H&H opens the 2012-2013 Season with Harry Christophers conducting the glorious Bach Magnificat, featuring the Handel and Haydn Society's Chorus. Among other works by the master composer featured on the program are the Orchestral Suite No. 3, which contains the “Air on a G String,” and Sinfonias from Cantatas 18 and 75, never before performed by H&H.
- Bach: Orchestral Suite No. 3 in D
- Bach: Cantata 71, God Is My King
- Bach: Sinfonia from Cantata 18
- Bach: Jesu, joy of man’s desiring from Cantata 147
- Bach: Sinfonia from Cantata 75
- Bach: Magnificat
One hour before the start of each performance in Symphony Hall's Higginson Hall.
Opening Night and CD Release Party at Lucca Back Bay following the October 12 concert.
CD Signing with Harry Christophers
Artistic Director Harry Christophers will be signing Mozart Coronation Mass CDs after the October 14 concert.
News and Reviews
“Christophers, his orchestra, and chorus made it all swing.”
Christophers & Co. back in swing with Bach
The Boston Globe, October 13, 2012
“Each section sang with unified timbre, minimal vibrato, and finely-calibrated phrasing, and the interplay of these well-tuned instruments brought Bach’s counterpoint vividly to life.”
Handel and Haydn opens with brisk yet buoyant Bach
Boston Classical Review, October 13, 2012
“The choir sang ethereally.”
Bach at His Sublime Best with H&H
The Boston Musical Intelligencer, October 13, 2012
“It’s hard to imagine a group that regularly conveys more palpable enthusiasm for the repertoire they play than H&H, as this weekend’s involved and exciting performance demonstrated.”
Concert Review: Bach’s Magnificat etc. with the Handel and Haydn Society/Harry Christophers
The Arts Fuse, October 16, 2012
“Simply the best chorus in the region.”
A mostly magnificent Magnificat from Handel & Haydn
The Hub Review, October 17, 2012
Musical Shadings of a Master
As a gifted organist and composer, Johann Sebastian Bach (1685–1750) was well prepared to assume a leading role in any of the posts (church, court, town) available to a German musician in the early 18th century. He was trained in counterpoint (creating and combining multiple melodies) and he understood how to blend different sound colors, or timbres, to create striking, memorable sounds. He used his knowledge of both to diversify and unify his large-scale compositions. His care in orchestrating each work is audible in today’s concert, which showcases the skill of both the orchestra and chorus.
The compositions come from three different phases of Bach’s career. One of Bach’s earliest cantatas, Cantata 71, Gott ist mein König, was first performed in Mühlhausen, an important center and the second largest city in the Thuringia region of central Germany. A free, imperial city, Mühlhausen was governed by an elected town council rather than a prince or other nobility. There were 13 churches in this Lutheran city. The two prominent churches, St. Blasius and St. Mary’s, were affiliated with religious and civic authorities. As organist at St. Blasius, Bach was expected to provide a cantata to celebrate the election of the Mühlhausen town council. Cantata 71 was presented on February 4, 1708, at St. Mary’s. Following town custom, this work was repeated at St. Blasius the following Sunday (in 1708, this was the next day).
More complex than similar works by Bach’s predecessors, Cantata 71 requires four soloists; four-part choir; and full orchestra, including strings, winds, trumpets, and timpani. Bach uses the full ensemble only in the first and last movements. For the inner movements, he changes the instrumental and vocal combinations to create unique yet related sounds. The second movement is a tenor and soprano duo with organ. The tenor begins with an intricate melody to a text from the Book of Samuel. The soprano joins with a highly embellished chorale melody, O Gott, du frommer Gott. The steady pace in the organ line offsets this vocal interplay. The third movement extends the contrapuntal texture as the vocal soloists perform a four-part fugal section that foreshadows the fugue in the final movement.
The fourth movement, a bass aria, contains two distinctive sections. The first has repeated descending instrumental lines and the word nacht (night) falls on the lowest pitch of the phrase. In the next section, scored for voice and continuo, Bach writes a florid melody for the voice to a new meter and tempo. The first section of music then returns, creating a da capo aria.
A sense of power pervades the fifth movement aria for alto with trumpets. The text painting continues in this movement as Bach writes a short melisma to the word bebt (shake), closely followed by a much longer one on geschafft (made).
Bach returns to a large ensemble (only the trumpets are silent) in the penultimate movement, organizing the instruments into two smaller chamber groups, one for recorders plus cello and one for oboes plus bassoon. Both of these groups maintain their identities within the context of the larger ensemble in this and the final movements.
The final movement, which makes reference to the reigning emperor, has three sections delineated by tempo, texture, and mood. The first recalls the jubilant opening of the cantata. The middle section is a fugue introduced by the four vocal soloists. Gradually, instruments and full choir enter at staggered time intervals. Bach reserves the trumpets until the end of this section, using them as a glorious peak in the fugue and as a bridge to the return of the opening celebratory section. This cantata was so successful that Bach was asked to write and conduct cantata performances in 1709 and 1710, after he had left Mühlhausen to take up a new position in the ducal court at Weimar.
Bach composed Cantata 18, Gleichwie der Regen und Schnee, in Weimar for Sexagesima Sunday, the second Sunday before Ash Wednesday. While the exact date is not certain, scholars agree that Cantata 18 was first performed no later than 1715. Bach revised the cantata for Leipzig, adding flauto dolce (“sweet flute” or recorder), a softer-sounding instrument than the transverse flute. This version was performed in Leipzig on February 13, 1724. The cantata text relates to the Parable of the Sower from the Gospel of Luke. The sound of the opening Sinfonia, scored for four violas and two flauto dolce plus continuo, is rich yet reflective. Bach defines the sections of the ensemble through distinctive figuration: the flauto dolce are imitative while the violas provide a steady foundation, their opening idea recurring like an orchestral ritornello in a concerto.
Similar to Cantata 18, Cantata 147 was first composed for Weimar and revised for Leipzig. Bach added three recitatives and the famous final chorale movement, popularly known as Jesu, joy of man’s desiring. In this movement, Bach extends the four-part chorale setting by combining it with a longer idea in the strings that is derived from the chorale tune and acts as a refrain between the sung phrases of the hymn.
Bach moved to Leipzig in 1723. His duties there were two-fold. He was Kantor for the St. Thomas School, where his primary responsibilities included teaching music and directing the choirs at St. Thomas Church and St. Nicolas Church on alternating Sundays. As Director Musices (Director of Music), Bach was responsible for overseeing church music in the city and providing music for any civic celebrations. This was an important position in an important city.
Leipzig in the 18th century was a center for both secular and sacred music, as well as instrument builders. The university and church schools like St. Thomas were known for academic excellence. The city’s trade fairs attracted visitors from throughout Germany and beyond.
The exquisite vocal and instrumental music Bach composed while in Leipzig began with the first official cantata composed in his new position. Cantata 75, Die Elenden sollen essen, was performed for the first Sunday after the feast of Trinity. The Sinfonia, scored for violins, violas, trumpet, and continuo, opens the second part of the cantata whose text focuses on the spiritual wealth of the faithful. The string lines are imitative; they return between phrases of the chorale melody, Was Gott tut, das ist wohlgetan (What God does is done well), played in the trumpet.
Leipzig traditions dating to the last years of the 16th century included a setting of the Magnificat as part of the Christmas service. The first version of Bach’s Magnificat (in E-flat, rather than D, and with other minor differences) was given on December 25, 1723, Bach’s first Christmas in Leipzig. The text, taken from the Gospel of Luke, is Mary’s response upon learning that she is to be the mother of Jesus. Bach upholds the tradition of dividing the text into choruses and arias; he uses the keys and instrumentation to both unite the whole work and contrast individual movements. Bach scores trumpets in the first, seventh (about half-way), and final movements. In the first and final movements, trumpets and winds capture the listener’s attention and remain prominent until the vocal entrance, while in the seventh movement, Bach uses trumpets to culminate a gradually building sound.
Each movement for soloist pairs the voice with one or more instruments, but no combination is repeated. The unique settings reflect the moods of the texts with special emphasis given to selected text through melismas and long-held notes.
By 1729, Bach had become a vital part of musical life in Leipzig. At about this time, he led the Collegium Musicum, an organization of students and other connoisseurs. The Leipzig, or “Bachische,” Collegium Musicum (the director’s name was traditionally incorporated into the title) performed at Gottfried Zimmerman’s coffee house. Concerts were held indoors in the winter and in the garden in the summer.
The manuscript parts for the Orchestral Suite No. 3 date from about this time. Originally titled Overtüren, this work begins with an overture in the French style; that is, with a section featuring long-short-long rhythmic patterns, followed by a section featuring imitation, and concluding with a brief return of the opening. The Air, with its long, luxurious violin lines, is surely the most well-known movement of the suite. The Gavottes provide a symmetrical structure (Gavotte I, Gavotte II, Gavotte I) at the center of the suite. The final two movements round out the collection: a stately Bourrée followed by a spirited Gigue. Unifying by key, D major, Bach contrasts the movements through instrumentation and the characteristics (tempo and rhythmic pattern) of each dance.
Bach’s music reached beyond cantatas and orchestral music; he wrote in almost every genre; the only exception is opera. However, his recitatives and arias rival those of opera composers. His mastery of counterpoint is unparalleled, but, as the music on today’s concert confirms, his melodies, text painting, and orchestration are equally diverse and sumptuous.
© Teresa M. Neff, PhD, 2012
2012–2013 Historically Informed Performance Fellow
Artists, dates, and programming are subject to change.
(Concentus Musicus Wien; Nikolaus Harnoncourt, conductor)