with guest Derek Chester, tenor

7:30 p. m., Saturday, 13 September 2014, Fellowship Christian Reformed Church
3:00 p. m., Sunday, 14 September 2014, Historic Old San Ysidro Church, Corrales


Trio in F major, after BWV 529 for organ
recorder, harpsichord, continuo


“Quoniam tu solus sanctus,” from the Gloria of BWV 236, Missa in G major:  Adagio
tenor, oboe, continuo


“Was willst du dich, mein Geist, entsetzen,” from BWV 8, Liebster Gott, wenn werd ich sterben
tenor, oboe d’amore, continuo


“Die Liebe zieht mit sanften Schritten,” from BWV 36, Schwingt freudig euch empor
tenor, oboe d’amore, continuo




French Suite in G major, BWV 816


“Ach, ziehe die Seele mit Seilen der Liebe,” from BWV 96, Herr Christ, der einge Gottessohn
tenor, recorder, continuo


We are very pleased that our guest soloist suggested an all-Bach program, because we love that composer’s music and relish its challenges.  For us as a trio, however, the oeuvre of J. S. Bach doesn’t contain much that we alone can perform as an ensemble, or even with the addition of a singer.  Bach seemed to prefer, for example, sonatas for a solo instrument with an obbligato keyboard part—or trios for one player—rather than trios for the more traditional two solo instruments with continuo.  Similarly, there are few cantatas that call for a single vocalist and the forces we have on hand—one wind instrument and a continuo group of one viola da gamba and harpsichord.  Within these confines, though, and with the addition of a fine singer, there are gems to be found:  arias extracted from cantatas and other vocal works; trios transcribed to match our instrumentation; and, appropriately, since Bach was a masterful writer for keyboards, harpsichord music.

The earliest versions of five of the six French suites were written down for Anna Magdalena Bach, a court singer and Bach’s second wife, shortly after her marriage to the composer in 1721.  Later, Bach added a sixth suite, and he ornamented the dances further, though he never added introductory preludes, such as those that grace the partitas and the English suites.  Neither “French” nor “English,” by the way, was Bach’s title.  The term “English” has been traced to a story, most likely apocryphal, about Bach taking on a commission by an Englishman, but the origin of “French” remains a mystery.  A German dance suite in Bach’s time would comprise an allemande, a courante or a corrente, a sarabande, and a gigue, to which lineup Bach would add other dances.  Though the French suites aren’t particularly Gallic, it’s worth noting that in Suite #5, Bach included a bourrée and a loure, both of which were native to France.  In all of Bach’s output, there are twenty named bourrées, but only two loures.  Bach misnamed his courante, which is really an Italian corrente.

Bach’s six organ trios—the three lines meant for one organist’s hands and feet—have become favorites of chamber groups such as ABP, in transcription for two, three, or four performers.  This type of transcription would have been common in the 18th century, too.  According to an early biographer of Bach, the trios were meant for Bach’s eldest son, Wilhelm Friedman, as difficult practice pieces.  Bach wrote these trios down in about 1730, sometimes reusing his own previously composed music.

Three of the arias Derek has selected are parts of larger chorale cantatas, two from 1724, when Bach was busy providing the Leipzig churches with music suitable for each Sunday of the church year, and one to which Bach added chorale movements in 1731.  A sacred cantata was generally based on the assigned Gospel reading for that Sunday, and sometimes the Epistle reading as well.  Texts might be newly written or biblical or might come directly or paraphrased from chorales (Lutheran hymns).  During Bach’s career, tastes broadened to include more sentimental, personal poetry along with the older, more solidly orthodox texts.  In any case, Bach paid close attention to both the individual words and the theological connotations of the texts he set to music.

BWV 8, Dear God, when shall I die, was performed on 2 April 1725, the 16th Sunday after Trinity.  (Trinity, or Pentecost, is the long liturgical season following the 50-day Easter season and preceding Advent.)  The Gospel for that day recounts Jesus’ raising of a dead man to life, so the title of this piece shouldn’t be taken as a cry of dread, but as an anticipation of the joys of heaven.  The tenor aria, which, as the second of six movements, comes early in the cantata, concerns the inevitability of death as a return to the earth, while further movements in the piece find the soul more content in the knowledge of salvation.  The aria’s music is structured like a trio, the voice and the oboe d’amore serving as two equally important soloists supported by a pizzicato bass line.  There are several notable examples of word-painting:  on one repetition of the word “Ruhstatt” (resting place), the tenor holds a long note; when he sings “schlägt” (strikes, for the “last hour,” or the coming of death) for the first time, his line breaks into detached eighth notes, quite different from the rest of his melody; and he imitates the 16th-note runs of the oboe d’amore only on the word “tausend” (thousands).

What frightens you so, my spirit,
When my last hour strikes?
My body ever leans toward the earth,
And there must be my resting place,
Where so many thousands are borne.

BWV 36, Soar joyfully upwards, experienced a complicated evolution, one not entirely ferreted out and, in contemporary understanding, based somewhat on conjecture.  There are at least four cantatas bearing the number 36, and three are secular, the earliest dating from 1724.  (The music for one is lost.)  All use parts of the same text, and all were occasioned by celebratory events.  Ours, completed in 1731, was for the first Sunday of Advent, considered the beginning of the church year and thus a special Sunday, though not a feast day.  Bach marks the festivity with a two-part cantata, half sung before the sermon and half after it, and he uses two familiar and popular Advent chorales in the movements he added in 1731. The closeness of secular and sacred worlds is underscored by the fact that the text of Derek’s aria could as aptly apply to a bride and groom as to a soul and Jesus.  Indeed, that comparison is common in Christian writing.  The day’s Gospel reading, about Jesus’ joyous welcome into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, seems to function only in a general way, since the cantata deals mostly with the majesty of God.  The coming birth at Christmas is mentioned once.  The tenor aria, with an obbligato part for oboe d’amore, is gently dancelike and allows for the gradual coming together of the bride and groom.  This is a da capo aria, so the first part is repeated after the slightly more urgent second section.

Love gently draws in
His true love little by little.
Just as a bride is captivated
When she glimpses the bridegroom,
So too does a heart follow Jesus.
Love gently draws in...

The most expansive and longest aria on our program comes from BWV 96, Lord Christ, the only son of God, for the 18th Sunday after Trinity.  The Gospel tells the story of the Pharisees’ attempt to trap Jesus, and his rejoinder to them, also a trap; and in the Epistle Paul commends the Christian community at Corinth for its strength and faithfulness.  The double theme is the dual nature of Jesus as the Son of Man and the Son of God, and, as a consequence, Jesus’ ability to help people gain faith in God.  The cantata text bears the theme out.  In the tenor aria, with flute obbligato (we’ll use recorder), the singer asks Jesus for his aid, reiterating the idea of love drawing in the soul, as in BWV 36.  The aria is cheery, confident that this help will be supplied.  In the second section of this da capo aria, the “harmonic screws” are tightened, as one commentator says; and the continuo, which has entered on off-beats part of the time, now does so often, making it sound oddly hesitant or interruptive, perhaps as musical evidence of the fervor of the singer’s plea.

Oh, draw my soul to you with threads of love.
O Jesus, oh be strong in it!
Enlighten it, that it may know you faithfully.
Grant that it may burn with holy flames.
Oh, create a devout thirst for you!
Oh, draw my soul to you with threads of love...

The first aria Derek will sing doesn’t come from a cantata, but from one of the four Lutheran Masses completed by Bach.  However, all four Masses are parodies based on earlier cantatas.  Obviously the words have been changed, and sometimes some of the music.  The Lutheran tradition allowed for some parts of the Ordinary of the Mass—here, the Kyrie and the Gloria—to remain in Greek or Latin, as in the Roman church, especially for feast days.  Bach’s Kyries aren’t subdivided, but his Glorias are split into five sections, and Derek’s aria, with oboe obbligato, comes near the end of this Gloria.  The text is very brief, and it runs directly into the final section, which we won’t perform.  All three lines are ornamented.  These Missae brevis are practical:  since Ordinary texts don’t change with seasons or feast days, they could be sung on nearly any Sunday.

For you alone are the holy one, you alone are the Lord, you alone are the
most high, Jesus Christ.