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Tuesday, August 31, 2004
  Mass in B Minor, BWV 232, Credo: Symbolm Nicenum c) Et Expecto
Johann Sebastian Bach
Norton Recorded Anthology of Western Music, CD 6 Tracks 18-19

And here is that bombastic ending Bach promised. It is curious to me that the scholars who put this collection together selected the conclusion of the Credo. Though bombastic, this excerpt is not a grand finale and the preceding few sections depend very heavily on the flow into this movement. Like the wonderful Cantata we heard earlier, this selection allows a lookat Bach’s dramatic abilities. It is curious to me only because, to my ears, that is not the most interesting aspect of Bach. What amazes me, in Bach’s music, is the strange feeling of weightlessness that usually happens in his slow movements.

Nevertheless, this toe-tapping resurrection offers plenty of gems. It erupts out of the floor and sets up a good groove. There is a lot going on but it is the trumpet that lasts in our ears. The trumpet does not accomplish any great melody or brassy stunts. The crisp rhythm and clear tone are beauty enough to finish this act.

What I like about this ascension is the orchestration. Tchaikovsky-like, Bach is able to accomplish a good wallop without inordinately large forces. It seems like there are hole bunches of instruments on stage, but most of the bigness in the sound comes from the choir. Because of the five-voiced gaggle of singers behind them, the orchestra has to do very little to sound really good.
Monday, August 30, 2004
  Back to the B minor Mass in a moment...

...but first I have some reading to catch up on. Due to a recent move to bigger digs I have fallen behind the times. Getting all my things across town and settling in has taken more time than I thought and would have liked. But now that I am comfortable I see that my last post is starting to get stale but, as I said, first I have some reading to do.

While I was lifting boxes, Robert Gable made some interesting points about "Nixon in China" for future audiences. Mwanji Ezana, returned from Martinique, enjoyed some open-air concerts that included a performance on an instrument called the "oud." Charles T. Downey made a fantastic list of operas to enjoy and Jessica Duchen had some strong remarks regarding Brendel and Birtwistel. It is past time for me to turn in so I will have to finish Kyle Gann's August archieve tomorrow and delay the pleasure of learning what Alex Ross and Helen Radice have been up to.

'till tomorrow, then.
Friday, August 06, 2004
  Mass in B Minor, BWV 232, Credo: Symbolum Nicenum, b) Confiteor
Johann Sebastian Bach
Norton Recorded Anthology of Western Music, CD 6 Tracks 15-17

Sadly, I have performed in many modern sacred musical messes; Christmas pageants and the like that enthrall the musically illiterate with a line up of bombastic endings. There is much church music and much about church that I love. However, it seems to me, at times we ignore much of our heritage. One lesson from the Mass in B Minor is that it is effective to not end big every time.

Being clever, but not for the sake of being clever, all of Bach's imitation and fancy counterpoint has purpose. The voice crossings, close ranges, and similar lines may have been the qualities that the early Baroque composers hoped to discourage. And this is not the clarity of voices that is generally associated with Bach. Much of the detail seems to have been written more for the performer than the listener. Nevertheless, it is a complex sound that achieves large scale events. And these events are well controlled because of Bach's clever technique.

What I like about this quiet bunch of noodles is that it arrives at an Adagio instead of a high-pitched culmination of Latin-gone-wild. This is, of course, a purposeful delay of the promised wham-bam. The surprise move to an Adagio is a wonderful set up for the following Et expecto resurrectionem that concludes the Credo.

Read also Jens F. Laurson's recommended recordings of Bartók's string quartets, Charles T. Downey's remembrance of Nadia Boulanger, Jessica Duchen's response to Clive Gillinson's career move, and Helen Radice's appreciation for administration.
Thursday, August 05, 2004
  Mass in B Minor, BWV 232, Credo: Symbolum Nicenum, a) Et in Spiritum sanctum Dominum
Johann Sebastian Bach
Norton Recorded Anthology of Western Music, CD 6 Tracks 13-14

Bach's ambition must have been a peculiar thing. As I understand, he was not striving for fame, wealth, or legacy. He was interested in cultivating the good potential that he saw in himself. I would not use the word "ambition" to describe this interest were it not for the unwieldy and massive accomplishment that is the Mass in B Minor. This is the work of a composer who imagined large scale events that were, well, ambitious. And though this is one of my favorite pieces, I would say that some parts are better than others.

In spite of the care that Mr. Bach apparently took in instructing the oboes of love to allow the basso to have the spotlight, they steal the show. The 'cellist also keeps pace nicely. The singer simply does not sound as good as the other three participants on this track. It may be that instrumental sophistication is still relatively new at this point in the anthology and the novelty wins. It may also be that the instrumental parts were written with more care. There are times when the singer is struggling with passages that are not flattering to the voice.

What I like about this basso workout are the notes longer than a beat. Because most of the beats are divided by triplets, the suspended notes acquire a rhythm and elegance they would not have in a less consistent piece.

Read also a lecture on Bach's Mass in B Minor as Musical Icon from Arizona.

Read also Charles T. Downey's opera recommendations and continuation on the story of a dog, as well as Helen Radice's thoughts on public funding.
Monday, August 02, 2004
  Cantata: Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme, BWV 140, 7. Chorale: Gloria sei dir gesungen
Johann Sebastian Bach
Norton Recorded Anthology of Western Music, CD 6 Track 12

"Parting requires songs; when you meet, there are better things to do!" This was the line in Solzhenitsyn's book that explained the abundance of sad songs compared to the lack of happy tunes. I am not sure there is a lack of happy tunes. Perhaps, like the injuries that they heal, sad songs are simply more memorable. Listeners do not always need happy music and writing it runs the risk of sounding trivial. It is impressive that Bach was able to write about his joys so fearlessly.

What better way to conclude this happy morning entertainment then a rousing chorale in E flat Major (the happiest of all keys)! The advantage of this key being that the sopranos can stretch up to their high 'g' landing on a lusty third of the chord. The tune is one listener's would leave humming, as they crossed the street to the pasty shop, perhaps. Also, the square, unshakable shape of this chorale is a sound that goes very well with coffee post sermon.

What I like about this jubilant conclusion is the effectiveness of the German bar form. Perhaps my ears have become too accustom to ABA narratives. It is surprising to me how assertively the reiteration of the first section encourages the listener to applaud.

Read also about banana jam and other delights in Martinique from Mwanji Ezana, Charles T. Downey's recommended Janáček reading, bad opera from Jens F. Laurson, and how Jessica Duchen escaped "Creepy Crawly." Also, a new nausea.
Sunday, August 01, 2004
  Cantata: Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme, BWV 140, 6. Aria (Duet): Mein Freund ist mein!
Johann Sebastian Bach
Norton Recorded Anthology of Western Music, CD 6 Tracks 10-11

Listeners like what listeners know. It seems that the climax of a piece of music is generally the moment when the listener has learned the vocabulary of the piece and is ready for a change of some sort. The change can be as dramatic as smashing one's guitar on the stage or as subtle as holding a single pitch too long. However it is accomplished, the need for a climax and the physics of how to get there do not seem to have changed much over time.

Bach has administered a stronger equality among the musicians for this climactic aria. For example, reminiscent of Corelli's trio sonata that appears early on this disk, the continuo has more to say. Yet the sound of this movement is familiar. The structure of this piece is similar to the third movement and the tune is much like the fourth. This sixth movement becomes the climax of the cantata because it draws upon the listener's familiarity with the material and brings the performers closer together than they have been before. It is not incidental that this is the first movement of the piece to have a repeat.

What I like about this lovely da capo aria is the oneness of the quasi-canonic writing. That is, a few bars into track 11 each instrument and voice is assigned scale fragments. Because each part is unique and equal to the other three, the aggregate is more texture than melody. Bach knew there is more to listen to than tunes.

Read also about Ellen Taaffe Zwilich's Symphony No. 2 from Robert Gable, Jessica Duchen confronting Fauré, Kyle Gann's thoughts on the discipline of art criticism, and Helen Radice's rememberance of John Mayer.
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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