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Chailly Conducts Bach, Through Mahler's Lens

L-R: Gustav Mahler (Moritz Nähr, via Wikimedia Commons); Riccardo Chailly (Brescia & Amisano, via La Scala); J.S. Bach (Elias Gottlob Haussmann, via Wikimedia Commons)
L-R: Gustav Mahler (Moritz Nähr, via Wikimedia Commons); Riccardo Chailly (Brescia & Amisano, via La Scala); J.S. Bach (Elias Gottlob Haussmann, via Wikimedia Commons)"

On The Bach Hour, the vast sonic landscape of Gustav Mahler's musical language transforms selections from Bach's Orchestral Suites in a performance by the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra and conductor Riccardo Chailly.

On the program:

Organ Sonata No. 4 in E minor, BWV 528: II. Adagio (trans. August Stradal) - Vikingur Olafsson, piano

Cantata BWV 100 Was Gott tut, das ist wohlgetan [III] (translation) - Susanne Winter, soprano; Rebecca Martin, mezzo-soprano; Markus Schäfer, tenor; Sebastian Bluth, bass; Windsbach Children's Choir and German Chamber Virtuosi Berlin, Karl-Friedrich Beringer, conductor

Was Gott tut, das ist wohlgetan, BWV 1116 - Hans Fagius, organ (1728 Cahman organ at Leufsta Bruk, Sweden)

Bach Suite (arr. Gustav Mahler) - Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, Riccardo Chailly, conductor

TRANSCRIPT:

[MUSIC]

When he wrote his Second Orchestral Suite, J.S. Bach was well into the prime of his compositional life, with some of his most astounding works behind him, like the St. John and St. Matthew Passions, and some still to come, like the Mass in B minor and the Art of Fugue. So this relatively short set of virtuosic dances for flute and orchestra was, in a way, a diversion from the music Bach crafted for the ages, meant for Friday nights at Leipzig’s main coffee house.

[MUSIC]

Around a hundred eighty years later, another composer known for large-scale profound music, crafted for the ages, made Bach’s diversion his own, arranging a suite for the early 20th century concert hall.

[MUSIC]

Gustav Mahler’s Bach Suite is coming up on The Bach Hour.

[MUSIC]

Hello, I’m Brian McCreath; welcome to The Bach Hour from WCRB, Classical Radio Boston. When it comes to Bach, in one way, Mahler was pretty much like virtually every other composer of Western art music, which is to say that Bach was central to his artistic life. But Mahler is also part of a subset of those composers, drawing those sounds into his own sonic world. You’ll hear Mahler’s full Bach Suite later in the hour.

Also on the program is Bach’s Cantata No. 100, Was Gott tut, das ist wohlgetan, or “What God does is well done.” And if you’d like to see a translation of the text for that piece from Boston’s Emmanuel Music, just visit us online at Classical WCRB dot org.

First, here is pianist Vikingur Olafsson, with part of Bach’s Organ Sonata No. 4, transcribed by August Stradal, here on The Bach Hour.

[MUSIC – BWV 528-2]

That’s pianist Vikingur Olafsson with a movement from Bach’s Organ Sonata No. 4, transcribed by August Stradal, whose own music became overshadowed by his transcriptions of works by other composers, not the least of which were symphonies by his teacher, Anton Bruckner. Stradal was born in what’s now the Czech Republic in 1860, only a couple of months before another composer was born just over a hundred miles away. That other composer was Gustav Mahler, and his take on Bach’s music is still ahead.

I’m Brian McCreath, with The Bach Hour, from 99-5 WCRB.

Just as August Stradal and Gustav Mahler found in Bach’s music something they could sculpt and shape through their own voices, Bach himself regularly took the very same route with his own music. The Cantata No. 100, Was Gott tut, das ist wohlgetan, or “What God does is well done,” is one example, with first and last movements written roughly a decade before the rest of the piece, but now supercharged with horns and timpani. We don’t know specifically what led Bach to write the piece, but that addition makes it pretty likely that it was some kind of celebration, like, perhaps a wedding.

And yes, praise and celebration of the Divine is the theme that runs through the piece, which sets six verses of a hymn that would have been familiar to Bach’s audience. Each verse begins with words of confirmation for the believer: “What God does is well done.” But each verse also reflects its own angle on that confirmation, from the celebratory opening …

[MUSIC]

… to a searching, pensive soprano aria that acknowledges what’s sometimes a painful earthly life …

[MUSIC]

… and a quietly confident aria for the bass soloist for whom the Divine is like a beacon of light.

[MUSIC]

Remember, you’ll find a translation of this piece from Emmanuel Music when you start at Classical WCRB dot org.

Here is Bach’s Cantata No. 100, featuring soprano Susanne Winter, mezzo-soprano Rebecca Martin, tenor Markus Schäfer, and bass Sebastian Bluth. Karl-Friedrich Beringer leads the Windsbach Children’s Choir and the German Chamber Virtuosi of Berlin, here on The Bach Hour.

[MUSIC – BWV 100]

Bach’s Cantata 100, Was Gott tut, das ist wohlgetan, or “What God does is well done,” in a performance by the Windsbach Children’s Choir and the German Chamber Virtuosi of Berlin, led by Karl-Friedrich Beringer. They were joined by soprano Susanne Winter, mezzo-soprano Rebecca Martin, tenor Markus Schäfer, and bass Sebastian Bluth.

The chorale that forms the basis of the cantata you just heard is also one on which Bach based a very short organ prelude, performed here by Hans Fagius.

[MUSIC – BWV 1116]

A prelude based on the chorale Was Gott tut, das ist wohlgetan, part of the Neumeister collection of works discovered in the 1980’s at Yale University by Harvard’s Christoph Wolff, and performed here by Hans Fagius.

It’s virtually impossible to find a composer of Western art music who doesn’t count Bach as a major inspiration. But Gustav Mahler was as enthusiastic as they come. He owned a copy of the first publicly released edition of the earlier composer’s complete works. And in 1909, just after he came to the US to lead the New York Philharmonic, Mahler arranged selections from Bach’s Second and Third Orchestral Suites for that orchestra. With Mahler’s Bach Suite, this is the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, led by Riccardo Chailly, here on The Bach Hour.

[MUSIC – Bach Mahler Suite]

Gustav Mahler’s Bach Suite, drawn from parts of Bach’s Second and Third Orchestral Suites, and performed here by the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra and conductor Riccardo Chailly. Mahler’s arrangement was premiered at Carnegie Hall in 1909, and just a few months later, in February of 1910, Mahler included it in the program when the New York Philharmonic performed at Symphony Hall in Boston for the very first time.

Remember, you can hear this program again on demand when you visit Classical WCRB dot org, where you can also hear the 24/7 Bach Channel.

Thank you for joining me today, and thanks also to audio engineer Antonio Oliart Ros. I’m Brian McCreath, and I’ll hope to have your company again next week here on The Bach Hour.

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