Sunday, June 28, 2015

PROGRAM SCHEDULE  •  SUN 21  •  MON 22  •  WED 24  •  FRI 26  •  SUN 28

St. Mark Presbyterian Church, 4 p.m.

Sacred and Secular: Vocal Music
of J.S. Bach and C.H. Graun

Corey Carleton, soprano
Dylan Hostetter, countertenor
Jon Lee Keenan, tenor
Michael Bannett, bass-baritone

Festival Orchestra
Elizabeth Blumenstock, leader

Carl Heinrich Graun (1704-1759)
Suite from Ifigenia en Auride

Menuets I & II

Carl Heinrich Graun (1704-1759)
Superba un di la Rosa
from “Six Italian Cantatas”

Recitativo:  Superba un di la rosa
Aria:  V’e piu d’una pastorella
Recitativo:  Mentre cosi narrava
Aria:  Farfalletta semplicetta

Carl Heinrich Graun (1704-1759)
Excerpts from Cesare e Cleopatra

Aria:  Tra le procelle assorto
Aria:  Sento mio dolce amor


Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750)
Herr, wie du willt, so schicks mit mir, BWV 73

Chorus:  Herr, wie du willt
Aria (tenor):  Ach, senke doch
Recitative (bass):  Ach, Unser Wille
Aria (bass):  Herr, so du willt

Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750)
from Am Abend aber desselbigen Sabbats, BWV 42

Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750)
Wer Dank opfert, der preiset mich, BWV 17


Chorus:  Wer Dank opfert
Recitative (alto):  E’s muss die ganze Welt
Aria (soprano):  Herr, deine Gute reicht


Recitative (tenor):  Einer aber unter ihnen
Aria (tenor):  Welch Ubermaass der Gute
Recitative (bass):  Sieh meinen Willen an

Reception on the Patio


Carl Heinrich Graun, younger brother of Johann Gottlieb Graun — whose music was featured on our concerto program — became widely known (pace Johann Adolph Hasse) as the finest German composer of opera during the late Baroque era. His career followed a similar path to that of his brother, as they both were employed by King Frederick the Great, both at his court in Potsdam and at the Berlin Opera founded by the King.

Handel now so dominates our perceptions of Baroque opera that it is hard to believe Graun and Hasse were both considered his equals during their lifetimes, and possibly even his betters. Many of Graun’s opera arias could in fact be mistaken for those of Handel, but the others that could not are perhaps more interesting, as they are remarkably neo-Classical in styling of melody, ornamentation and phrasing. You might say that Handel (and Bach, for that matter) represented the culmination of musical form and style of content, but did not contribute as much to the evolving mainstream of stylistic change as did the Grauns, who, though less personally accomplished, propelled more of their musical genome into the future.

Recitatives and arias are venerable and versatile vocal forms dating from the dawn of opera at the very end of the 16th century, but have found their way into other genres, notably sacred works such as oratorios and Passions. They work beautifully in dramas by virtue of their different functions: a recitative is used as a way of telling the story, moving the plot along, while an aria is a sort of time-out from the action in which the private emotional state of a protagonist is revealed.

Not surprisingly, then, the emphasis in recitative is on the words — which are set just once, mostly syllabically, and which may involve one or many singers according to the action of the story. Accommodating the natural spoken rhythm of the words, recitatives are often not performed in precisely measured tempi. By contrast, in arias, the usually much-shorter text is set in a regular tempo, and is often set repetitively; it’s really all about feelings, not words, and the beauty of the music and performance are paramount. BACK


Recitatives and arias are also the mainstay of smaller-scale cantatas, which may be secular or sacred. In the secular cantata Superba un di la Rosa by Graun, an unidentified narrator introduces the protagonist, the Rose, and quotes her vain boasting about her beauty and desirability. Rose sings the ensuing aria, continuing the boast in her own words. The narrator returns in the next recitative, and tells how Rose is cut down by the wind in mid-boast, and then sings the closing aria, lamenting her foolish vanity and sorry fate.

Such cantatas would likely have been performed as a light entertainment at the homes of the composers’ patrons — Handel and Scarlatti were other notable contributors to the genre — and were generally composed on the subject of love and the suffering it causes. But, as in our example, a moral could be embedded. BACK


Graun’s opera Cesare e Cleopatra was composed as the inaugural opera for King Frederick’s spanking-new opera house in Berlin — so new that construction was actually not even finished on opening night. The overture is very fine, with a grand French-style Adagio succeeded by a quite quirky fugal Allegro, and concluding with a good-natured romp of a gigue. Tra le procelle assorto is a breezy, bright virtuoso aria from the first act, showing the young Cleopatra’s confident and adventurous spirit. The sweeter and milder second aria, Sento mio dolce amor, shows her rapturously in love with Cesare. BACK


Bach imported the operatic recitative-aria structure into his many church cantatas. As a sacred cantata generally has no plot as such, the difference of function between recitative and aria can be weakened, though the forms remain distinct. In Cantata 73, Bach uses recitative in a highly arresting manner: during the opening chorus, after a brisk and determined instrumental introduction, the chorus enters, singing a chorale, whose text is all about embracing the will of God come what may. After the second line of the chorale, however, the tenor breaks in with an anguished personal complaint about his suffering, in recitative style. The chorus resumes with its insistence on obeying God’s will.

Then the bass breaks rank, pleading with God to support him; the chorus resumes its theme. By now we expect the next interruption, which comes, at greater length, from the soprano. Her words are all about accepting God’s will, though she does not understand it. In these three personalized recitative passages, the soul is moved from complaint to pleading, to submission, and becomes united again with the chorus, whose motto is “Lord, as Thou wilt.”

The tenor then pleads with God, in an aria, to bestow joy upon him; the theme is a gentle falling figure beautifully depicting this bestowal from on high. The bass follows with a brief recitative deploring mortal willfulness and reminding Christians that they must say, “Lord, as Thou wilt.” He then sings this very text, but, far from appearing to find any joy in his submission, the aria is profoundly sad, full of awareness of death; God’s will is full of mortal woe.

The final chorale, reminding us that God’s will is unavoidable and that Jesus and the Holy Spirit imbue it with grace, encourages the listener to trust in God. BACK


The buoyant sinfonia from the BWV 42 church cantata combines two typical formal elements of Baroque music, the concerto grosso and the da capo aria form. Concerti grossi (like the Brandenburg concertos) feature a small solo group in contrast to the full orchestra; here, the solo group consists of two oboes with their own bass line. BACK


Cantata 17 is generally a more joyful affair, with praise, gratitude and wonder being pervasive themes. Like some 20 of Bach’s cantatas, it is composed in two parts, the first of which would have been played before the sermon, the second afterwards. (We will omit the sermon in our performance!) The highly melismatic writing for both instruments and voices in the opening sinfonia/chorus make for a vigorous and exalted Glory-to-God. The recitative and aria that follow continue the theme of praise; note the expansive rising lines in the violins, depicting the breadth of the heavens.

Part II opens with a narrative recitative that could have been lifted from a Passion (a fine example of recitative as a story-telling form), followed by another aria of praise and gratitude. The bass, standing in for the divine voice (as it often does in Bach cantatas), reminds the congregation that obedience to His will brings health, happiness and virtue — quite different from the deeply sad understanding of God’s will that ends Cantata 73! The very lovely chorale that closes the work refers gently to our mortality, but reminds us that God cares for us through everything. Chorales would have been sung by the entire congregation — they are simply hymns, after all — and brought the word of God directly and personally home to each person. I remain astounded by their simplicity and eloquence. BACK

Notes by Elizabeth Blumenstock


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