Salonen Conducts Schoenberg's Vision of Bach
On the program:
Fugue in G minor, BWV 578 "Little" (arr. Stokowski) - Los Angeles Philharmonic, Esa-Pekka Salonen, conductor
Cello Suite No. 1 in G, BWV 1007 - Phoebe Carrai, cello
Cantata BWV 73 Herr, wie du willt, so schick's mit mir (translation) - Yukari Nonoshita, soprano; Gerd Türk, tenor; Peter Kooy, bass; Bach Collegium Japan, Masaaki Suziki, director
Prelude and Fugue in E-flat, BWV 552 "St. Anne" - Los Angeles Philharmonic, Esa-Pekka Salonen, conductor
Brian McCreath: It seems hard to believe now, but there was a time when J.S. Bach’s music was thought to need … improvement. All those dry, academic fugues … too dusty, too boring for contemporary audiences. So, in the early 1900’s, composers took what they thought of as dessicated kernels and dropped them into the warm waters of the modern orchestra.
Among those composers was Arnold Schoenberg, and you’ll hear his luxurious creation, coming up on The Bach Hour.
I’m Brian McCreath, and welcome to The Bach Hour, from Classical Radio Boston WCRB, part of WGBH. On the program today, conductor Esa-Pekka Salonen and the Los Angeles Philharmonic bring the “St. Anne” Prelude and Fugue to life. And you’ll also hear the Cantata No. 73, Herr, wie du willt, so schick's mit mir, or, “Lord, as you will, so let it be done with me.” If you’d like to see a translation of the text for that piece you’ll find a link at Classical WCRB dot org, where you can also hear this program again on-demand. Again, that’s at Classical WCRB dot org.
Just ahead, a Boston-born and bred cellist brings you the warmth of a solo piece for her instrument. But first, here is another 20th century transcription of Bach’s music. This is Leopold Stokowski’s realization of the “Little” Fugue in G minor. Esa-Pekka Salonen conducts the Los Angeles Philharmonic, here on The Bach Hour.
[MUSIC – BWV 578]
Leopold Stokowski’s transcriptions of Bach’s organ works don’t appear too often on the concert stage. But the color and energy they generate can be tremendous nevertheless. That was the Los Angeles Philharmonic with conductor Esa-Pekka Salonen in the Fugue in G minor, known as the “Little” fugue. You’ll hear more from the LA Phil and Salonen later on.
Cellist Phoebe Carrai was born in Boston and studied at the New England Conservatory. She went on to study with Nikolaus Harnoncourt in Salzburg and eventually joined Musica Antiqua of Cologne, one of Europe’s top early music ensembles. After 10 years with them she returned to the U.S. and now performs with the Boston Early Music Festival Orchestra, the Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra, and many other ensembles. Here is Phoebe Carrai with the first of Bach’s Suites for Solo Cello, here on The Bach Hour.
[MUSIC – BWV 1007]
Cellist Phoebe Carrai, with the Suite No. 1 for solo cello by Bach, recorded in 2002 at a beautiful and isolated artist retreat on the western coastline of Scotland.
Coming up, Bach uses just four notes to express a believer’s complete devotion.
That’s just eight measures of music: one line, played by a flute, with a violin beginning the same line two measures after the flute begins, and then repeated three times. It’s a canon, by Bach, performed by two members of the Netherlands Bach Ensemble.
Welcome back to The Bach Hour, from WCRB; I’m Brian McCreath.
We’re online at Classical WCRB dot org, where you’ll find this and past episodes of The Bach Hour on-demand, along with interviews, videos, and links to further your own Bach explorations. Again, that’s at Classical WCRB dot org.
During his first Epiphany season in Leipzig, Bach composed a cantata that, in spite of its short length, is a powerful expression of faith and devotion. The Cantata No. 73, Herr, wie du willt, so schick's mit mir, or, “Lord, as you will, so let it be done with me,” uses what we now call a Leitmotif, a small musical idea that reminds us of a particular theme as it returns throughout a piece of music. In this case, it’s a set of four notes that appear at the very beginning of the piece:
Those four notes correspond to the opening of the chorale tune the choir sings just a bit later, on the words, “Lord, as you will,”:
Which is the heart of what Bach is expressing: that the believer is meant to trust, completely and totally, in the will of the divine.
That opening chorus continues with interjections from the tenor, bass, and soprano soloists, each expressing the struggle to maintain that trust in the face of life’s trials. But even during those struggles, the leitmotif of trust can be heard behind them:
If you listen for those four notes, constantly returning, along with the voice of the struggling individual and the chorus’s bolstering chorale tune, a mosaic of human experience and faith - steadfast, but never 100% certain - emerges.
The tenor aria that follows explores those struggles further, now with a solo oboe accompaniment that the late Craig Smith of Boston’s Emmanuel Music equates to the dove descending to mankind:
Later, the bass soloist expresses the believer’s submission to God’s will, repeating the words, “Herr, so du willt,” or “Lord, as you will.” That sentiment is then confirmed by the community voice of the choir for the final chorale movement.
Remember, you can find a complete translation of this piece by visiting us online at Classical WCRB dot org.
This performance of the Cantata No. 73 features soprano Yukari Nonoshita, tenor Gerd Türk, and bass Peter Kooij. Bach Collegium Japan is conducted by Masaaki Suzuki.
[MUSIC - BWV 73]
The short but powerful Cantata No. 73 by Bach, Herr, wie du willt, so schick's mit mir, or, “Lord, as you will, so let it be done with me,” in a performance by Bach Collegium Japan and conductor Masaaki Suzuki, with soprano soloist Yukari Nonoshita, tenor Gerd Türk, and bass Peter Kooij.
In 1928, Arnold Schoenberg - best known as the father of atonalism and serialism - felt there was untapped potential in Bach’s the Prelude and Fugue in E-flat, a piece that was given the nickname “St. Anne” long after Bach’s lifetime. Schoenberg wrote to Anton Webern that he had “replaced [the organ’s] slow, rarely occurring change of colors with a more richly varied one that establishes precisely the rendition and character of the individual passages, and I gave attention to clarity in the web of parts.”
Here again is the Los Angeles Philharmonic with conductor Esa-Pekka Salonen in Schoenberg’s transcription of the St. Anne Prelude and Fugue.
[MUSIC – BWV 552]
Arnold Schoenberg’s transcription brings Bach’s Prelude and Fugue in E-flat, known as the St. Anne, into whole new realms of color. Esa-Pekka Salonen led the Los Angeles Philharmonic.
Remember, you can hear this program again on demand when you visit us online 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.