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Bach's Musical Jewels, Forged from Chorale Gold

 Silbermann organ at St. Peter's Church, Freiberg, Germany
courtesy of St. Peter's Church, Freiberg
St. Peter's Church, Freiberg - Silbermann Organ

On The Bach Hour, the solidity and expression of one hymn tune is the foundation of works for solo violin and pipe organ, as well as the Cantata No. 172, performed by Amsterdam Baroque and director Ton Koopman.

On the program:

Cantata BWV 59:  III.  Komm, Heiliger Geist, Herre Gott  - Amsterdam Baroque Orchestra and Choir, Ton Koopman, conductor

Sonata for Solo Violin in C, BWV 1005 - Alina Ibragimova, violin

Chorale Prelude:  Komm, Heiliger Geist, BWV 651 - Craig F. Humber, organ (Silbermann organ at St. Peter's Church, Freiberg; see more information about this instrument)

Cantata BWV 172 Erschallet, ihr Lieder, erklinget, ihr Saiten!  (translation) - Barbara Schlick, soprano;  Kai Wessel, alto;  Christoph Pregardien, tenor;  Klaus Mertens, bass;  Amsterdam Baroque Orchestra and Choir, Ton Koopman, conductor

Transcript:

For Johann Sebastian Bach, a chorale was like raw gold, something he could mold and shape to create jewels of amazing complexity and beauty.

There’s a chorale at the heart of this organ prelude. “Komm, Heiliger Geist, Herre Gott” is a hymn associated with Pentecost. Coming up, you’ll hear this and two other jewels, crafted from the same piece of chorale gold.

Hello, I’m Brian McCreath. Welcome to The Bach Hour from WCRB, part of WGBH Boston. For J.S. Bach, there really was no dividing line between music for the church and for the concert hall. You’ll hear no clearer evidence of that than in the works coming up in this hour. Along with that organ prelude, they include the Violin Sonata No. 3 and the Cantata No. 172, Erschallet, ihr Lieder, erklinget, ihr Saiten!, or “Ring forth o songs, resound, you strings!” And you’ll find a translation of that piece at our web site, Classical WCRB dot org, where you can also hear this and past programs again, on-demand. Again, that’s all at Classical WCRB dot org.

Before we survey the amazing jewels Bach crafted from it, here is the Pentecost chorale, “Komm, Heiliger Geist, Herre Gott.” The Amsterdam Baroque Orchestra and Choir are directed by Ton Koopman.

[MUSIC]

The chorale “Komm, Heiliger Geist, Herre Gott,” in a performance by the Amsterdam Baroque Orchestra and Choir, directed by Ton Koopman.

Among the six works for solo violin by Bach, three of them are sonatas: four movements each, laid out in a slow-fast-slow-fast pattern, adhering to an ancient form known as the sonata da chiesa or “church sonata.”

In the Sonata No. 3, Bach’s second movement is built on that chorale we just heard. The opening phrase,

[MUSIC]

… becomes the opening statement of a fugue.

[MUSIC]

Here is violinist Alina Ibragimova, with Bach’s Sonata No. 3 in C major for Solo Violin.

[MUSIC]

The Russian-born London-based violinist Alina Ibragimova, with Bach’s Sonata No. 3 in C major for Solo Violin.

We’ve been exploring the different ways Bach creates new works out of the Pentecost chorale Komm, Heiliger Geist, Herre Gott. Here is a prelude for the instrument Bach was most well-known for in his day, the organ. Craig F. Humber is the organist at the Gottfried Silbermann instrument at St. Peter’s Church in Freiberg, Germany.

[MUSIC]

Craig Humber, born in Canada and based in Austria, was the organist in a prelude by Bach on the chorale Komm, Heiliger Geist, Herre Gott.  That performance took place at St. Peter’s Church in Freiberg, Germany, on an instrument created by one of the best known organ builders of the 18th century, Gottfried Silbermann. You can see pictures of it and learn about its 2007 restoration when you visit us online at Classical WCRB dot org.

The Cantata No. 172, Erschallet, ihr Lieder, erklinget, ihr Saiten! or “Ring forth o songs, resound, you strings!”, was written for Pentecost in 1714. But it was revised and performed at least four more times during Bach’s lifetime.

As a celebration of the descent of the Holy Spirit upon Jesus’s disciples, Pentecost is the culmination of the story that begins with Palm Sunday, continues to Easter and on to Ascension. When Pentecost arrives, the Holy Trinity – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – is complete.

For Bach that plays out musically by building on threes, for Trinity. The piece opens with a fanfare played by three trumpets with drums in a triple meter. And those trumpets form one of three choirs in the opening chorus, the others being the combined oboes and strings, and the singers of the choir itself.

Following the opening chorus the bass soloist sings Jesus’s parting words from the Gospel of John and then an aria praying for his return, accompanied by an impossibly virtuosic solo trumpet part that happens … three times.

After an intimate aria from the tenor, the soprano and alto sing a dialogue. In the role of the believer’s Soul, the soprano sings, “Come, you gentle wind of heaven, blow through the garden of my heart.” To which the alto responds in the voice of the Holy Spirit: “I will refresh you my child.” Meanwhile the organ plays a highly embellished version of the same chorale tune you heard earlier in the program, Komm, Heiliger Geist, Herre Gott.

[MUSIC]

And this is where a larger form of Bach’s “symbolism of 3” becomes clear. The cantata begins in D major. For the tenor aria, the key moves down to B minor, and the dialogue duet is lower still, in G major. It’s a series that descends in thirds, the descent of the Holy Spirit and its part in the Trinity depicted in the very building blocks of the music itself.

Remember, you can find a translation of the text for this piece at our web site, Classical WCRB dot org.

Here is a performance of the Cantata No. 172, featuring soprano Barbara Schlick, alto Kai Wessel, tenor Christoph Pregardien, and bass Klaus Mertens. They’re joined by the Amsterdam Baroque Orchestra and Chorus, all directed by Ton Koopman.

[MUSIC]

J.S. Bach’s Cantata No. 172, Erschallet, ihr Lieder, erklinget, ihr Saiten! in a performance directed by Ton Koopman, with the Amsterdam Baroque Orchestra and Chorus. The soloists included soprano Barbara Schlick, alto Kai Wessel, tenor Christoph Pregardien, and bass Klaus Mertens.

Remember, you can hear this program again on-demand when you visit us at Classical WCRB dot org.

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.