that is sometimes surprising, especially for English-speaking people who have grown up with a rather sentimental idea of the Psalm.

The first chorus calls for pairs of horns in G, oboes d'amore, and strings. The brilliance of the high horns gives the piece a heroic cast that is quite surprising. Although not as manaically active as the opening chorus of BWV 79, it resembles it in range and style. Horns begin the piece alone with the chorale in the first and a fanfare in the second [#1 horns 1-2]. Oboes and strings enter with a lively, dancing figure [#1 violin 1 3-4] that propels the movement irresistibly forward. The tone of the movement is an unusual combination of heroic and pastorale. We are used to less verbal characterization in these chorale cantatas than we saw in the 1 st and 2nd Jahrgang pieces. Here however, there are marvelous moments of color, like the wonderful suspensions in the horns before the words “his holy words.”

The “still waters” in the Aria #2 produces a cool 6/8 oboe d'amore aria with alto. It is remarkable for its wonderful spinning cantabile in the oboe part that seems never to run out of steam. Notice the very Christian introduction of the “Holy Ghost” in this chorale version of the Psalm. The bass recitative seems rather jaunty at first for the “valley of the shadow of death” but suddenly deepens with the introduction of the strings at the description of persecution and sorrow. The end of this recitative has a kind of radiance that is unexpected from what comes before.

One of the most surprising things in all of the cantatas is Bach's reaction to the text “thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies.” All of a sudden we get a blast of Lutheran militarism. The 1st violins play an extravagant theme over a marching bass, which descends into heroic arpeggio figures as the second violins enter on the theme. The whiplash theme returns and is propelled into a rush of triplet figures that leads us to the cadence. Both the soprano and the tenor are singing at the top of their range producing a hysterical manic effect. By using the time signature 2 instead of cut time Bach seems to insist upon a very fast tempo. The duet is one of the most viscerally exciting things in all of Bach. If anything the end is more animated than the beginning [voice parts with piano score 92-107]. While his reaction to the text is unexpected, there is no doubt about the intensity and concentration of this remarkable duet.

High horns return to the final chorale with the 2nd horn playing a fifth, independent voice as in the final chorale of Cantata BWV 1. 
© Craig Smith
Today's performance is from a 2003 recording by the Amsterdam Baroque Orchestra and Choir under the direction of Ton Koopman. Enjoy!

Photo © 2015 by A. Roy Hilbinger 

Monday, April 09, 2018

Burd Run and Wetlands

I went over to the Burd Run wetlands areas, both the Brookside Ave. wetland and the Burd Run restoration project park, to see how Spring is coming along. It's chilly and overcast today, and while there's some green around the watery areas, and in the grass there are even a few tiny wildflowers, things are still looking bleak. The water level is up, though; all the streamlets in the Brookside Ave. area are full to overflowing and the collection pond is full, and in the restoration project the creek has jumped its banks and flooded parts of the project park. It's been a wet Winter and Spring!

The streamlets in the wetland are running over, much to the delight of the Canada Geese
And of course Burd Run is full and moving fast
One more shot of the full streamlets and accompanying waterfowl
This isn't Burd Run, it's the trail in the restoration park that runs parallel to the creek
This is Burd Run in the project, complete with new rapids
© 2018 by A. Roy Hilbinger 

Sunday, April 08, 2018

Sunday Bach - First Sunday After Easter

For Bach it had to be a daunting task to compose cantatas for the Sundays between Easter and Pentecost; how in the world do you follow the two Passions - the St. Matthew and the St. John - and the Easter Oratorio and Christ lag in Todesbanden, all considered some of the greatest of his work? Well, Papa Johann managed to follow up with more than sufficient glory. He wrote two cantatas for the first Sunday after Easter, both fine, each with a different focus. BWV 67 celebrates the triumph of the resurrection, and I posted that one last year. This year we focus on the fears of the disciples, who on that Sunday had basically barricaded themselves in the upper room out of fear of the repercussions from the crucifixion, when lo and behold Jesus appeared to them. With BWV 42, Am Abend aber desselbigen Sabbats (On the evening of that same Sabbath, Leipzig 1725), Bach approaches this situation. Here's a brilliant essay by the late Craig Smith of Emmanuel Music on this cantata:
The Cantata BWV 42 is one of the gigantic masterpieces of the genre. It is a piece sui generis unlike not only any other cantata but also any other sacred work in the repertoire. The “low Sunday” works, such as this one, present a very distinctive task for the composer of liturgical music. There a sense of having to make a new beginning, dramatically, after holidays such as Easter and Christmas. These days inevitably have an ambiguity and emotionally more charged feel to them than the unabashedly joyful feast days. It is interesting that the two cantatas for “Quasimodogeniti,” the Sunday after Easter, are infinitely greater than any of the Easter cantatas. There are two tasks to the composer. The meaning and sense of Easter must permeate the work; at the same time the very real fear and sense of “what happens next?” must dominate. In his two cantatas Bach comes to two radically different solutions. In his other Quasimodogeniti work, the Cantata BWV 67, Bach creates two columns on each end of the piece; an opening chorus exhorts the Christian to hold on to the memory of the resurrected Christ; the final bass aria presents the climactic entrance of Christ in the upper room. 
Our cantata here has a very different shape. The events of Easter are represented by a large da capo sinfonia. Common wisdom has it that this is a first movement of a concerto grosso, now lost. While, of course, this may be true, the work is so perfectly suited to its task here, and has such an unusually warm and gentle demeanor, that it is hard to imagine that it wasn’t written for this spot. There is also a strong sense as one progresses through the movement that the obbligato oboes and bassoon represent the two Marys and Jesus on Easter morning. The movement opens with a soft-edged and lovely tutti. The opening quarter note by the violins has a wonderful ‘lighter than air’ lift to it that sets the tone for the whole movement. The two oboes and bassoon play rich obbligati, relating to each other in a vocal, human way. Sometimes the oboes are in opposition to the bassoon; sometimes one oboe will be alone while the other allies with the bassoon. The B section is even more rhapsodic. Against leggiero tutti strings the three winds each plays a cantabile melody, finally joining in a rapturous trio.

After such heavenly music it is almost painful to leave it, but Bach plunges us into the continuation of the story with a pulsing and ominous bass line that underpins the tenor’s narration of the fear and paranoia that plagued the disciples after Jesus’ death. The last line describes how, in this suspicious atmosphere and behind locked doors, Jesus was, all of a sudden, in their midst. In one of the supreme dramatic moments in all of Bach, the dark hollow texture of the pulsing bass reverts to the glowing strings of the opening sinfonia. The two oboes play at first a gorgeous cantabile imitative melody followed by a darting, almost playful, pattern that is an uncanny portrayal of the state of grace that Jesus provided for the disciples. The voice part is conversational, almost casual sounding. It is a kind of combination of the rhetorical and the lyrical that would dominate 19th century German operatic writing. Notice how the jagged and broken lines describing the “where two or three are gathered ” then meld into the ravishing cantabile on the words” in Jesus precious name.” The A section of this da capo aria is on a large scale, imbued with an expansive generosity of spirit. The B section is surprisingly tough and arid sounding. The warm, full orchestra is replaced by a vaulting and aggressive solo bass line. In the midst of this section there is an eccentric little bass figure that appears out of the blue. Its purpose is completely mysterious until we hear that it refers to the opening bass line of the following duet for soprano and tenor.

With the advent of the soprano-tenor duet #4 it becomes clear that Bach is using the maximum contrast to propel his story. The warm sinfonia was followed by the hollow recitative. The same warm opening texture was revived for the A section of the alto aria with the barren sound reintroduced in the B section. After the recapitulation of the A, the duet #4 reintroduces the continuo-dominated sonority. Here the spiky and bare-bones line of the cello and bassoon is intensified by a thumping and insistent independent bass line. It is clear that Bach had both a harpsichord, figured in the cello part, and an organ, figured in the bass part. Over this elaborate bass, the voices, pitched high and sounding somewhat hysterical, sing their jagged and paranoid line. All of the richness of the “Easter” harmony is replaced here by a lurid, twilight chromaticism. The lines are astoundingly jagged and awkward.

The transition from the glow of Easter to the fearful “what happens next” quality of the days after Easter, is here complete. The secco bass recitative speaks of fear of reprisals, and has one of the most distasteful examples of a kind of knee-jerk anti-Semitism in all of Bach. The aria for bass has brilliant obbligati for two solo violins. Here we have Jesus as the great military leader. The violins play striking and aggressive arpeggio figures against a marching bass line. All of the subtle rhetoric of the alto aria and the angularity of the duet are here replaced by straight-ahead virtuoso operatic writing for the bass. If this aria is more conventional in character than all that has come before, it is one of the great brilliant pieces of vocal writing in all of Bach.

Bach ends this gigantic and great cantata with one of the profoundest of all his chorale harmonizations. The large double chorale by Luther,”Verleih uns Frieden-Gib unsern Fürsten” was used several months earlier to close the cantata BWV 126. In that context it was a plea for peace after one of the most savage of all of the cantatas. Here it relates to the end of the cantata and reminds us how far we have come from the gentle grace of the opening sinfonia. The harmonization is of unparalleled richness. There are subtle changes in character between the two chorales. The bass line of the opening is almost always in a downward motion that is replaced in “Gib unsern Fürsten” by upward lines. The harmony of the 2nd chorale gains a kind of radiance both by use of pedal points, and in the grand sweeping lines of the “Amen.” 
In Cantata BWV 42 we have from Bach a whole new kind of inward drama, a drama of the soul, that he virtually invented. The contrast of an inward state of grace with outward fear and danger is central to early Christianity; it has never been more profoundly characterized than in this cantata. 
© Craig Smith
Today's performance is from a 1990 Harmonia Mundi France recording by La Chapelle Royale and Vocale Collegium Gent under the direction of Philippe Herreweghe. Enjoy!

Photo © 2018 by A. Roy Hilbinger 

Saturday, April 07, 2018

Looking Around

Sometimes when I'm out walking I have no plan as to what I'm going to photograph; I just shoot whatever grabs my eye. Such was the case as I walked through the Dykeman Springs Nature Park yesterday on my way to the grocery store. The thing that grabbed my attention most is that flowers are finally starting to bloom. It's about time! The Daffodils are way behind schedule.

Pussywillows along the Dykeman Walking Trail
Hooray! The Daffodils along the trail by the creek are finally blooming!
The wider view is still a bit bleak and un-Spring-like, though
One of the feral cats living up on the meadow
© 2018 by A. Roy Hilbinger 

Monday, April 02, 2018


I have today off, and we had snow again overnight, but it was the really wet and heavy Spring stuff, and really not very scenic on the ground, and now all gone because it melted that fast. So after I did my grocery shopping and other errands, I decided it was time to play. I ended up taking macro shots of my two favorite items on my Earth Altar, the small Laughing Buddha and Ganesh figurines, and processed them in Photoshop using Alien Skin's Exposure 2 filter, which emulates classic camera films. I ended up going with Ektachrome 100 for color and the ultimate classic for b&w - Tri-X 400. I really like the results.

Laughing Buddha, Ektachrome 100
Ganesh, Ektachrome 100
Laughing Buddha, Tri-X 400
Ganesh, Tri-X 400
© 2018 by A. Roy Hilbinger 

Bach for Easter - Easter Monday

In Bach's time Easter was a three-day celebration, Sunday through Tuesday. Even when I was a youngster I vaguely remember being off from school at least for "Easter Monday". In any event, Bach wrote cantatas for all three days. Today's cantata is definitely more joyful than yesterday's, as its name shows - BWV 66, Erfreut euch, ihr Herzen (Rejoice, ye hearts!, Leipzig 1724). This is actually a recycling of an earlier cantata (in Bach terminology this is called a parody) composed in 1718 for the birthday of Prince Leopold of Anhalt-Cöthen. Of course Bach's mastery of his craft had matured a great deal in the intervening years, so we can assume that the result of the recycling is a vast improvement over the original; this is certainly evident in the music. And it certainly is jubilant and joyful, as befits the season! Here's Simon Crouch on the subject:

Although nominally written more than ten years before the Ascension Oratorio (BWV 11), cantata 66 feels very like the latter in texture. Perhaps the explanation lies in the fact that like the Oratorio, Erfreut euch ihr Herzen is largely a parody work (in this case of a birthday cantata for Prince Leopold of Kothen, BWV 66a Der Himmel dacht auf Anhalts Ruhm und Glück, for which the music is lost and only the text extant) and the music for the two may have originated around about the same time.

The multi-sectioned opening chorus is superbly effusive and joyful and at a relatively long ten minutes provides a suitably monumental opening, as befits the occasion. The first recitative leads into a da capo bass aria, introduced by a catchy oboe fugure, that positively skips along in triple metre! There is then a long section consisting of a duet-recitative followed by an duet which is a dialogue between Hope and Fear. The former sees the resurrection of the Saviour, casts aside fear of the grave and trusts in his salvation whereas the latter, predictably, does not. And all in perfect harmony. Which is perhaps the one failing of this cantata, Hope and Fear sound rather too similar. Still, the quality of the music makes this one of my favourites! A lovely setting of a chorale melody rounds off the cantata.

Copyright © 1995 & 1997, Simon Crouch
Today's performance is a live recording from the Protestant Church in Trogen, Switzerland, by the Choir & Orchestra of the J.S. Bach Foundation under the direction of Rudolph Lutz. Enjoy!

Photo © 2008 by A. Roy Hilbinger 

Sunday, April 01, 2018

Bach for Easter - Easter Sunday

Last year I posted Bach's Easter Oratorio for the holiday. This year I decided to post Bach's signature Easter cantata, BWV 4, Christ lag in Todes Banden (Christ lay in death's bonds, Mühlhausen 1708/ Leipzig 1724). This is Bach's chorale cantata based on the great Easter hymn of the same name written by Martin Luther. It was first written early in Bach's career, but was extensively revised in Leipzig for Easter of 1724. It may seem a bit somber for an Easter celebration, more in tune with Good Friday or the Saturday between Good Friday and Easter Sunday, but appropriate to the season as it was celebrated in Bach's time, it gradually transforms to joy and triumph. Here's the late Craig Smith of Emmanuel Music on this cantata:
Bach Cantata BWV 4 has a complicated history. It was one of the earliest, if not the first, cantata written when Bach was still fundamentally a student. In Bach's first year in Leipzig he so thoroughly revised the work that it is not known how much of the original remains. Certainly some things such as the marvelous and rich four-voice harmonization of the chorale that ends the work are the work of the mature master.The work is a set of choral variations on the great Easter Chorale "Christ lag in Todes Banden." The cantata begins with a Sinfonia for the string orchestra. It takes certain phrases of the chorale tune and molds them into a perfect introduction to the energetic and exciting opening chorus. Certainly the heightened excitement of the brilliant Allelujas is a youthful holdover. A walking bass line accompanies the hushed soprano-alto duet that follows. Then tenors then take up the tune against a brilliant Vivaldi-like string line. The center of the cantata is occupied by a vivid four-voice setting of the chorale with the tune in the alto. Here Luther's vivid and brutal lines are marvelously and thoroughly characterized. The bass aria is the most inward part of the cantata, a meditation upon the meaning of the Passover and its relationship to Christian doctrine. The bouncy soprano-tenor duet is a tremendous release from the intensity of the bass aria. The final four-voice chorale setting is one of the greatest in the whole Bach canon and a suitable close to this brilliant and impressive work. 
© Craig Smith
Today's performance is by the Monteverdi Choir and the English Baroque Soloists under the direction of John Eliot Gardiner. Enjoy!

Photo © 2006 by A. Roy Hilbinger