Sunday, June 21, 2009

ARCHIVE  •  2009  •  SUN 14  •  MON 15  •  WED 17  •  FRI 19  •  SUN 21

St. Mark Presbyterian Church, 4 p.m.

Festival Finale

Susan Montgomery, soprano
Daniel Roihl, countertenor
Jonathan Mack, tenor
Christopher Lindbloom, baritone
Festival Chorus & Orchestra
Burton Karson, conductor

Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750)
Wer nur den lieben Gott, BWV 93

Felix Mendelssohn (1809-1847)
Wer nur den lieben Gott lässt walten

George Frideric Handel (1685-1759)
Te Deum Laudamus, HWV 280


War & Peace

Attributed to Henry Purcell (1659-1695)
The Noise of Foreign Wars


George Frideric Handel (1685-1759)
Ode for the Birthday of Queen Anne, HWV 74


Our honoring of Purcell, Handel and Mendelssohn continues in this Festival Finale, with the inclusion of the master of masters and genius of geniuses, Johann Sebastian Bach.


The first two compositions on our program this afternoon are related in that both of them are based on the same famous chorale tune, Wer nur den lieben Gott lässt walten — which is familiar in modern hymnals as If thou but trust in God to guide thee.

Bach’s chorale cantata, written in Leipzig for Trinity Sunday, July 1724, reflects his usual procedure: an opening polyphonic chorus, recitatives and arias, and a final chorale in which his congregation probably joined. In this case, the first movement alternates fast and decorative choral passages with solid hymn-like phrases of the chorale tune, introduced and accompanied by orchestral complexities. The succeeding bass recitative also alternates between fast and slow statements in question-answer format. The tenor aria, while in a rhythmic 3/8 meter, provides a calm mood. The soprano-alto duet represents reassurance with a string statement of the chorale tune above and a repeated rhythmic pattern in the bass. The following tenor recitative, again alternating slow and fast phrases, enforces a positive philosophy that leads to the soprano-oboe aria that proclaims the Lord’s goodness. The concluding chorus is the hymn in traditional chorale form. BACK


Mendelssohn’s setting (before 1829) of the same chorale, for voices and strings, begins with straightforward singing of the chorale, then continues with a polyphonic, neo- Baroque chorus of fastmoving upper voices with the slower moving chorale tune in the bass. The soprano aria departs from Mendelssohn’s Bachian procedure to give us a song in typical and lilting Romantic style. The final chorale has the chorus singing the tune in unison until it breaks into welcome harmony for the very last phrase.

Mendelssohn admitted to a friend that he knew Bach’s setting of Wer nur, and seemed to be satisfied with his own, which he even showed to friends in England. Both Bach and Mendelssohn composed these chorales for their beloved North German Lutheran church. BACK


Handel’s two great settings of the Latin Te Deum, the “Göttingen” and “Utrecht,” are well known, and have been included in past Festival programs. However, he wrote three shorter ones that are heard rarely if ever. This relatively brief Te Deum I, in English, dates from 1714, soon after his arrival for a new life in England. Modest but festive use of oboes and trumpets adds to the positive nature of the text. Alternating solos and choruses treat the words in a sensitive and dramatic manner that supports the fact that Handel had been studying English. BACK


Ahe second half of our concert is about war and peace and the continuing yearnings of mankind for the latter. Purcell’s little-known Noise of Foreign Wars addresses the admired lyre-playing Apollo and the muses, the detestable clanging of trumpets and rattling of drums in battle, the sound of battalions of soldiers, and the noise of mortars and bombs in the streets. Human values and conditions have not changed. BACK


Handel’s Ode for the Birthday of Queen Anne was, in his time, titled “Eternal source of light divine.” His only court ode, for the 6 February 1713 birthday of the sovereign, its performance might have been prevented by the queen’s ill health until the following year for George I, who continued the pension that Queen Anne had lavished on Handel and who paid him his arrears of salary from Hanover.

Since Handel’s obvious intention was to flatter the monarch, the text repeatedly and forcefully (and boringly) returns to Anne, even though its more important thrust is about peace on earth. Thus I have slightly revised the text to reflect its philosophical rather than its occasional and political focus, removing the constant and currently uninteresting references to Anne that were included in each of the several choruses, and extending the more timely hope for the joys of peace on earth. BACK

Notes by Burton Karson


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