Reviews and occasional notes on classical music

Reviews and occasional notes on classical music

"Music, both vocall and instrumental, so good, so delectable, so rare, so admirable, so super excellent, that it did even ravish and stupifie all those strangers that never heard the like." - Thomas Coryat, after hearing 3 hours of music at the Scuola di San Rocco in Venice, 1608.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Music of solace

Earlier this month I took the long way around - through Bob Dylan and Jimi Hendrix - to a discussion of J.S. Bach's creative adaptation of Giovanni Battista Pergolesi's Stabat Mater. Now we have this beautiful version of Tilge, Höchster, meine Sünden, BWV 1083, by my favourite bunch of Cantata musicians, Bach Collegium Japan, under Masaaki Suzuki. Though we don't know anything about the event for which this was written, I believe Bach felt solace might be found in the Italian grace and beauty of Pergolesi's work, though there isn't much Italian sunshine to be found in the heart-breaking sadness of the music and the highly personal words of Mary mourning for her Son. Bach also provides uplift in his substitution of the Psalm 51 for the 13th century poem Stabat Mater. A spirited exchange between soprano and alto goes like this in the original:
Fac, ut árdeat cor meum
in amándo Christum Deum
ut sibi compláceam.
Make me feel as thou hast felt;
make my soul to glow and melt
with the love of Christ my Lord.
In Bach's version, the music is much less driven; it's conciliatory and in the end joyful. There's also been a significant change in the words:
Laß mich Freud und Wonne spüren,
daß die Gebeine triumphieren,
da dein Kreuz mich hart gedrängt.
Your cross pressed hard on me; now let me feel joy and
bliss and let the body triumph.
The joy comes through perfectly in this version of the work, as it nearly always does in Suzuki's performances. It's there as well in the more formal Trauerode (Funeral Ode) BWV 198, written for the funeral of Christiane Eberhardine, the wife of the Polish King and Elector of Saxony Augustus the Strong. This is highly sophisticated music, based on highly sophisticated theology. Whether solace for grief is sought in music or in words, it never hurts to have Bach involved.

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