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Andreas Scholl, Bach, and "Educating the Soul"

Andreas Scholl
James McMillan
Andreas Scholl

The German countertenor sings the Cantata No. 82, "Ich habe genug," and talks with host Brian McCreath about its meaning and the wider role of art in our lives, on The Bach Hour.

On the program:

Cantata BWV 200 Bekennen will ich seinen Namen - Andreas Scholl, countertenor; Basel Chamber Orchestra

Violin Concerto E, BWV 1042 - Lisa Batiashvili, violin; Chamber Orchestra of the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra

Prelude and Fugue in B, BWV 868 - Andras Schiff, piano

Cantata BWV 82 Ich habe genug (translation) - Andreas Scholl, countertenor; Basel Chamber Orchestra


Andreas Scholl: If we only see the purpose of art and music in simple form of entertainment, that's not enough. I think the deeper meaning will fulfill itself in a much more beautiful way if we realize that music might take us away from things that we worry about. And afterwards, we have a different perspective.

Brian McCreath: Countertenor Andreas Scholl possesses an absolutely gorgeous voice, but he’s also a deeply thoughtful musician. You’ll hear Andreas Scholl’s thoughts on music, life, and Bach, coming up on The Bach Hour.

Hello, I’m Brian McCreath. Welcome to The Bach Hour from 99-5 WCRB. When Andreas Scholl visited Boston for a performance with the English Concert, one reviewer described his voice as “exquisitely consistent, a soft-edged tone focused to a fluent beam.”

Later in this hour, you’ll hear that deeply resonant tone in one of Bach’s most affecting sacred works, the Cantata No. 82, Ich habe genug, or “I have enough.” As always, you’ll find a translation of that piece at our website, Classical WCRB dot org, where you can also hear this program again on-demand. Again, that’s at Classical WCRB dot org.

Andreas Scholl began his musical life as a boy chorister in Germany. Those early, formative experiences shaped his view of the power and relevance of Bach’s music:

Andreas Scholl: I think if you hear this music, you hear that it had a special purpose and that Bach wanted to fulfill this mission at any price. So it's not primarily meant to entertain in the lighter sense of the meaning, but to move and to educate the human soul. And I think every composition that is based on that principle, that it really tries to strike a chord within the innermost part of the listener, that music will be relevant, was relevant 200, 300 years ago and will be relevant in another century as well.

Brian McCreath: Here is Andreas Scholl with the Basel Chamber Orchestra, in the single surviving movement from Bach’s Cantata No. 200, the aria Bekennen ich will seinen Namen, or “I will bear witness to his name.”

[MUSIC – BWV 200]

Brian McCreath: This aria is the only surviving piece from a cantata given the number 200 in the Bach works catalog. Bekennen ich will seinen Namen was only discovered in 1924, the rest of the piece being lost. This performance featured countertenor Andreas Scholl and the Basel Chamber Orchestra.

That’s a piece written for the Feast of the Purification, which takes place each year on February 2nd, as is the Cantata No. 82, which is coming up a bit later.

Most of Bach’s sacred works originated during the time he worked at the St. Thomas Church in Leipzig. But before he took that position, his work revolved around instrumental works for the royal concert hall in the town of Cöthen. Here is one of the many concertos he wrote during that time. Lisa Batiashvili is the soloist with the Bavarian Radio Symphony Chamber Orchestra in Bach’s Violin Concerto in E major.

[MUSIC – BWV 1042]

That’s Bach’s Violin Concerto in E major, with violinist Lisa Batiashvili and the Bavarian Radio Symphony Chamber Orchestra.

Countertenor Andreas Scholl is just around the corner, but first, here’s pianist Andras Schiff with the Prelude and Fugue in B, from Book One of Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier.


Pianist Andras Schiff, with the Prelude and Fugue in B, from Book One of Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier.

Maybe you’ve been to a concert of Baroque music, watching various musicians come to the front of the stage for prominent solos. Then a man steps forward and begins singing as an alto, the range typically associate with women. He’s a countertenor, and for all of our modern openness about gender roles, the sight of a man singing in that high range can still catch you off guard.

Then there’s Andreas Scholl, who, at six feet, four inches, cuts an imposing presence, heightening that startling effect.

On the other hand, it may not be so startling when it comes to Scholl simply because, even though he was only born in 1967, he’s been one of the world’s top countertenors, traveling the musical world since the late 1980’s.

Andreas Scholl: The tendency, of course, is on a tour to get this tunnel vision. You live only from concert to concert and you're over concerned about your vocal health, like, "Oh my god, I might catch a cold," and then you are kind of steered, you are kind of directed by your fears rather than by the joy for the next concert.

Brian McCreath: When Andreas Scholl was in Boston during a U.S. tour, I met him backstage at Boston’s Jordan Hall. We talked about his life on the stage and challenge of striking the right balance.

Andreas Scholl: I think what's important, since music reflects life, my singing should reflect life. It's about human weaknesses. This is about jokes, about funny things in a song recital, maybe. It always reflects and comments life. So if I don't have a real life, what am I supposed to sing about? And therefore, I think it's important to have enough family moments, moments with friends, quality time with my daughter, for example, who will come next week to New York. These are important moments.

Brian McCreath: That thoughtful approach to life and work also comes through in the way Scholl sees his relationship both to the audience and to the material he’s singing:

Andreas Scholl: My role is primarily communicator. So if I sing for anybody's enlightenment, I sing for the audience's enlightenment. It's not about me being moved, me having an epiphany on stage, but it's, if anything should happen, it should happen to the audience. The singers and the musicians are channels, are communicators of a deeper message that is meant to reach the audience.

Brian McCreath: And you say that especially in the recitatives, it's important to say the words beforehand before you start to sing and that there is more to find interpretively in the recitatives than in the arias, maybe.

Andreas Scholl: Absolutely. I know for the music lovers who go for the melodies and the beautiful harmonies, the recit's a mere transition to the next beautiful moment in music. Let's let's finish that quickly in order to arrive at the next aria. But of course, that's not how it's meant, because then, and especially in Bach's music, the recits have so much meaning. And it's like to me, Bach recit is like a crossword puzzle. It's something that you can return to over and over and you think, "Hmm, today, maybe I try this," and you come back to it and you say, "Last week, I thought that was a good idea. Today, I'm not so convinced." And then over many days that you repeat it over and over, even maybe weeks or months, eventually you arrive at something that for that moment in time is something that you can really communicate to the audience with conviction.

Brian McCreath: That conviction comes through in Scholl’s 2011 recording of the Cantata No. 82, Ich habe genug, or “I have enough.” It’s a piece Bach wrote for the Feast of the Purification, a day that commemorates Mary’s presentation of the baby Jesus at the Temple. Bach focuses on the character of Simeon, his reaction to the events of the story, and how that relates to the experience of a believer. But as Andreas Scholl explains, that opening phrase, “I have enough,” can be misleading:

Andreas Scholl: Sometimes you hear it being sung as if "I have enough of this world. I want to leave," but it's not meant like this. It's meant "I have enough. I don't lack anything." And that refers to the old man Simeon, who knew the prophecy that he would not die until he would see the Messiah, the savior. And then in the temple, the Virgin Mary arrives with the baby Jesus, and Simeon realizes this is the moment. And then he says, "Well, Lord, now I may go because I have seen everything. Holding the baby Jesus fulfills my life. I'm happy with everything I have here. Nothing keeps me in this material world. One could say my soul can be freed." And that's what that cantata is about: leaving the world behind, which is a constant subject in Bach's music. It's always the world against the coming new life, the life with God in the non-material world.

Brian McCreath: Those sentiments are expressed throughout the Cantata 82, including its centerpiece aria, something of a lullaby on the words, “Fall asleep, you weary eyes, close softly and pleasantly … Here I must build up misery, but there, there I will see sweet peace, quiet rest.”

The complete text and translation of this piece is available to you online at our website, Classical WCRB dot org.

Here once again is Andreas Scholl with the Basel Chamber Orchestra, in Bach’s Cantata No. 82, Ich habe genug.

[MUSIC – BWV 82]

Andreas Scholl: If we only see the purpose of art and music in simple form of entertainment in a sense of distraction, that, well, for a moment I don't think about anything else. That's something already, I would say, but that's not enough. I think the deeper meaning will fulfill itself in a much more beautiful way if we realize that music might take us away from things that we worry about. And afterwards, we have a different perspective so that the arts and music is a way of educating the soul and not only distracting us, but teaching us. [00:00:00][0.0]

Brian McCreath: The thoughts of countertenor Andreas Scholl, expressing some personal thoughts that have something in common with the theme of the Cantata No. 82 – the leaving behind of worldly concerns for something higher. You heard Bach’s Cantata No. 82, Ich habe genug, or “I have enough,” with Andreas Scholl and the Basel Chamber Orchestra.

Remember, you can hear this program and others on-demand at our web site, Classical WCRB dot org, where you’ll also find many more resources to explore and learn about Bach and his music. Again, that’s all at Classical WCRB dot org.

Thank you for joining me today, and thanks also to Andreas Scholl, Stephanie Janes of the Celebrity Series of Boston, and audio engineer Antonio Oliart. I’m Brian McCreath, and I’ll hope to have your company again next week on The Bach Hour.