l o v e : s o r r o w : j o y
In the late 17th-Century, composers and music theorists began to subscribe to a theory of musical aesthetics known as the Doctrine of Affections. This doctrine maintained that music could arouse a variety of specific emotions within the listener. Johann Mattheson in his 1739 treatise “The Perfect Chapel Master” noted that large intervals could represent joy, sadness by small intervals, fury by rough harmony, and obstinacy with counterpoint. This desire to highlight and contrast emotions within a single work makes sense for the Baroque era. After all, the very word “Baroque” means the juxtaposition of elements; the tension of two emotions.
Today’s concert focuses on juxtaposition. Not only within the Baroque era affections (which many of our pieces are derived from), but also the juxtaposition of old and new works, as well as the juxtaposition of voices and instruments. How do the elements combined synthesize and elicit these emotional responses? How do each of these pieces represent the affections of love, sorrow, and joy?
J.S. Bach: Weinen, Klagen, Sorgen, Zagen, BWV 12
Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750) was asking himself this very question when composing only his second Cantata (BWV 12) in Weimar, 1714. Weinen, Klagen, Sorgen, Zagen (Weeping, Crying, Sorrow, Sighing) places four synonyms of lament next to each other. The text for the Cantata, compiled by the Weimar Court Chaplin Salamo Franck, is based off of the reading for the third Sunday after Easter (Jubilate Sunday) from John 16: 16-23 -- “Ye shall weep and lament, but the world shall rejoice: and ye shall be sorrowful, but your sorrow shall be turned into joy.” Bach sets the Cantata as a musical affective journey, one that begins in Sorrow, yet ends in Joy.
The form of the Cantata is modern, influenced heavily by Vivaldi and other Italian composers. However, Bach’s use of the lament bass within the Passacaglia form in the opening Choral Da capo aria harkens back to music of an older time. This descending chromatic bass line in the F-dorian mode is repeated twelve times. Bach was apparently so pleased with his musical creation of sorrow that he not only reused this Cantata again in Leipzig, but also as the music for his “Crucifixus” in the infamous Mass in B-minor (BWV 232). These four sorrowful synonyms are then musically juxtaposed in the B section, where Bach quickens the tempo reflecting on the final line of Franck’s text: “that bear the marks of Jesus.” This mark was one that would bring hope, and salvation, but as the Da capo, A section implies -- not yet.
Bach continues to juxtapose two emotions in the following three solo movements. In the Alto recit and Da capo aria pair, Bach contrasts two emblems, the Cross with Crowns. In the Bass aria, Joy (well-being) and Woe (affliction). The Tenor Aria’s text tells us that “after rain, blessings bloom.” This is contradicted by music of a dark, G-minor harmony. Here, Bach is contrasting not two words, but music and text. However, Bach begins the introduction of the predominant affection of Joy as we near the end of the Cantata by adding a trumpet to the Basso Continuo aria. Phrase by phrase, the trumpet plays the well known Chorale tune “Jesu Meine Freude” -- Jesus, my great Joy. The Bar Form, AAB, looks ahead to the closing chorale, where Bach ends the journey to Joy on a strong B-flat major: “What God does is well done, I will cling to this.”
Arvo Pärt - Da pacem Domine
Arvo Pärt (b. 1935) is known as one of the 21st-Century’s “Holy Minimalists.” This title is due to his use of minimal musical processes, but his focus on sacred music and texts that differentiates him from some of the American Minimalists like Philip Glass and Steve Reich. Pärt defined his trademark compositional style tintinnabulation (the ringing, or sounding of bells) after a 10-year period of silence. His reemergence as a composer in 1976 yielded quite a few choral and instrumental compositions, cementing him in the world of classical music. Da Pacem Domine is one of his newer choral works written in 2004, revised in 2006 for chorus and strings. And yet the ringing of bells is still being utilized in the exact same way it was when first developed 30 years prior.
The basics of tintinnabular style are at least a two-part texture consistently working note against note (similar to the conductus of the medieval period). These two voices have become known today as the “melodic” voice (M-voice) which moves mostly by step and the “tintinnabuli” voice (T-voice) whose notes are almost always outlining the tonic triad. In this work, the sopranos and tenors (doubled by the upper strings) almost exclusively sing the T-Voice, with the alto joining most of the time, but also showcasing the M-voice as well. Typically a melody is found within the soprano voice, but Pärt decides to contrast this expectation by placing the M-Voice almost entirely in the bass voice (doubled by the cello and double bass). The tension of sustained voices contrasts the text's desire for peace, and is not completely discovered until the final D-minor chord has been rung.
J.C. Bach - Sinfonia in G-minor, op. 6 Nr. 6
J.S. Bach fathered at least twenty children during his lifetime. Sadly only ten survived into adulthood. Johann Christian Bach (1735-1782) was the youngest of his four sons who became musicians and was considered the most “famous” during his lifetime. He was nicknamed the “London” or “Italian” Bach due to his open mindedness for other cosmopolitan styles and his works’ international reputation. His Symphonies had a tremendous impact on one young Wolfgang Mozart, and his sixth symphony is arguably his most reputable.
Part of its notoriety is its dark timbre, housed firmly in G-minor. Much of the 18th-century compositional style focused on a return to “sense and sensibility” (Empfindsamkeit). The Sixth Symphony (1766) highlights the other predominant compositional style of the time, that of “storm and stress” (Sturm und Drang). This literary and artistic movement sought to frighten, to stun, and to to overcome the listener with emotion -- an evolution of affections. Musically this was accomplished largely by use of dissonance, molto tremolo in the strings, and sudden dynamic shifts. The opening movement follows the expectations of Binary form, with the primary theme showcasing the storm and stress with vigor. The secondary theme is in the relative major (B-flat major), represented by a sighing gesture in the violins. This theme continues the contrast between dynamic worlds, loud and soft. The C-minor slow movement was a direct influence on Mozart’s C-minor piano concerto, K491, whose first three notes are exactly the same as Bach’s here. The final movement returns to the storm and stress influenced by The Mannheim Rocket gesture in the second violins. J.C. Bach intentionally fails to resolve the G-minor into anything hopeful, instead ending with a whimsical lowering of the dynamics, on a descending G-minor arpeggio, pianissimo.
Vivaldi - Magnificat, RV 610
Although primarily known for his Gloria, Antonio Vivaldi (1678-1741) composed other sacred choral orchestral works for the girls of the Ospedale della Pietà (a large orphanage in Venice). His Magnificat composed sometime in the late 1720’s or early 1730’s showcases many of the famous Venetian choral techniques of the time. The work also puts on display Vivaldi’s ability to create sententious formal structures while composing expressive melodies and harmonies to carefully paint his texts. The opening, hymn-like chords harken back to the style of Monteverdi with their clear, syllabic settings of the opening Magnificat words. These homophonic tutti choral and instrumental sections are juxtaposed by solos that were clearly written for specific female singers in the orphanage. The lack of a Bass soloist is another further indicator that this piece was written for girls singing originally, as the tenor solo could easily have been performed by a low alto. The verse sections of the text (mvts. 4 and 5) fall in line with the long tradition of especially dramatic treatments, one not too dissimilar from the storm and stress of J.C. Bach. Bold, unison lines both in the strings and octaves in the voices further heighten the text with florid coloratura. The ending “Gloria Patri'' returns to the opening G-minor material, ending with an almost obligatory closing fugal procedure; the voices doubled by the instruments colla parte.
Vaughan Williams - Five Mystical Songs
After a dormant period following the death of Henry Purcell throughout the 18th and 19th centuries, Edward Elgar began a much needed revitalization of British Choral Music. A generation of inspired composers would soon follow, including Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872-1958) who led the pack. For nearly sixty years, Vaughan Williams’s choral/orchestral works along with his inclusion of Folk music would influence, permeate, and define the new British style. Following three months of study with Ravel, Vaughan Williams completed some of his most famous vocal works including the song-cycle On Wenlock Edge (1909), the Fantasia on a theme by Thomas Tallis (1910), and, in 1911, the Sea Symphony and the Five Mystical Songs.
The Five Mystical Songs set five poems by Welsh-born English metaphysical poet and priest George Herbert (1593-1633). Despite the fact that Vaughan Williams was a self declared atheist, he was inspired greatly by the liturgy of the Angliacan church. This led him ultimately to Herbert’s poetry. In typical Vaughan Williams fashion, the piece may be accompanied with several different instrumentations. Today’s performance will feature an arrangement for string quintet and piano, along with chorus and Baritone soloist. The chorus plays a background role throughout the first four movements, allowing the focus to be on the Baritone soloist and instrumental players. The opening “Easter” resolutely reflects on Jesus’ resurrection, with the strings providing a lush, harmonic texture over the pulsing eighth-note triplets in the piano. The “Easter” motif continues in the second movement. Not until the end does the chorus enter on a gentle hum, adding color to the soloist’s text “Can there be any day but this, Though many suns to shine endeavour?” This leads to the definitive proclamation in true British choral fashion: “There is but one, and that one ever.”
Vaughan Williams’ juxtaposition occurs between loud, dense textures and smaller, more intimate moments. The third movement is without a doubt his most cherished and confidential juncture, with soft, continual eighth-note chords flowing freely, reminiscent of his previous teacher, Ravel. The choir enters again towards the end on another neutral syllable, this time intoning the plain song antiphon O sacrum convivium. Following a completely solo fourth movement of orchestra and soloist, the chorus features in the fifth movement, “Antiphon.” The orchestration features another usage of tintinnabulation (of sorts), this time that of pealing of the bells.
With this final chorus of praise, the joy and exaltation of the program is finally realized in its entirety. The Doctrine of Affections which began with weeping and sorrow has gradually turned to joy; and in joy we sing. Indeed, after the year we have experienced, we now can all finally say:
“Let all the world in every corner sing -- my God, and King.” --- © Joshua Harper