Sunday, November 19, 2017

In the Midst of November

The weather has turned colder and wetter, and we've had some high winds lately, especially last night and earlier this morning. So the trees are getting pretty bare, except for the Oaks, who always hang on to their leaves until the new ones bud in the Spring. I tried to catch both the nakedness of the trees as well as the spots of color here and there on this morning's walk. I also came across a Mockingbird feasting on Bittersweet berries in the Dykeman Spring wetland, so intent on its meal that it totally ignored my presence. November is being November.

I stopped by Branch Creek at King St. on the way to the park to admire the scene
There are more leaves on the ground than on the trees on this stretch of the Dykeman Walking Trail
It's a Bittersweet berry feast for this Mockingbird
Part of the Dykeman wetland complete with Purple Martin hotel
The creek in the park with the new bridge in the background
© 2017 by A. Roy Hilbinger 

Sunday Bach - Trinity 23

Autumn Leaves
This week's Bach cantata belies its title - Falsche Welt, dir trau ich nicht! (False world, I trust you not, Leipzig, 1726). Despite the gloomy title, this solo cantata for soprano consists of some amazingly  joyous music, starting with the opening sinfonia, which is a restating of the first movement of his Brandenburg Concerto #1. This uprush of orchestral joy is followed by the recitative that gives this cantata its title, but then is followed by a more positive message and more joyful music. And although this is a solo cantata for soprano, the music is incredibly lush and complex for the genre. This is a treat from any perspective! Here's what Simon Crouch has to say on the subject:
One may ask What's a bit of Brandenburg Concerto doing here?. Indeed, given the somewhat pessimistic outlook of the rest of the cantata, an adaptation of the first movement of BWV 1046 does seem a little out of place. It does establish the key of F major nicely I suppose, but perhaps it's simply that a bunch of Sebastian's friends were in town that week and he wanted to give them something to play! The recitative that follows the opening sinfonia establishes the mood of gloom and the soprano aria counters that with trust in God. This latter is a pleasant piece, with attractive string accompaniment. The next recitative is followed by another attractive soprano aria that reiterates the message of faith in the Lord being the one true salvation. Robertson points out that the opening orchestral gesture (played by the oboes) in this movement bears a resemblance to the aria V'adoro pupile from Handel's Giulio Cesare. You might like to judge for yourself whether this is one master quoting another or simply a coincidental use of common musical language. The cantata is completed by a straightforward chorale setting. 
Copyright © 1996 & 1998, Simon Crouch.
Today's performance is from a 2003 recording in the Waalse Kerk in Amsterdam by the Amsterdam Baroque Orchestra and Choir under the direction of Ton Koopman. Enjoy!

      

Photo © 2014 by A. Roy Hilbinger 

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

It's That Time of Year Again!

It's that time of year again, time for buying gifts for the Winter holidays, and once again I've updated my calendars for sale on Lulu.com to 2018. I've also lowered the price this year. So if you like my photography and want some to hang in your place, or you want to give it as a gift to others, click on this link to my spotlight page and check it out. And aside from my calendars there's my photo book On a Cold Winter's Night celebrating the Winter holidays, with lots of photos of candles, greenery, and SNOW! Below are examples of what you'll see.

Dykeman Spring Nature Park 
South Mountain
The World in Black & White 
By the Sea
On a Cold Winter's Night

© 2017 by A. Roy Hilbinger 

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Fading

Autumn is fading into Winter. After the cooler weather arrived and we got our brief burst of color, even colder weather has moved in and the colors wash out and the leaves fall from the trees. Nature is turning all brown and gray, but there are spots of color here and there - remaining leaves, the red Barberries, and the orange and yellow Asian Bittersweet berries so beloved of Autumn decorators. A walk in the Dykeman Spring Nature Park this morning provides some examples.






Photos © 2017 by A. Roy Hilbinger 

Sunday Bach - Trinity 22


Of the three cantatas Bach composed for the 22nd Sunday after Trinity, this one is my favorite - BWV 55, Ich armer Mensch, ich Sündenknecht (I, wretched man, a slave to sin), Leipzig, 1726. This solo cantata for tenor is a beautiful interaction between the singer and the small ensemble, intimate and simple, and yet the interactions create a subtle complexity. This 1930 essay by German musicologist Arnold Schering of Berlin points this out far better than I can:
One of the emotions which artists of the Baroque period were wont to portray with intense realism is religious confession of sin. In realizing the enormous guilt of sinful man in the expiatory death of Christ, Schütz and Bach join issue in warmth of expression with the greatest accuser of the human heart – St. Augustine. One of the most powerful compositions of this character was the Alto Rhapsody by Heinrich Schütz entitled “Was hast du verwirket, o du alter holdseligster Knab’ Jesu Christi” from the Kleine Geistliche Konzerte of 1639. Others, including North German masters, followed suit, but nothing of equal value was produced until the advent of Bach. His tenor cantata “Ich armer Mensch,” written about 1731/32 for the 22nd Sunday after Trinity, intensifies the pathos of Schütz to a confession of sin amounting almost to spiritual self-torture. Hardly ever – not even in Wagner’s Parsifal – has the nullity of human nature and its need for redemption been expressed so passionately and so acutely as here, with no glimmer of hope or comfort till the end. 
The poem of the unknown author formed a strong frame upon which Bach could work. The two arias and recitatives evoke powerful pictures which are enhanced and strengthened by the music. The instrumentation in itself is singular: flute and oboe in close combination, contrasting with the string orchestra in three parts. The absence of the viola enables the unusually high tenor part in the cantata to explore at will the whole range of tone between the bass and second violin, the full gamut in the complete work extending from E flat to B flat. The first twelve bars of the prelude typify melodic development, together with sobbing phrases in the violins constitute the immediate atmosphere of grief which pervades the whole; the consecutive sixths in the two wind instruments denote tribulation rather than despair. With the entry of the voice unbounded hopelessness reigns supreme. This entry comes as a surprise, as something new and unpremeditated, a wailing heartfelt cry of the soul, echoed in the high register by the oboe. Bach now gives expression to the further self-accusations of the tenor in a wonderfully constructed six-part movement, in parallel and contrary motion, which later, together with the employment of single parts, in cantabile or detached phrases, lead to an unequalled intensity of passion. 
For Bach, self-persecution was ever synonymous with self-questioning; hence arises the main, vocal, thematic material of the movement. The appearance before God is announced in a diatonic measured theme, which is immediately resolved into lamenting, and a few bars later into whining, chromatic, figures, which in their scantiness of accompaniment, exhibit a tragic picture of utter helplessness. In the middle of the movement the righteous and unrighteous are deftly symbolized by those invisible yet clearly defined means which Bach employed during the course of his creative activity with utmost scientific clarity of spirit. But this middle section is by no means independent, for it is constantly interrupted by the cry "I pitiful man, I slave of sin". The last two, also unaccompanied, condense and unite all previous expression, and conclude a composition which makes the highest intellectual and technical demands upon the singer. 
There was, at that time, no poet who, on seeing a Bach aria complete before him, was capable of following it up with anything on an equally poetic level. It would have required the trenchant speech of the psalmist to give adequate answer, instead of which, however, there follows in the recitative only a weak imitation of Psalm 139. But Bach’s imagination, still aglow with the design of the aria, was able to invest this with extraordinary energy and bold gradations of light and shade. 
The cry for mercy follows the confession of sin. The spiritual condition undergoes but little change; the feeling of unworthiness and the consciousness of slavery in sin remain unaltered. Though the music (now only in three part harmony) is more even, and flowing in motion, it is no less strong in expression. In it there is something of the repentant spirit which permeates the "Erbarme dich" of the Matthew Passion, and which is recalled by the wailing and imploring figures of the solo instrument. But in contrast to the pure B minor key of the latter, Bach begins here in the key of D minor veiled by E flat. The fact that the section as a whole is of shorter duration, and grants longer pauses to the singer, was determined by the foregoing music. In the accompanied final recitative the poet and composer elucidate the meaning of the soul’s state once more, but unfortunately without achieving complete unity pf purpose at the end. The concluding chorale is founded on the 4th verse of Joh. Rist’s "Werde munter, mein Gemüte."
The performance I've chosen for today makes this intimate cantata even more so - a 2012 recording by the early music ensemble Il Gardellino in Brussels, featuring tenor Jan Kobow and under the direction of oboist Marcel Ponseele. Enjoy!




Photo © 2016 by A. Roy Hilbinger 

Wednesday, November 08, 2017

Finally!

We've gotten into a much cooler weather pattern and the Autumn colors are finally popping around here. I got these shots yesterday morning while out running errands before the rain (mixed with sleet and snow!) made being outdoors messy.

Branch Creek at King St.
The east end of King St.
Hollar Ave. in living color
© 2017 by A. Roy Hilbinger 

Sunday, November 05, 2017

Sunday Bach - Trinity 21

Autumn Reflections
Bach composed four cantatas for the 21st Sunday after Trinity, but I had no problem choosing which one to post for today - BWV 109, Ich glaube, lieber Herr, hilf meinem Unglauben! (I believe, dear Lord, help my unbelief), Leipzig, 1723. This is one of Bach's most amazingly beautiful cantatas; it's also one of his most powerful. The late Craig Smith of Emmanuel Music wrote an essay on this piece that deserves repeating here in its entirety:
Even in the context of the incredible riches of the 1st Jahrgang, the Cantata BWV 109 is one of the gigantic peaks of inspiration. Much of extraordinary quality is the psychological insight of his reading of the Gospel from John for the 21st Sunday after Trinity. The story is simple. A nobleman approaches Jesus and begs him to come to his house to cure his son who is dying. Jesus tells him to go home; that his son will live. The man says that he believes and goes home. He returns home to find his son well. He asks his servants when the son recovered his health and they tell him the time, the same as when he spoke to Jesus. From then on the man and his whole household believed. Bach’s path is to imagine what the man was thinking on his way home, before he found out that his son was cured. The whole cantata is about doubt. It uses as the New Testament reading for its opening chorus not the Gospel for the day but rather a passage from Mark concerning another miracle of Jesus, in which a man cries “I believe, help thou mine unbelief.” 
This reading sets off a pattern of wavering faith that weaves itself throughout the cantata. Bach uses an elaborate almost Wagnerian system of motives, which advise us of the believer’s progress throughout the cantata. 
The opening chorus begins with a melody of staggering dimensions. It is 16 bars of continuous unfolding melody that travels through intricacies of texture and harmony but never stops, never cadences, and finally winds down into the entrance of the chorus. The melody is pitched quite high and often has a corno da caccia doubling the tune, which is usually carried by the violins and oboes. This melody certainly stands for the voice of God, for the steadfastness of faith. Bach did something like this earlier in the 1st Jahrgang with the high horn part in the Cantata BWV 136. Here, however, its length and the enormous permutations that it undergoes throughout the course of the sixteen bars make for a unique gesture. The melody has in its inception large leaps that give it a broad arc and grandeur, but its continual spinning keeps re-energizing the material. Those leaping fifths and sixths have become, by the 12th bar a leap of a ninth. There is a wonderful moment later where we think we have come to the end and we have cadenced in the tonic. But the tune keeps spinning out for another three bars. It is as if Bach wants it never to stop. 
The actual choral entrance uses the opening material, first in one voice, then the whole chorus. By this time we think that we know what this chorus is about. But suddenly at bar 22 the line is fragmented, chopped up and destroyed. Under this chorus fragmentation is a little appogiatura figure in the orchestra, first subtly introduced in a subsidiary instrument in the opening ritornello. This figure by now prominent and aggressive, functions almost as a signpost to the pilgrim’s progress. It will remain with us throughout the cantata. Almost is if to show us that we are dealing with an individual’s doubt in the context of a believing community, the texture of both the orchestra and especially the chorus is very erratic. Few choruses in all of Bach have so many moments where only one or two voices are singing. This creates a transparency of texture that gives Bach enormous opportunities for subtlety of harmony and counterpoint. The melismas of two voices create some of the most ravishing and revealing sounds in the whole piece. Listen to the passage on the text ‘help my unbelief” for the altos and the tenors accompanied by transparent playing of the opening motive. The “help my unbelief’ side of the father comes to the fore at the end of the piece with the melismas piling up over not the “belief “ motive but the appogiatura motive by this time aggressive and pounding. Although it closes with a complete statement of the opening sixteen bars, the movement thus ends in a state of great ambiguity. 
The secco tenor recitative continues the wavering of belief. Forte phrases of assurance alternate with doubting piano phrases. The recitative begins in Bb and wanders through several keys until the remarkable cadence in E minor. Notice how the questioning voice ends on the dominant seventh chord which is then resolved only by the precipitous bass plunge down to low E. 
The tenor aria #3 brings back the appogiatura motive, this time more prominent and menacing. It is combined with a manic dotted figure that becomes more and more extravagant throughout the melody. The voice line sings this same awkward and extreme theme, combined with hysterical triplets on the word “wanket”[wavering] The B section is even more remarkable. The text, ”Des Glaubens Docht glimmt kaum hervor,”(The wick of faith glows dimly) is imaginatively drawn by continual and progressively downward spiraling harmony. The last line “Die Furcht macht stetig neuen Schmerz” brings one of the most shocking chord progressions in all of Bach. The new grief is not only portrayed by the shocking cadence but the recapitulation of the A section after that cadence comes as an equal surprise. 
The secco alto recitative #4 not only brings a voice of calm but modulates back to the relative major of the tonic key, d minor. The aria for alto with two oboes obbligato replaces the tempestuousness of the tenor aria with refulgence. The appogiatura, which has been always used in an ambiguous harmonic context, has here become normal. It is either portrayed as the Schleiffer or an appogiatura in a much more stable harmony. The wild dotted notes of the tenor aria and the jagged staccato lines of the opening chorus have become here rich and reassuring rapid scale passages. The whole aria projects a kind of abundance. Words of continuing doubt like “Wenn ihre Hoffnung hilflos liegt” are set with mellifluous and reassuring passagework played by the oboes underneath the held notes of the voice. 
Instead of a simple four-voice final chorale, we are given a full- fledged choral fantasia on the tune “Durch Adams Fall.” We have seen, in the Orgelbüchlein setting of this chorale BWV 637, some of the most extreme and hair-raising chromaticism in all of Bach. Clearly that is not called for here. It is interesting that Bach goes to great lengths in this muscular and stringent setting to make the harmonic richness and detail sit in the background to the amazing rhythmic thrust and inexorable forward motion of the piece. The harsh marching theme of the two oboes is propelled into the next bar by the rushing sixteenths of the continuo at the end of the bar. In an amazing tour de force, the scale of the piece and the rhythmic solidity make us not notice that the modal chorale ends not in the tonic but the dominant. No modal piece in all of Bach ends with such finality. 
©Craig Smith
The performance I've chosen for this cantata is a special one - it comes from the J. S. Bach Foundation based in Trogen, Switzerland. Founded by music director and conductor Rudolf Lutz, it concentrates on presenting all of Bach's liturgical cantatas in the manner in which Bach intended them to be presented, and with the instruments used in Bach's time, accompanied by lectures on the context of the time and the theological implications inherent in the text. This particular performance is from October 22, 2010, at the Evangelische Kirche in Trogen, performed by the Schola Seconda Pratica under the direction of Rudolf Lutz. I find it interesting that one of the commenters on YouTube seemed to think that this cantata deserved a larger and more prestigious orchestra, which only shows his ignorance of Bach's music; the Bach Foundation uses ensembles the exact size and composition as those used by Bach himself. This is Bach as performed at the Thomaskirche in Leipzig in 1723, under the direction of Papa Johann himself. What more could you ask for?


Photo © 2017 by A. Roy Hilbinger 

Saturday, November 04, 2017

Dykeman in November

This year's Fall leaf season has proved to be a disappointment; the weather hasn't cooperated and the conditions haven't been conducive to brilliant colors. There is color, but it's muted, washed out. Still, there is color, as a walk through the Dykeman Spring Nature Park this morning has shown.

Muted color in the wetland
Looking across the north duck pond
Another view across the pond
Autumn reflections in the pond
Brilliant Maples behind Hatch House next to the famous Dykeman Spring
© 2017 by A. Roy Hilbinger 

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Celebrating Autumn

Ten years ago, in November, I went walking the trails in Miantonomi Park on the north end of Newport, RI and took a bunch of the best Fall foliage shots I've ever taken. I created a a photo essay on Gather.com with them, but never ported it over here on the blog. Since then Gather dried up and blew away, taking my photo essays there with it into oblivion, and I forgot all about it. But the photos themselves are still on my hard drive, and I ran across them again this morning while looking for a photo to decorate today's Sunday Bach post. I love these shots and figured I'd share them here on the blog. Enjoy!








Photos © 2007 by A. Roy Hilbinger 

Sunday Bach - A Double Feature

Autumn Cathedral - Miantonomi Park, Newport RI, 11/21/2007
Today's Sunday Bach is a double feature, because this Sunday encompasses two separate events in the Lutheran calendar. On the liturgical calendar this is the 20th Sunday after Trinity, but on the Lutheran historical calendar this is Reformation Sunday - the anniversary of Luther's nailing his 95 theses to the door of the Wittenberg schlosskirche is October 31, and many Protestant churches celebrate the Sunday before this date as Reformation Sunday. Bach wrote cantatas for both occasions.

We'll tackle the 20th Sunday after Trinity first, and the cantata I've chosen for today is a real treat - BWV 180, Schmücke dich, o liebe Seele (Adorn yourself, o dear soul), Leipzig, 1724. It's lively, it's danceable, and it's full of wry little musical puns and allusions. It's pure delight from start to finish! Here's Simon Crouch on the subject:
If anyone doubts the influence of the dance on Bach's sacred music, let them listen to this cantata. It is hard not to picture the congregation of St. Thomas' skipping down the aisle during the opening chorus! This cantata mixes the stories of the Epistle (avoid bad company, bad habits, etc etc) and the Gospel (the parable of the marriage of the King's son, in which invitations are sent out but largely ignored). The opening chorus illustrates the Epistle, the first aria the Gospel and from then on, things are mixed about.

A summary listen to the following tenor aria strongly supports Robert Marshall's thesis that Bach must have had a formidably good transverse flute player available whilst this cantata was written. It mixes stunning virtuosity with great beauty. It's also interesting to note an unusual feature in this cantata: Both transverse flutes and recorders are used. The cantata continues with a recitative that develops into a beautiful arioso, then a recitative followed by an air. This latter always makes me giggle a bit, since it bustles along in a very no nonsense way. I always imagine it being sung by a very prim soprano wearing a hat. After the final recitative, there is a very delicate, very beautiful chorale (Jesu, wahres Brot des Lebes).

Copyright © 1996 & 1998, Simon Crouch. 
The performance I've chosen is a 1997 recording by the Gabrieli Consort and Players under the direction of Paul McCreesh.

     

The official date of Reformation Day, more formally the Feast of the Reformation, is October 31, on which date in 1517 Martin Luther presented his Ninety-five Theses. In Bach's time this was celebrated on the date, but these days the celebration is usually moved to the preceding Sunday, known as Reformation Sunday. In Bach's time weekday services and masses were part of the culture, but in modern times, especially in the US, church services for any occasion (except for Christmas and Thanksgiving) are relegated to Sunday, hence Reformation Sunday. 

I usually toss a coin on this Sunday every year to decide which group of cantatas I'll pick from, Reformation Day or Trinity 20, but this year is special - it's the 500th anniversary of Luther's break from the Catholic church and deserves special attention. So I decided to post for both. And of course you can't celebrate Reformation Sunday without Bach's grand chorale cantata for the occasion - BWV 80, Ein' feste Burg ist unser Gott, A mighty fortress is our God, based on Martin Luther's most famous hymn of the same name. This cantata has an interesting history; in effect, it evolved through the years of Bach's professional life. It was first composed as a cantata for a Lenten Sunday in Weimar in 1713, but when Bach moved Leipzig in 1724 to become the music director there, he had to find another use for the cantata because the court at Leipzig forbade musical services during Lent. Bach eventually made it a cantata for Reformation Day and revised it several times through the 1720s and 1730s. Here's Simon Crouch on the subject:
Straight down to business with an enormous chorale fantasia on Luther's hymn Ein' feste Burg. This is one of Bach's pieces that I initially found very daunting: Great, yes; To admire, of course; But to love? Well, these days I not infrequently find myself humming one of the fugal voices, whistling another and trying to hold the rest going in my head. Anyone observing this act must think that I'm bonkers. But what the heck, it is a very beautiful edifice.

Two wonderful arias follow, separated by a recitative. The first motors along to a machine-gun accompaniment on the strings, the seconds swings beautifully in triple time. The chorale that follows does both. Next is a tenor/alto duet with accompanying oboe da caccia and finally an excellent four part harmonisation of the chorale melody. Do try to hear this cantata in both "modern" and "original" performances: The former to get more of the grandeur of the piece, the latter to hear it in the original instrumentation (especially the oboe da caccia. Why did this wonderful beast die out? Well, OK, it was probably a pig to play and keep in tune but it does make a lovely noise!)

There is a very interesting essay about the genesis and publication history of BWV 80 in Christolph Wolff's excellent collection Bach - Essays on His Life and Music. If you're used to hearing this cantata with trumpets and drums, then you may be surprised to learn that their inclusion (in the Bach-Gesellschaft edition) is probably derived from a parody of this cantata that Wilhelm Friedemann Bach devised for his own purposes. J.S.B probably had nothing to do with them at all!

Copyright © 1995 & 1997, Simon Crouch.
Today's performance is from a performance at the Schlosskirche in Wittenberg on October 31, 2000 by the Monteverdi Choir and the English Baroque Soloists under the direction of the great John Eliot Gardiner; this was part of Gardiner's groundbreaking Bach Pilgrimage series of performances of key cantatas in historic German churches. Enjoy!

    

Photo © 2007 by A. Roy Hilbinger