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Judith Eckelmeyer presents Mozart's Roses
Bach by Candlelight
November 21, 2014
As will be evident in the following discussions related to “Bach by Candlelight”, Bach’s music varies greatly in its purpose, resources, attitude, and technical details.
Concerto for Violin and Oboe, BWV 1060
Bach used Vivaldi’s three-movement model for the concerto. The Allegro first movement features relatively equal soloists. The Adagio second movement, however, principally features the oboe, with violin supporting it and highlighted only in a short cadenza. The final movement, Allegro, provides plenty of idiomatic music for both instruments; the oboe generally provides the melody while the violin executes virtuosic decoration above.
Motet 6: Lobet den Herrn, alle Heiden, BWV 230
denn seine Gnaden und Wahrheit waltet über uns in Ewigkeit. Alleluia.
Praise the Lord, all nations, and extol him, all people;
for his mercy and truth rule over us forever. Alleluia.
Cantata BWV 8: Liebster Gott, wann werd’ ich sterben?
On its surface, the cantata strikes one as being one of Bach’s least prepossessing. What? Only two arias? Only two choral movements? And a reversed order of recitative and aria? But we should remember that Bach never wrote without purpose. His music in this cantata effectively shows the glorious adornments being slowly reduced until the final chorale stands without trappings, purely in its essence.
Und des allen Adams Erben, unter denen ich auch bin,
haben dies zum Vaterteil, dass sie eine kleine Weil’
arm und elend sein auf Erden und dann selber Erde werden.
Dearest God, when will I die? My time is running out.
And all of Adam’s heirs, of which I also am one,
have this for a heritage, that they are poor and wretched
for a short time on earth and then will themselves become earth.
My soul, what do you want to jettison when my last hour strikes? My body daily bends toward the earth, to which one bears so many thousand, and there must my resting place be.
Wer wird die Seele doch von aufgelegtem Sündenjoch befreien und entbinden?
Das Meine wird zerstreut, und wohin warden meine Lieben in ihrer Traurigkeit zerstreut vertrieben?
My faint heart well feels fear, trouble, pain; where will my body find rest?
Who will release and set free the soul from the yoke of sin laid on it?
My belongings will be scattered, and to where would my dear ones be scattered in their distracted sorrow?
Mich rufet mein Jesus: wer sollte nicht gehn?
Nichts, was mir gefällt, besitzet die Welt!
Erscheine mir seliger fröhlicher Morgen, verkläret und herrlich vor Jesu zu stehn.
Oh, soften, you foolish useless sorrows!
My Jesus calls me—who shouldn’t go?
The world possesses nothing that pleases me.
Appear to me, blessed happy morning, to stand before Jesus transfigured and splendid.
Du nimst ja selbst mein Fleisch und mein Gebeine, so nimm auch meine Armut hin; genug, dass mir aus Gottes Überfluss das höchste Gut noch werden muss, genug dass ich dort reich und selig bin.
Was aber ist von mir zu erben, als meines Gottes Vatertreu?
Die wird ja alle Morgen neu, und kann nicht sterben.
O world, keep my goods!
You surely take my flesh and my bones, so take away my weakness as well.
It is enough that the highest good from God’s abundance must yet be for me, enough that I am rich and blessed there.
But what will I inherit as my God’s fatherly trust?
It will indeed be renewed every morning, and cannot die.
lehre mich den Geist aufgeben, mit recht wohl gefasstem Mut!
Hilf dass ich ein ehrlich Grab, neben frommen Christen hab,
und auch endlich in der Erde nimmermehr zu Schanden werde.
Ruler over Death and Life, one day make my death good;
teach me to give up my spirit with right good courage!
Help me to have an honorable grave near pious Christians,
and also, finally in the earth, nevermore to be disgraced.
Prelude and Fugue in B-minor, BWV 544
After the rhythmic drive and harmonic tensions of the prelude, the fugue subject seems solid and trustworthy. Its regular, even notes move upward and back down again over a modest range. Gone are the syncopations and flashes of high drama; the pedals are generally assimilated more comfortably into the ensemble. As in the prelude, there is a lighter section for manuals. The return of the pedals is neatly prepared harmonically; now they have distinct activity, urging the drive to the conclusion.
Chaconne in D-minor (conclusion of Violin Partita 2, BWV 1004)
A brief word about the baroque violin is in order here for a better understanding of the instrument for which Bach wrote those six works. In general, the violin of his time sounded less bright, perhaps warmer, than that of today’s violin, because the strings then were gut rather than steel, and the tension on them was much less. Further, the bow was arched outward (convex) rather than inward toward the hair (concave), and the tension on the hair was less than in a modern bow. Contrapuntal lines were easier to perform and fuller chords were possible because the arch of the bridge supporting the strings above the face of the violin was lower, which meant that multiple stops of more than two strings were easier to achieve. Delicate, intricate ornaments were easier to produce because the strings were lower against the neck, and the neck was at a lower angle against the body of the violin. All of these elements of the baroque violin facilitated an 18th-century performer’s execution of technically complex works like the Chaconne and allowed for subtle dynamic nuances that complemented the dramatic and rhetorical practices of the time. Today, a violinist using a modern instrument creates a necessarily different, though equally valid, performance of Bach’s music for solo violin.
BWV 4: Christ lag in Todesbanden
“Christ lag in Todesbanden” is one of several chorales (hymns) for which none other than Martin Luther wrote both the German text and the melody in the first half of the 16th century. He adapted both text and melody from a much older Latin plainchant from the Catholic liturgy for Easter, the sequence prosa “Victimae paschali laudes”, ascribed to Vipo in the first half of the eleventh century. To create this chorale, Luther intermixed scriptural passages with passages from the sequence text, all in German so that his congregation would understand what they were singing. He kept a significant, identifiable portion of the music of the old sequence, creating what is termed a contrafactum—literally a “made-over” melody. Luther set up the chorale in seven verses, which form an arch with the fourth verse as the midpoint. The contents of verses on one side of the midpoint are mirrored in introversion on the other side, forming a chiasm—a cross relationship. In this way Luther was able to show a spiritual meaning and draw theological connections. Luther was well aware of the Jewish celebrations of Passover and Yom Kippur, and also of alchemy and its Christian symbolism. The text of “Christ lag in Todesbanden” appears also to have interwoven allusions to the week-long alchemical process. Bach’s treatment of the chorale amplifies Luther’s theological foundation.
With brief hints of the chorale melody, the short Sinfonia foreshadows the cantata’s story. At its conclusion, it shows us in musical gesture the elevation of Jesus to the cross, the loneliness of his death agony, his deposition from the cross, and even his being placed in a low resting place—a burial. Alchemically speaking, this condition is the base material, the “worst case scenario” which, through several procedures, will be turned into the imperishable “Perfection”.
Er ist wieder erstanden und hat uns bracht das Leben.
Des wir sollen fröhlich sein, Gott loben und ihm dankbar sein
und singen Hallelujah. Hallelujah!
Christ lay in Death’s bonds, given for our sins.
He has risen again and has brought us life.
So we shall be joyful, praise God and be thankful to him,
and sing hallelujah. Hallelujah!
Das macht’ alles unsre Sünd, kein Unschuld war zu finden.
Davon kam der Tod so bald und nahm über uns Gewalt, hielt uns
in seinem Reich gefangen. Hallelujah!
Among all the children of mortals, no one could conquer Death;
Our sin did all this; there was no innocence to be found.
Therefore Death came so suddenly and took power over us,
held us captive in his kingdom. Hallelujah!
Und hat die Sünde weggetan, damit dem Tod genommen
All sein Recht und sein Gewalt, da bleibet nichts denn Tods Gestalt,
den Stachl hat er verloren. Hallelujah!
Jesus Christ, God’s son, has come in our place
And done away with sins, and with that took away
All Death’s rights and its power; so nothing remains other than Death’s image,
Death has lost his thorn. Hallelujah!
Das Leben behielt den Sieg, es hat den Tod verschlungen.
Die Schrift hat verkündiget das, wie ein Tod den andern frass,
ein Spott aus dem Tod ist worden. Hallelujah!
It was an astonishing war, when Death and Life struggled.
Life secured the victory, it has swallowed up Death.
Scripture had proclaimed this, how one Death gobbled up another,
A mockery has been made of Death. Hallelujah!
Das ist hoch an des Kreuzes Stamm in heisser Lieb gebraten,
Das Blut zeichnet unsre Tür, das halt der Glaub dem Tode für,
der Würger kann uns nicht mehr schaden. Hallelujah!
Here is the true Easter lamb that God has presented,
That is roasted in ardent love high on the trunk of the cross.
The blood marks our door, faith holds it up against Death.
The Destroyer can harm us no more. Hallelujah!
Das uns der Herre [er]scheinen lässt, er ist selber die Sonne,
Der durch seiner Gnade Glanz erleuchtet unsre Herzen ganz,
Der Sünden Nacht ist verschwunden. Hallelujah!
The Lord makes it present to us, he himself is the sun,
So we celebrate the high feast with joyful heart and ecstasy,
Who through the radiance of his grace completely illumines our hearts.
The night of sin has disappeared. Hallelujah!
Der alte Sauerteig nicht soll sein bei dem Wort der Gnaden,
Christus will die Koste sein und speisen die Seele allein,
der Glaub will keins andern leben. Hallelujah.
We eat and live well on the true Passover bread.
The old leaven shall not exist beside the word of grace;
Christ will be the food and alone feed the soul,
Faith will live by no other. Hallelujah!