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Wednesday, July 28, 2004
  Cantata: Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme, BWV 140, 4. Chorale: Zion hört die Wächter singen
Johann Sebastian Bach
Norton Recorded Anthology of Western Music, CD 6 Track 8

In a song about singing Mr. Bach atypically arranged his forces to concentrate his power on heartfelt melody. Abstaining from harmony, the strings are unified above the ubiquitous rhythm section and the tenors enjoy the absence of the rest of the choir. Because, in this piece, the tenors never sing more than three bars at a time, the unison strings nearly have the room to themselves. The tenors are present just enough to create what photographers call depth of field. To my ears, the rhapsodic indulgence of this piece seems unique for late Baroque.

Doubling the violins with the violas is a good match for these tenors in the background. The tune the string players play has wide happy leaps and healthy sixteenth note passages. With all the strength and verve in this melody, the listener never misses the expressive harmony that comes so easily to Mr. Bach.

What I like about this single-voiced chorale is the way the choir almost always starts on a weak beat. Thus the listener hears them as if from a distance. Much like Zion, in the text, hears the watchman. The one exception to this is the word, "Hosanna!" Even this exclamation, though, overlaps the end of one phrase and the beginning of another.

Read also travel notes from Mwanji Ezana, more Baroque thoughts from Charles T. Downey at ionarts, and Helen Radice's response to refined atmosphere.

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In January 2004 I starting writing an opinion for each selection in the Norton Recorded Anthology of Western Music. Now, more than a year later, I am almost finished. Soon, I will have an archive full of opinions on the music we so carelessly call "classical." And no one can stop me.

Location: Cincinnati, Ohio, United States

Director of the Contemporary Performer's Workshop... Music Teacher for St. Aloysius Gonzaga School... Principal 'Cellist of the Springfield Symphony Orchestra... Composer

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