"Art makes life, makes interest, makes importance"

March 29, 2012

"Tristana" (1970) by Luis Bunuel (Movie review)

The films of Luis Bunuel are always about power - power over others - and perverse and farcical Tristana  (1970) is perhaps the most explicit illustration of this theme. The film is loosely based on a novel by Benito Perez Galdos.

Tristana (Catherine Deneuve, hauntingly beautiful as ever) is a young woman, who when her mother dies, is entrusted to the care of her elderly uncle Don Lope (Fernando Rey at his suave best) who lives in the beautiful city of Toledo. The innocent and naive Tristana has only lived with her mother and has no experience at all of the world. Don Lope is a respected and distinguished-looking bourgeois gentleman, who has not worked a day in his life, liberal and anti-clerical, but he has one weakness: he can't keep his hands off women (and his views of women are the opposite of liberal).

Although she is repelled by the old man's overtures, in no time the innocent girl has been overpowered by her strong-willed guardian. Every night she is forced to sleep in his bed, and in the daytime she is confined to the house as a virtual prisoner. Says hypocritical Don Lope: "If you want an honest woman, break her leg and keep her home" - a saying that will eventually come true in an unexpected way.

Gradually, Tristana is allowed to go on short walks when accompanied by the housekeeper (Lola Gaos). On one of these outings she meets a handsome young painter (Franco Nero), with whom she falls in love. Finally, she elopes with him, leaving a desolate Don Lope behind.

Two years later, Tristana unexpectedly returns. She has been diagnosed with a leg tumor and the painter, not feeling up to the care the seriously ill woman demands, lets her go (to the scorn of Tristana). Luckily, Don Lope who initially had trouble making both ends meet, has received a considerable inheritance and is able to hire the best medical assistance. Tristana's leg is amputated and she is fitted with a prosthetic one. The beautiful woman now moves around on crutches and is indeed confined to the house.

Strangely enough, Tristana's illness has made her stronger, while Don Lope has visibly become weaker with age - despite his atheism, he even plays cards with the local priest when he feels lonely (the priest, of course, is eventually after the money the Don will leave at his death). The new Tristana does not provide sexual services anymore to the old Don, although she forces him to marry her for respectability - and to keep his fortune out of the hands of the church. Don Lope in his old age sadly enough has finally become the father figure that Tristana craved at the start of the film but that he didn't provide because he wanted her as his concubine. And Tristana mainly uses her position as mistress of the house to humiliate and frustrate Don Lope. When he sits sipping chocolate and playing cards with his friends, she noisily keeps moving up and down the corridor on her crutches. She also derisively gives to others what she keeps from her husband: when the deaf-mute son of the housekeeper leers at her, she teases him by standing on the balcony and showing her breasts (of course below the frame of the film to tease the viewer as well).

And the stage is set for sweet revenge, for now Tristana, vile and vindictive, has all the power. When Don Lope is ill in bed with a severe cold, she "forgets" to call the doctor but instead masochistically opens the window as wide as possible and so finishes him off as punishment for stealing her virginity. Eventually, winner takes all it seems - but in the process, Tristana has lost her soul and she has become as jaded as Don Lope was.

As is usual, this Bunuel film is full of explicit Freudian images. Every scene is packed with visual interest. It also provides an interesting picture of catholic Spain and the hypocrisy rampant in such an ultra-conservative society as well as the marginal position of women in it - of course seen through the anti-clerical and anti-bourgeois eyes of the film maker. But above all, the most wonderful thing in the film is the transformation Catherine Deneuve undergoes from uptight virgin with her hair in braids to the bitchy and mean one-legged woman at the end. A most difficult role that is performed in a fascinating way.
Other reviews of Bunuel films on this site:  Belle de Jour (1967, also with Catherine Deneuve); That Obscure Object of Desire (1977, also with Fernando Rey).
(Reviewed August 2014)

March 28, 2012

"The Devil in the Flesh" (Le Diable au Corps) by Raymond Radiguet

The Devil in the Flesh is a short novel published in 1922 by Parisian literary prodigy Raymond Radiguet (1903-1923). Despite the sensational title, this book is nothing else but a beautiful and very pure love story about young people.

Against the background of the Great European War (WWI), which creates a sort of vacuum of authority for those too young to be involved, a love affair is started between a sixteen-year-old boy (François, the narrator) and Marthe, a nineteen-year old young woman married to a soldier who is fighting in the trenches. They meet secretly in her flat on the outskirts of Paris. At first they try to keep their relation secret, but gradually they grow more and more brazen about it. They go shopping together and go out for walks or boating on the river. Both their families know about the affair, as do Marthe's landlord and the other people living in the flat building. Among their friends it causes a scandal. The only one who is blissfully ignorant is Jacques, the husband, whose letters to Marthe are burned by wife and lover together.

The narrator poses various insights about life and love, which are endearing in their coolness: "It was only now when I was certain that I no longer loved her that I began to love her," or "And yet love, which is selfishness in duplicate, sacrifices everything for itself, exists on lies." The feelings of François seem to be based on paradoxes, but neither he nor Marthe can bear to end the affair. Their passion leads to a climax when Marthe gets pregnant with the child of François (who speculates that he himself is still so young that having a child feels more like having a new brother or sister). She deftly manages to pass off the child as her husband's legitimate child even though everyone around them knows the truth. In the end, Marthe dies just after giving birth, probably because of a cold she caught earlier when François pulled her along to Paris at night, but was too shy to enter a hotel.

There is also humor in the story - one such scene is where the couple living on the floor below Marthe, who apparently are frequently harassed by their loud lovemaking, also in the daytime, arrange a party precisely so that their guests can catch the scandalous lovers in the act - except that François has noticed this and waits with embracing Marthe until the party has finished.

The title "The Devil in the Flesh" seems erotically charged (as in the film Flesh and Devil), but that is because of the translation. "Avoir le diable au corps" only means "to be furious, to quarrel with everyone" or "to be hyperactive" - two things said about teenagers as François. It was the sensational marketing of the novel by its first publisher that gave it a scandalous image, first and for all because of the denial of patriotism, of which there indeed is not a shred in the novel. Radiguet put love above all other concerns and maintains that it is the duty of each individual to follow the prompting of the heart regardless of what others say. The result is one of the most honest and moving love stories ever written.

There also is an autobiographical element in the novel - when he was only 14 years of age (!) Radiguet himself had an affair with an older woman whose husband was away at the front. But of course the story he wove around these elements from his own life is fiction.

The Devil in the Flesh has been adapted several times for television and the screen - most famous is the 1947 version (made after another devastating war) with Gerard Philipe.
My evaluation: 9 points out of 10. A tragedy that Radiguet died at 20 from typhoid fever. Despite his youth, he was active in Parisian art circles where he met Picasso and Gris. Jean Cocteau acted as a sort of mentor for him.  
Audio book and text in French. Article in French. I read the novel as a Penguin Modern Classic.





March 26, 2012

"You, The Living" (2007) by Roy Andersson

You, the Living (2007; Du Levande) is a Swedish movie by director Roy Andersson infused with dark, dark humor. It is a melancholic mosaic containing about 50 vignettes of life among ordinary people who suffer from the small iniquities of life. They are not so nice themselves, either, being exactly like our contemporaries in their selfishness, narcissism and lack of empathy with others.

The film is shot in washed-out pastel colors and drab interiors. The camera is static and we get only medium and long shots. I was reminded of the films of Tati, also by the quiet flow of the film. Some of the scenes are recurring, such as a brass band rehearsing and finally playing, and a drab bar where each time there is a call for last orders as it is going to close. The vignettes are linked together: a man goes to a barber for a quick trim as he has an important business meeting. He quarrels with the depressed barber who sadistically shaves a "punk" line down the middle of his head and then runs away. Later, the man appears in a meeting with other businessmen, now completely hairless. During the meeting, the chairman has a heart attack and dies. Next we have a funeral ceremony where a woman sings - and in another scene she sings the same song in her bubble bath at home.

Some other visions of despondence are:

An alcoholic biker woman sits on a park bench scolding her fat and meek buddy. She screams she will never see him again until she finds out he is cooking veal roast for dinner.

A naked Brunhilde wearing a Viking helmet sits riding on a fat man in a bed-scene (in fact, this is the sousaphone player from the brass band). The man's mind is far away, however, for he only keeps complaining that the bank has lost 34 percent of his retirement fund.

A carpet salesman manages to convince a customer to opt for a red instead of a green carpet (he has no green), but then he still loses the sale because a colleague has sold the end off that carpet so that it is too short now.

A psychiatrist comes to work in the morning and complains to the camera that he has spent 27 years of his life trying to help mean and selfish people be happy. He asks what the point is.

A man tries to do the trick of pulling a tablecloth from under the dishes on a long table and ends up breaking the 200-year old tableware. A surreal process with beer slugging judges follows and he is condemned by the audience to die on the electric chair. When he is being led to the chair, looking sad and despondent, he is advised to "think of something else." This all is a dream, told by a man stuck in a traffic jam.

The film starts with a man waking up and telling us he had a nasty dream about a flight of bombers approaching. The last shot of the film is of several planes hovering above a city with a glistening river - it looked beautiful, until I realized with a shock these  planes were the bombers from the dream at the beginning of the film...

As characters in the movie often say: "Tomorrow is another day" - yes, another day with loads of shit. Andersson's is a typical kind of negative humor that could only have been born under those dark, leaden Northern European skies.

My evaluation: Although I am usually of an optimistic disposition, for 90 minutes I have allowed myself to be carried away by Andersson's deadpan black Nordish humor. 8.5 points out of 10.  
Slant Magazine; Roger Ebert; DVD Talk.

March 25, 2012

Bach Cantatas (16): Feast of Annunciation (Mar. 25)

The Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin (Mariae Verkündigung) is celebrated on 25 March. It is the celebration of the announcement by the angel Gabriel to the Virgin Mary, that she would conceive and become the mother of Jesus the Son of God. 25 March is nine full months before Christmas.

This feast typically fell in the time of Lent when Leipzig observed tempus clausum and music was not performed in the churches. However, when this day coincided with Palm Sunday, the ban was lifted. One such occasion occurred in 1725 and another in 1736. We have only one complete cantata left, however, the masterly BWV 1, dating from 1725.

Readings:
Isaiah 7:10–16, prophecy of the birth of the Messiah
Luke 1:26–38, the angel Gabriel announces the birth of Jesus

References:
BCWBDECNLSGJNLVHWPText

Cantata:
  • Wie schön leuchtet der Morgenstern, BWV 1, 25 March 1725

    Coro: Wie schön leuchtet der Morgenstern
    Recitativo (tenor): Du wahrer Gottes und Marien Sohn
    Aria (soprano,oboe da caccia): Erfüllet, ihr himmlischen göttlichen Flammen
    Recitativo (bass): Ein irdscher Glanz, ein leiblich Licht
    Aria (tenor, violins): Unser Mund und Ton der Saiten
    Chorale: Wie bin ich doch so herzlich froh

    ("How beautifully the morning star shines"). Bach first performed this cantata on 25 March 1725, which in that year was also Palm Sunday. The text of the cantata, however, only refers to the Annunciation and not to the Entry into Jerusalem. It is a so-called choral cantata, here based on the choral "Wie schön leuchtet der Morgenstern" by Nicolai. The "morning star" is a symbol for Christ. The elaborate orchestra has been reinforced with horns and this is one of Bach's happiest cantatas - fittingly so, when we consider the subject matter. In the opening chorus, the sparkle of the morning star is illustrated by two solo violins. The sopranos sing the chorale melody while the other parts weave a fugal web around it. It is a great fantasia in which the future birth of Christ, and the journey of the three kings who follow the star to Bethlehem, is set to a lively dance rhythm. This opening chorus is one of the most inspired movements Bach ever wrote. Also the soprano aria with oboe da caccia obligato has a dance-like character. The bass recitative refers to the "morning star" ("a joyful radiance") and is followed by an extended da capo tenor aria, accompanied by two violins to express the "tones of strings" the text refers to. As finale, the hymn returns in a festive setting, with a rather independent part for the second horn.

(1) New Year's Day (2) New Year I (3) Epiphany (4) Epiphany I (5) Epiphany II (6) Epiphany III (7) Epiphany IV (8) Feast of Purification of Mary (9) Septuagesima (10) Sexagesima (11) Quinquagesima (Estomihi) (12) The Consecration of a New Organ (13) The Inauguration of the Town Council (14) Oculi (15) Wedding Cantatas (16) Feast of Annunciation (17) Palm Sunday (18) Easter Sunday (19) Easter Monday (20) Easter Tuesday (21) Easter I (Quasimodogeniti) (22) Easter II (23) Easter III (24) Easter IV (25) Easter V (26) Ascension Day (27) Ascension I (28) Pentecost Sunday (29) Pentecost Monday (30) Pentecost Tuesday (31) Trinity Sunday (32) Trinity I (33) Trinity II (34) Trinity III (35) St. John's Day (36) Trinity IV (37) Visitation (38) Trinity V (39) Trinity VI (40) Trinity VII (41) Trinity VIII (42) Trinity IX (43) Trinity X (44) Trinity XI (45) Trinity XII (46) Trinity XIII (47) Trinity XIV (48) Trinity XV (49) Trinity XVI (50) Trinity XVII (51) Trinity XVIII (52) Trinity XIX (53) Trinity XX (54) Trinity XXI (55) Trinity XXII (56) Trinity XXIII (57) Trinity XXIV (58) Trinity XXV-XXVII (59) Advent I-IV (60) Christmas Day (61) Second Day of Christmas (62) Third Day of Christmas (63) Sunday after Christmas

March 24, 2012

"Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day" (2008) by Bharat Nalluri

There are times that a full-bodied red wine is most suitable, but also moments that bubbles are best. In other words, sometimes it is good to enjoy a frothy, sparkling romantic comedy like Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day, filmed in beautiful period style and magical colors by Bharat Nalluri. This film is in the first place an "actors film," it is the ensemble of Frances McDormand as the solid Miss Pettigrew and Amy Adams as her flamboyant and charming employer Delysia Lafosse - a quick-silvery personality who is subject to ever changing moods and whims - that carries the whole film. Amy Adams reminded me of Jean Arthur or Jean Harlow. Period detail is just as perfect as the casting in this film, including the satin gowns and the fabulous antique cars.

Miss Guinevere Pettigrew is a middle-aged, straight-laced governess, who keeps getting fired as she can't get along with her employers (she has a wonderful way of arching her eyebrows to put people off) - something rather serious in depression time 1939 London. The employment office refuses to help her any longer, but she overhears a name and address meant for a colleague and quickly heads there.

As soon as she arrives it is mayhem, for American singer/actress Delysia Lafosse storms around in her pink negligee, trying to balance relations with three different men: the noble Michael (Lee Pace), a penniless pianist; the tough Nick (Mark Strong), who owns the nightclub where Delysia performs and who also pays for her flat and upkeep; and pretty-boy Phil (Tom Payne), a young impresario from whom she seeks a leading role in a new play. With a sturdy hand, Miss Pettigrew shores up the fluttering Amy, sorting out her affairs, and actually enjoying herself like never before as partner in deception. She even has to pretend to smoke cigars to put Nick off the scent when he detects a stub in an ashtray. In recompense she now enters high society herself - getting a very necessary make-over in the process. One running joke in the film is that Miss Pettigrew never manages to eat - people bump into her so that she drops her plate, etc. - so when cucumber slices are applied to the skin of her face, she quickly consumes them.

At a fashion show she meets lingerie designer Joe Blomfield (Ciarán Hinds), who is involved in an on/off relationship with squeaky-voiced socialite Edythe Dubary (Shirley Henderson). Edythe asks Miss Pettigrew's help to sort things out for her as well, but it seems Miss Pettigrew and Mr. Blomfield feel some magic of their own...

The whole story takes place in just 24 hours and both leading women of course don't fail to achieve their romantic destines, albeit after a lot of giddy screwball-type confusion. They also draw close to each other, making Miss Pettigrew into a sort of female "buddy" movie. But the film also has its quiet moments - Europe is after all gearing up for the second destructive war in a quarter of a century - and as a whole it is delicate and gentle-spirited rather than a shouting match.

Great fun, long live the bubbles!

My evaluation: 9 points out of 10 for Joe Blomfield's underwear fashion. 
Salon; Reelviews; Combustible Celluloid.

March 23, 2012

"Girl Shy" (1924) by Harold Lloyd

Girl Shy (1924) is my favorite Harold Lloyd film. Strangely enough, this wonderful romantic comedy is very little known. Except among other film makers, because both Ben Hur (1925) and The Graduate (1973) borrowed from Lloyd (the chase at the end of Girl Shy).

Harold Lloyd is one of the three great comedians of the Silent Era in the U.S., alongside Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton. Between 1914 and 1947 he made nearly 200 comedy films. He is best known for his "glasses character", a resourceful go-getter in tune with 1920s America.

Lloyd performed all his stunts himself and his films always contain extended chase scenes or daredevil physical feats. The one for which he is best remembered today, is the one where he is dangling from the hands of a clock high on a skyscraper in Safety Last! (1923).

In Girl Shy, Harold Lloyd plays a tailor's apprentice who is always so shy when in the company of women that he starts stuttering (yes, in this silent film you can see him stutter!). His boss each time bows on a whistle to pull him out of it.

The  many female customers in the shop where Harold works bring him in the greatest confusion. One young lady even asks him to mend a hole in her stocking while she continues wearing it, which he does with averted eyes so that his needle pricks in her leg.

But this "girl shy" young men also has another, unexpected side: in his free evenings he has written a handbook about how to handle various types of women, such as "the vampire" and the "flapper girl." A manual for lovers, so to speak, written by someone who has never yet made love...

But that is about to change. On the train into town, going to bring his manuscript to a publisher, Lloyd meets Mary (Jobyna Ralston), a rich girl whose car has broken down. She has a small Pekinese with her, but dogs are forbidden aboard trains. Lloyd helps her hide the animal from the conductor and he even picks it up with a walking stick after it has fallen unto the tracks. He earns Mary's eternal gratitude. The two sit talking so intensely about Lloyd's lover 's manual project, that they don't even notice the train has arrived at the terminal. (Lloyd still stutters, but the train whistle helps him out!).

They fall in love but Mary already has a suitor, Ronald DeVore (Carlton Griffin), and a very persistent one who doesn't take no for an answer. Due to a misunderstanding with Lloyd, she finally accepts the obnoxious DeVore, but luckily Lloyd discovers that the man is in fact a bigamist.

At that moment, the wedding ceremony is already starting, so Lloyd races to the rescue in a daredevil ride across Los Angeles to prevent the ceremony from taking place. All the time he has to change vehicles, from horses to a trolley to a police motor cycle to a fire truck... This is the first and also the best race I know on film, it is really hair-raising!

Harold bursts in just as the minister is about to conclude the ceremony - but he stutters again and is unable to explain anything. So he just carries off Mary. When they are finally together, he wants to propose to her. A passing mail-carrier's whistle helps him out of his stutter, and she accepts.

March 22, 2012

"Liebelei" (1933) by Max Ophuls (Film review)

Liebelei, made by Max Ophuls in 1933 in Germany, was the first characteristic film of the great director. Like the later La Ronde, it was based on a play by the Austrian author Arthur Schnitzler (see my post on Schnitzler's short stories). Superficially, the story is a rather common melodrama: a young lieutenant, Fritz (Wolfgang Liebeneiner), has an affair with a baroness but falls in love with a musician's daughter, Christine (Magda Schneider). Although he breaks with the baroness, her husband challenges him to a duel. He is killed and the girl commits suicide.

Interesting is the way this story has been filmed:
  • Take the long scene where Fritz accompanies Christine home after he has just met her. Almost in silence, they walk through a snowy Vienna. This was an early "talkie," but Ophuls has the good sense to use words sparingly here. Almost imperceptibly, as they walk on, Christine’s face begins to reflect happiness as she awakens to love. Silence can be more pregnant than words. 
  • A remarkably long shot is also present in the love scene of Christine and Fritz. Filmed at an outside location, they glide in a sleigh through a realistic snow-covered wood, pledging eternal romance:   "I swear that I love you, for all eternity." 
  • There are two interesting, contrasting waltz scenes set close together: at a café, the two lovers waltz to music from a coin-operated Victrola, feeling as if they are in heaven - and at the Baron's mansion, a full orchestra blazes forth as Fritz mechanically dances with the Baroness, a woman he is no longer interested in. 
  • A recurring threatening figure is that of the Baron with his monocle, just watching, icily.
  • A great final sequence is the one where Fritz' friend Theo, his girlfriend Mizzi and Christine's father sit opposite Christine at the entrance of her chamber, trying to inform her about her lover's death. Christine is shown in close-up and we see that she realizes what has happened, and also starts to think that Fritz perhaps never loved her as he has died in a duel for another woman (an understandable misunderstanding). Her face finally expresses pure desolation. 
The theme of the film (and the in its time very popular play) is universal: misplaced male honor - in poultry terms, I would call this the "cock syndrome." In this setting that leads to a duel, today it could give rise a different form of revenge. Fritz' friend Theo tries to break through this fixed, violent pattern and have the top brass call off the duel (without success). The words he uses here were very courageous for the time and place the film was made, Germany 1933: "Every shot not fired in self-defense is murder!"
Based on the play "Liebelei" by Arthur Schnitzler. 
Other films by Max Ophuls reviewed in this blog: Letter from an Unknown WomanCaught - La Ronde - The Earrings of Madam de... 

March 21, 2012

"Zabriskie Point" (1970) by Antonioni

Zabriskie Point, made by Michelangelo Antonioni in 1970 when he received a large budget and a lot of freedom to do as he wanted from one of the major Hollywood studios, is named after the eroded badlands in Death Valley, an old lake bottom and the lowest point in the U.S. (Zabriskie Point in its turn received its Polish sounding name from the manager of the borax company that mined the area in the early 20th c.)

The strangely eroded badlands and barren mountains of Death valley look great in Antonioni's film and that is saying it all: it has been superbly filmed, with striking color combinations, great "on location" landscapes and sweeping choreographic movements. It is pure eye candy, not to speak about the explosion at the end which is the most beautiful filming ever of such an event, with a blooming fire and a scattering of interior things into the stark blue sky.

For the rest, the film is an indictment of American consumption society, from the viewpoint of the student demonstrations taking place in 1968 all over the developed world. The film is full of colorful billboards advertising products nobody needs. There is a lot of jargon talk among the students, Marx was still seen as a viable road in those long ago days. One student, Mark (Mark Frechette), decides action is needed and buys a weapon. When the police break into the university campus where the students are squatting down, an officer is shot. It may have been a bullet from Mark's gun.

He steals a small plane and flees, flying into the desert. There his path crosses that of Daria (Daria Halprin), a young woman working for a real estate company and on her way to the desert home of her boss Lee (who may be her lover) for a conference about a new housing development. She drives a wonderful 1952 Buick. He teases her by flying low over her car, then lands. They travel on in Daria's car because Mark has to buy gasoline for the plane. When they reach Zabriskie Point, they get out excitedly for some sightseeing. Finally they make love in the desert, almost merging into the sand - you have trouble discerning whether a certain round shape is Daria's hip or a desert hill. And their love bears fruit for all of a sudden the whole desert is filled with embracing couples, an orgy of strange flowers.

Mark decides to return the stolen plane. When he lands, the police shoot him dead as a cop killer. Daria hears the news on her car radio and is shattered. In the meantime, she has reached the futuristic place in the desert where her boss lives and stands at a distance. That resort is also part of consumption society, sullying the clean desert. With disgust, Daria "wills" an explosion (I have no better word, but this can't be anything else than a fantasy in her head) and there the fire blossoms into the sky...

Antonioni films the same blast repeatedly in close-ups. We see refrigerators spilling their contents, clothes flying from closets and books fluttering in the breeze, this all against the background of a deep blue sky. Never has an explosion been filmed in such detail, as if it were a ballet, accompanied by music from Pink Floyd. Antonioni has created the most beautiful, extended explosion ever (and that says something as there are lots of blasts in Hollywood pictures). This finale alone is worth seeing the film...

This is an art film. It is beautiful, but don't look for a story. Also don't look for any acting capabilities in the Adam and Eve of the story - Antonioni had enough budget to get big stars, but he must have wanted unknowns with innocent faces as his protagonists. As director he keeps the reigns tight enough to make it work. It is the lights and shapes that count, and the shifting desert sands...

My evaluation: 8 points out of 10 for Antonioni's shapes and light. The film was both a critical and a box office failure (how could it be otherwise?) but has since been rehabilitated and now has become a cult film praised for its stylishness and for the stark beauty of its cinematography and innovative use of music. The political ideas are now antiquated, but interesting as a document of the sixties. 
Senses of Cinema. Pop Culture Addict article about the two protagonists.


March 20, 2012

"Eyes Wide Shut" (1999) by Stanley Kubrick

Eyes Wide Shut is Stanley Kubrick's rendering of Arthur Schnitzler's haunting Dream Story, a film that has wrongly been dubbed an "erotic thriller" by the marketeers of the studio (not by Kubrick himself, who tragically died of a heart attack before the film came out). In fact, the film is wholly un-erotic, despite the scenes of nudity it contains - the orgy at the center of the story is more like a satanic dance of death. And neither film not book is a thriller - one should rather speak of a "psychological mystery," about unfulfilled longings and fantasies which bring tension to a marriage. Bill (the Fridolin from the novel, and also a medical doctor; played by Tom Cruise) is so jealous of a phantom - a naval officer his wife (Alice, in the novel called Albertine; played by Nicole Kidman) confesses she was once captivated by - that he keeps cruising the city until he has committed some sort of sexual revenge.

Like in the novel, he does this, finally, by gatecrashing an orgy where everyone is masked, until he is chased out, while a mysterious woman pledges to take his guilt upon her.

The biggest difference between film and original story and its greatest weakness is that Kubrick has added the figure of Ziegler, the wealthy patient of Bill who gives the party at the start where both Bill and Alice flirt with other partners - until Bill is urgently called up in his capacity of a doctor. For one party was not enough for Ziegler: while his guests were dancing downstairs, he had a private "dance" with a hooker upstairs, but she needs medical attention after she takes an overdose of drugs.

And at the end of the film Ziegler calls Bill to his house and sternly warns him not to pursue his investigations into the secret group that held the orgy the previous day. Ziegler himself is a member, and he tells how Bill was found out: because he arrived in a taxi while all the real members came in their limo's.

Ziegler also divulges that the girl who saved Bill at the orgy was the hooker who overdosed at his party. She is indeed dead, but not because she has been punished for helping Bill - that was only staged. She has died afterwards because she took another overdose...

Although he on purpose leaves some room open for doubt, in this way Kubrick gives a neat explanation for all the mysteries. Too neat - he explains away the mystery that Schnitzler on purpose left intact. The novella is so haunting exactly because there is no rational explanation, because all could well be a dream. That important aspect is somewhat lost in the film.

Some other changes, while we are at it:
  • In addition to relocating the story from Vienna in the 1900s to New York City in the 1990s, Kubrick changed the time-frame of Schnitzler's story from Mardi Gras to Christmas. Happily, there are no Christmas songs blaring through the speakers, Kubrick must have used this season because it allowed him to have every set suffused with the dreamlike, hazy glow of colored lights... a filmic way to call up a dreamlike atmosphere. 
  • The character of Bill Harford is fundamentally more strait-laced than his counterpart, Fridolin. Bill sleep-walks through life with no deeper awareness. 
  • In the film, when Bill visits the prostitute ("Mandy"), he kisses her - contrary to the novel - and then is shocked into reality by a call from his wife on his mobile phone. This makes him leave. The next day, he makes a second visit to the room of the prostitute and then meets her room mate who tells him Mandy has tested positive for AIDS.
Some things which work particularly well in the film (while not present in the novel):
  • the color scheme and the fairy-tale lights.
  • the Venetian masks worn by the revelers at the orgy.
  • the transposition of the evil world to that of the extremely rich - the real pornography in the film is that of money. Christmas has purely become a feast of consumption. But behind the glittering facade lurk  exploitation and death.
On the other hand, enough from the novella has been left intact, to make this a rather faithful Schnitzler adaptation. Schnitzler's marital drama from the turn of the century still has strong relevance today, because it is about how unconscious desires, feelings and fantasies can endanger a basically stable situation.

My evaluation: 8.5 points out of 10 for the Venetian masks.
Detailed comparison of film and novel. Notes on both. Review by Lee Siegel. NYTimes review. Senses of Cinema. Reverse Shot. DVD Talk. BFI.

March 18, 2012

Bach Cantatas (15): Wedding Cantatas (Mar 18)

Today is again a Sunday without cantatas, so we look at the Wedding Cantatas Bach wrote. There are five in all, but BWV 34a and BWV 120a have been partially lost (moreover, 120a was based on BWV 120, one of the town council cantatas). So after all, we have three full wedding cantatas:

References:
BCWBDECNLSGJNLVHWPText
  • Der Herr denket an uns, BWV 196, 1707–08

    1. Sinfonia
    2. Chor: Der Herr denket an uns und segnet uns. Er segnet das Haus Israel, er segnet das Haus Aaron.
    3. Arie Soprano: Er segnet, die den Herrn fürchten, beide, Kleine und Große.
    4. Arie (Duett) Tenor & Bass: Der Herr segne euch je mehr und mehr, euch und eure Kinder.
    5. Chor: Ihr seid die Gesegneten des Herrn, der Himmel und Erde gemacht hat. Amen.


    ("The Lord hath been mindful of us"). Early cantata in a simple and light vein. The occasion probably was the wedding of the minister Johann Lorenz Stauber with Regina Wedemann, who was the aunt of Bach’s wife Maria Barbara, which took place in Arnstadt in 1708. Stauber had been the clergyman who had married Bach and Maria Barbara in the preceding year. After a peaceful sinfonia follows a chorus in prelude-fugue style. The duet is very fresh and lively. Textually, the cantata asks for blessings on the house and children - suitable for a wedding cantata. The style is typical for Bach's early cantatas and harks back to the 17th century.  (***)

  • Dem Gerechten muss das Licht, BWV 195, 1748–49

    I.
    Chor: Dem Gerechten
    Rezitativ Bass: Dem Freudenlicht gerechter Frommen
    Arie Bass: Rühmet Gottes Güt und Treu
    Rezitativ Soprano: Wohlan, so knüpfet denn ein Band
    Chor: Wir kommen, deine Heiligkeit

    II.
    Choral: Nun danket all und bringet Ehr


    ("There is sprung up a light for the righteous"). As simple as the previous cantata was, so grand and festive is this one. It goes back to an earlier cantata written between 1727 and 1731. In the later version, Bach substituted just one chorale for the recitative, aria and chorus in the second part. We know that the cantata was used in 1741 for the wedding of Johanna Eleonora Schutz and Gottlob heinrich Pipping, who was a lawyer and burgomaster. It must have been a glorious occasion, where an elaborate orchestra was available. The cantata starts and finishes with festive choruses. There is only one aria, for bass, but the recitatives are also quite elaborate. And the aria is just wonderful - it has the character of a folk song. The second part of the cantata consists basically of a choral setting. (***)

  • Gott ist unsre Zuversicht, BWV 197, 1736/37 (partly based on 197a)

    I.
    Chor: Gott ist unsre Zuversicht
    Rezitativ Bass: Gott ist und bleibt der beste Sorger
    Arie Alto: Schläfert allen Sorgenkummer
    Rezitativ Bass: Drum folget Gott und seinem Triebe
    Choral: Du süße Lieb, schenk uns deine Gunst

    II.
    Arie Bass: O du angenehmes Paar
    Rezitativ Soprano: So wie es Gott mit dir
    Arie Soprano: Vergnügen und Lust
    Rezitativ Bass: Und dieser frohe Lebenslauf
    Choral: So wandelt froh auf Gottes Wegen


    ("God is our Hope and Strength"). Probably written for the wedding of persons of rank, although nothing is known about the occasion itself.  It is partly based on a lost Christmas cantata and shows some early experiments with the galant style. The cantata is quite elaborate, uses a large assembly of instruments and has a resounding Latin subheading "In diebus nuptiarum." The text is about God's providence and omnipotence. In Part 2 we also find an address to the wedded couple in terms of well-wishing. The vigorous, fugal opening chorus forms a resplendent movement of six minutes duration. There are three arias. The first for alto and oboe d'amore is a tenderly expressive exhortation to trust in God's guidance. In the second part, a lightly scored bass aria forms an intimate address to the wedded pair. The soprano aria has the character of a lullaby or even folk dance and is accompanied by violin and two part oboe d'amore.  (***)

(1) New Year's Day (2) New Year I (3) Epiphany (4) Epiphany I (5) Epiphany II (6) Epiphany III (7) Epiphany IV (8) Feast of Purification of Mary (9) Septuagesima (10) Sexagesima (11) Quinquagesima (Estomihi) (12) The Consecration of a New Organ (13) The Inauguration of the Town Council (14) Oculi (15) Wedding Cantatas (16) Feast of Annunciation (17) Palm Sunday (18) Easter Sunday (19) Easter Monday (20) Easter Tuesday (21) Easter I (Quasimodogeniti) (22) Easter II (23) Easter III (24) Easter IV (25) Easter V (26) Ascension Day (27) Ascension I (28) Pentecost Sunday (29) Pentecost Monday (30) Pentecost Tuesday (31) Trinity Sunday (32) Trinity I (33) Trinity II (34) Trinity III (35) St. John's Day (36) Trinity IV (37) Visitation (38) Trinity V (39) Trinity VI (40) Trinity VII (41) Trinity VIII (42) Trinity IX (43) Trinity X (44) Trinity XI (45) Trinity XII (46) Trinity XIII (47) Trinity XIV (48) Trinity XV (49) Trinity XVI (50) Trinity XVII (51) Trinity XVIII (52) Trinity XIX (53) Trinity XX (54) Trinity XXI (55) Trinity XXII (56) Trinity XXIII (57) Trinity XXIV (58) Trinity XXV-XXVII (59) Advent I-IV (60) Christmas Day (61) Second Day of Christmas (62) Third Day of Christmas (63) Sunday after Christmas


March 17, 2012

"Dream Story" (1926) by Arthur Schnitzler (Best Novellas)

Arthur Schnitzler is unfortunately not such a familiar name today, but his Dream Story (Traumnovelle, 1925/26) could well ring a bell with many readers: Stanley Kubrick based his film Eyes Wide Shut on this novella. Film fans may also know other stories and plays by Schnitzler. Most famously, Ophuls filmed his "notorious" play Reigen as La Ronde in 1950.

Arthur Schnitzler (1862-1931) was an Austrian playwright and novelist with Jewish roots. He was a practicing medical doctor (although he later dedicated all his time to writing), deeply interested in psychology, but also a bon-vivant of the latter days of the Austrian Empire, and in his day a very famous playwright. Schnitzler's  themes are the eternal ones of love and death. Although he was not a follower of Freud, he knew Freud well and in his work we see a great interest in dream psychology. That is of course also the case, as the title announces, in one of Schnitzler's masterworks, Dream Story.

A married couple, a bourgeois Viennese doctor, Fridolin, and his wife Albertine, discover that they are both subject to repressed longings. They disclose experiences to each other which almost led to sexual encounters with another partner. The wife also tells about a strange erotic dream she had. Upset by the fear to loose control of the faithfulness of his wife, Fridolin develops an angry mood that also has an erotic component.

On one and the same night Fridolin three times flirts with dangerous sexual adventures. The daughter of a patient who has just died hysterically confesses she is in love with him (next to the body of her dead father!), but he refuses her advances. [He probably also misunderstands her, interpreting his own need into her words - all she wants is probably a comforting, fatherly hug.] A young prostitute lures him to her room, but afraid of sexual disease, he only talks to her. Then, in a cafe, he happens to meet an old acquaintance, who earns his bread as third-rate pianist at various parties. The pianist has been invited to play at a private orgy, where all participants have to wear masks (not so strange, anyway, as it is Carnival time). Fridolin is eager to participate in this mysterious adventure and quickly obtains a costume and mask and the pianist tells him the password.

At the nude ballroom dance party, he meets a beautiful woman who wears a mask but nothing else - and he realizes he is willing to cheat on his wife with this wonderful woman. He notices her ravishingly long black hair. But before anything can happen between them, some men disclose him as a gatecrasher. About to be punished, the masked woman he was interested in, offers to take his penalty upon herself. Then Fridolin is allowed to escape.

The next day Fridolin searches for the house where the orgy took place, but he finds no trace of the beautiful woman. However, in the hospital he asks a colleague to show him the latest dead. There he sees the body of a woman with beautiful hair who has died of poisoning - but Fridolin is not entirely sure this is the woman he saw at the party as he never laid eyes on her face.

Finally, Fridolin confesses his adventure (or was it a dream?) to Albertine. Instead of endangering the marriage, the confession works as a catharsis. They both start to understand each other from a new basis.

Dream Story is situated between conscious and unconscious, between dream, fantasy and reality. Although Schnitzler writes in an objective style, he also exposes the motivation and psychological development of Fridolin and Albertine, and at the same time he manages to impart a mysterious, sometimes even surrealistic atmosphere to his Dream Story.

Essay (German) about Dream Story.
Schnitzler's works are not anymore in copyright and can be read freely on the web: Dream Story (in German); page linking to other works by Schnitzler (all in German); Gutenberg also has some English translations (unfortunately, not of Dream Story). In book form, three volumes with novellas have been published by Rowman & Littlefield (Dream Story is included in Night Games) as well as by Pushkin Press. In addition, Dream Story has been published by Green Integer Books. Amazon pages with Schnitzler works.
Best Novellas
Banville: The Newton Letter   Bioy Casares: The Invention of Morel   Bulgakov: A Dog's Heart   Byatt: Morpho Eugenia   Carr: A Month in the Country   Conrad: Heart of Darkness   Chekhov: The Duel   Conrad: Heart of Darkness   Elsschot: Cheese   Flaubert: A Simple Soul   Gotthelf: The Black Spider   Kafka: The Metamorphosis   Maupassant: Boule de Suif   McEwan: The Comfort of Strangers   McEwan: On Chesil Beach   Nabokov: The Eye   Nerval: Sylvie   Nescio: Amsterdam Stories   Nooteboom: The Following Story   Roth: The Legend of the Holy Drinker   Schnitzler: Dream Story   Storm: The Rider on the White Horse   Turgenev: Clara Militch   Turgenev: Torrents of Spring   Voltaire: Candide   Wells: The Island of Dr. Moreau


March 16, 2012

Classic Fiction: "Effi Briest" (1896) by Theodor Fontane

If you thought that German literature was heavy and dreary, with sentences often as long as a whole page, then try Effi Briest by Theodor Fontane (1819-1898). This novel is written in supple and fresh prose that has great musical qualities. Fontane taught his countrymen how to write concisely. And the dialogues are so natural you almost believe the characters are real.

Effi Briest is one of the three great novels of adultery of the 19th century, with Madame Bovary and Anna Karenina. But as I have indicated in my review of Flaubert's masterwork, the real themes in Madame Bovary are the harshness of society and the boredom of life in a small provincial town. Although Effi Briest is a totally different novel, these two themes are prominently present here as well.

Effi Briest is a very different person from Emma Bovary. She is well-educated and full of humor. Born as only child in an aristocratic family, when she is just 17, her parents marry her off to the 38 year old Baron Geert von Instetten, who of all things had been the unsuccessful suitor of the mother! This is all the more wrong as Effi is not only still a child, but also has a childish character - she should have been allowed to mature before being thrown out on marriage and society. But having become "Staatsanwalt," Instetten now has a high social position and he seems an ideal party to the parents. From Effi's side, there is of course no love, only respect.

After the marriage and a honeymoon trip to Italy where Effi is dragged from museum to museum, the couple starts living in an old house in Kessin, on the Baltic Sea, a boring small town filled with boring people. Fontane provides realistic descriptions of the dark scenery of this northern German port town. Effi is often home alone when her husband's duties keep him away and, child as she still is, she is afraid of ghosts in the drafty house (there is a legend of a mysterious Chinese). Her husband is a stiff man for whom only his career and standing in society are important. He has no ear for her silly fears. Effi suffers a nervous breakdown, but there are ups and downs, and a daughter is also born.

Then the debonair major Crampas arrives in the small town and Effi jumps at the chance of pleasant company. She likes physical exercise, and the major joins her for horse riding in the dunes. They flirt, and in a delicate way Fontane indicates that their relation has gone outside of the boundaries of normal friendship. Effi pulls back, but what has happened, cannot be undone, and she feels guilty.

Happily, there is a change of location: Instetten is promoted to a job in Berlin. Effi feels freer and happier here, the house near the Berlin Zoo is also nicer, and she loves the cosmopolitan atmosphere of the capital, but the affair with Crampas also makes her increasingly reluctant to be together with her husband as his presence makes her feel guilty. When she visits her parents, she finds pretexts to stay away as long as possible from Instetten. She also makes a long visit to a spa to take a cure for her nervous disorder.

During that absence Instetten purely by chance - for he never suspected anything - finds the love letters Effi has exchanged with Major Crampas. He explodes, his happiness is gone, his only feeling is to punish those responsible for it. He immediately travels to Kessin to fight a duel with Crampas and manages to kill him. He also divorces Effi for adultery, putting all the shame on her. Instetten gets charge of the child, for society regards Effi as a "depraved woman."

Even her parents treat her harshly: they support her financially, but do not allow her to come back to the parental home, because of the social disgrace. Nineteenth century Germany was a very strict society.  A "fallen woman" was regarded as a contagious disease, nobody wanted to be near her. So Effi lives secluded in a small house in Berlin with only one trusted servant. Later, there is a meeting with her daughter, but after two years the child is completely estranged from her (something the father has taken care of), so this makes her only more unhappy. Her nervous disorder gets worse, and finally her parents relent and put their daughter above their reputation. They allow her to come back to her old home, vaguely feeling their own responsibility in the matter, without however questioning the rules of society. Finally the illness gets more serious again and Effi dies serenely. So ends the novel that shows how society with its petrified moral concepts can crush an individual life.

Theodor Fontane wrote novels that were completely different from anything written before him in Germany. His influence on 20th century authors, especially Thomas Mann (Buddenbrooks), was enormous.

Effi Briest was filmed five times - the most famous version was made in 1974 by Rainer Werner Fassbinder, with Hanna Schygulla as Effi Briest.

The German original is available at Gutenberg, while also several translated versions exist, for example in Penguin Books. This site has a detailed overview of the novel's contents.

March 14, 2012

Classic Film: "La Strada" (1954) by Fellini

La Strada ("The Road;" 1954) was the film that established Federico Fellini as a top-notch Italian director. It is the heartbreaking story of a half-witted young woman, Gelsomina (Giulietta Masina, the director's wife), who is sold by her poverty-stricken mother for 10,000 lire and a few kilos of food. The buyer is Zampano (Anthony Quinn), a cruel traveling showman who drives his ramshackle caravan pulled by a motorcycle around Italy and performs in village squares and open spaces near towns. His act is as brutish as the man: by expanding his lungs, he breaks a chain that has been fastened around his chest. He lives from what the small crowd is willing to give for this dumb spectacle.

The carnival strongman decides to use Gelsomina as his assistant. He teaches her a drum roll and trumpet tune to announce his act, made up like a clown. Although he introduces her to others as his wife, in fact she is no more than his slave. The innocent and childlike woman does everything he asks, without resistance, but even the smallest mistake makes him violent and abusive. He lashes her with a tree branch, abandons her when he feels like it and forces her to steal from a convent where they spend the night during a storm. Yet, she never complains - she truly is  a pure and naive character without any malice.

They eventually join a small traveling circus where they meet Il Matto, "The Fool" (Richard Basehart), a high-wire artist whose tenderness towards Gelsomina enrages Zampano - especially when he is taunted for his jealousy. A fist fight between the two men leaves Zampano for a while in jail. Although Il Matto gives up Gelsomina, Zampano can't control his rage. In the end, tragedy arrives when Zampano attacks Il Matto on a lonely road and kills him.

This causes everything to fall apart. Gelsomina goes mad. As she is no use to him anymore, and only serves to remind him of his foul deed, Zampano simply abandons her on the road, in a cold and deserted landscape. In an apotheosis, we see how a few years later he comes across a young woman who is humming the song that Gelsomina used to sing. Gelsomina herself has died. Plagued by his conscience, Zampano finally breaks down in defeat. As Roger Ebert says: His tragedy was that he loved Gelsomina but never realized it.

The film is in fact a type of road movie that shows the byways and backwaters of Italy where we are taken by Zapano's small truck, from the lonely seashore to the snowy mountains. This is accompanied by a haunting musical score by Nino Rota which lifts the film out of its sordid surroundings.

The acting is excellent all around - Giulietta Masina is perfect - not to say uncanny - as Gelsomina. It is also the best role Anthony Quinn ever played.

The film won the Silver Lion at the Venice Film Festival of 1954 as well as the Academy Award 1956 for Best Foreign Language Film.


My evaluation: 9 points out of 10 for the round Chaplinesque eyes of Giulietta Masina.

Ebert; Criterion essay; Criterion Confessions.

March 11, 2012

Bach Cantatas (14): Oculi (Mar. 11)

In Leipzig, where Bach wrote most of his cantatas, "quiet time" without music was observed during Lent, that is on the Sundays between Ash Wednesday and Easter. The only exception was the Feast of Annunciation on the fixed date of March 25. This means that there are no cantatas for the 1st Sunday in Lent (in 2012, Feb. 26), the 2nd Sunday in Lent (in 2012, Mar. 4), and the 4th and 5th Sundays in Lent (March 18 and 25). But that last date is in 2012 also the day for the Feast of Annunciation, so for this day we do have cantatas.

In Weimar, however, ecclesiastical customs were different and Bach wrote a few cantatas for this period. Only one has come down to us (from a second one [BWV 80a], the text has been preserved, but the music has been lost). The one preserved cantata, BWV 54 "Widerstehe doch der Sünde," was written for the third Sunday in Lent, called Oculi. In 2012, this Sunday falls on March 11.

Readings:
Ephesians 5:1–9, Exhortation to lead a pure life
Luke 11:14–28, How does Jesus drive out devils?

References:
BCWBDECNLSGJNLVHWPText


Cantata:
  • Widerstehe doch der Sünde, BWV 54, 4 March 1714 (or for Trinity VII)

    Aria for Alto: Widerstehe doch der Sünde
    Recitative for Alto: Die Art verruchter Sünden
    Aria for Alto: Wer Sünde tut, der ist vom Teufel


    Short cantata in only three movements for alto. The text concerns the importance of avoiding sin and the temptations of Satan. The opening aria starts with a long obstinate and dissonant bass as an illustration of "resisting sin." The alto voice, on the other hand, is rich and gorgeous, as if Bach at the same time wants us to feel the temptation of sin. He works with dominant sevenths over the rhythmic tonic pedal. This wonderful aria takes up two-thirds of the whole cantata. After a lengthy recitative follows another chromatic alto aria, this time in four part fugal style. 

    (1) New Year's Day (2) New Year I (3) Epiphany (4) Epiphany I (5) Epiphany II (6) Epiphany III (7) Epiphany IV (8) Feast of Purification of Mary (9) Septuagesima (10) Sexagesima (11) Quinquagesima (Estomihi) (12) The Consecration of a New Organ (13) The Inauguration of the Town Council (14) Oculi (15) Wedding Cantatas (16) Feast of Annunciation (17) Palm Sunday (18) Easter Sunday (19) Easter Monday (20) Easter Tuesday (21) Easter I (Quasimodogeniti) (22) Easter II (23) Easter III (24) Easter IV (25) Easter V (26) Ascension Day (27) Ascension I (28) Pentecost Sunday (29) Pentecost Monday (30) Pentecost Tuesday (31) Trinity Sunday (32) Trinity I (33) Trinity II (34) Trinity III (35) St. John's Day (36) Trinity IV (37) Visitation (38) Trinity V (39) Trinity VI (40) Trinity VII (41) Trinity VIII (42) Trinity IX (43) Trinity X (44) Trinity XI (45) Trinity XII (46) Trinity XIII (47) Trinity XIV (48) Trinity XV (49) Trinity XVI (50) Trinity XVII (51) Trinity XVIII (52) Trinity XIX (53) Trinity XX (54) Trinity XXI (55) Trinity XXII (56) Trinity XXIII (57) Trinity XXIV (58) Trinity XXV-XXVII (59) Advent I-IV (60) Christmas Day (61) Second Day of Christmas (62) Third Day of Christmas (63) Sunday after Christmas

    March 4, 2012

    Bach Cantatas (13): The inauguration of the town council (Mar 4)

    This, too, is a Sunday without a cantata, so we look again at the cantatas that were not linked to the Church Year. Today's topic is the inauguration of the town council. It may seem strange to find religious cantatas about a matter which for us is solidly secular, but in Bach's time - before the Enlightenment - there was no division between the religious and the secular and the authorities governing on earth were considered as the representatives of God (Rom. 13).

    We have six cantatas about this topic, Gott ist mein König, BWV 71 for the  inauguration of Mühlhausen town council in 1708;  Preise, Jerusalem, den Herrn, BWV 119 for the inauguration of the Leipzig town council in 1723; and 4 more Leipzig cantatas, BWV 193, 120, 29 and 69.

    References:
    BCWBDECNLSGJNLVHWPText

    • Gott ist mein König, BWV 71, 4 February 1708 (inauguration of Mühlhausen town council)

      Chor: Gott ist mein König von altersher
      Aria Tenor und Choral Soprano: Ich bin nun achtzig Jahr
      Chor: Dein Alter sei wie deine Jugend
      Arioso Bass: Tag und Nacht ist dein
      Arie Alto: Durch mächtige Kraft
      Chor: Du wollest dem Feinde

      This is one of Bach earliest cantatas and thanks to the occasion, the first and only piece of Bach's music to be published during his lifetime. The new town council must have liked this festive work. The work starts with a rousing opening chorus, accompanied by trumpets ("God is my King from long ago"). In the aria for tenor and soprano we meet the mayor of  Mühlhausen, Mr Strecker, who is already 83 but still is getting a new term! Apparently, he had a lot of experience. "May your old age be like your youth," sings the chorus next in a fugue which starts a capella. The attractive bass aria shows the proper attitude towards God's governance: "You set borders to every land." The alto aria takes this up with "Through powerful strength you maintain our borders." It is a lively piece with interjections from trumpets and drums. The cantata closes with two choral movements, the first one simple, the second one including a vocal fugue. The chorus asks a blessing for the new town council. (***)

    • Preise, Jerusalem, den Herrn, BWV 119, 30 August 1723 (inauguration of Leipzig town council)

      Chorus: Preise, Jerusalem, den Herrn
      Rezitativ Tenor: Gesegnet Land
      Arie Tenor: Wohl dir, du Volk der Linden
      Rezitativ Bass: So herrlich stehst du, liebe Stadt!
      Arie Alto: Die Obrigkeit ist Gottes Gabe
      Rezitativ Soprano: Nun! Wir ekennen es und bringen dir
      Chorus: Der Herr hat Guts an uns getan
      Rezitativ Alto: Zuletzt! Da du uns, Herr, zu deinem Volk gesetzt
      Choral: Hilf deinem Volk, Herr Jesu Christ

      This cantata was written for the inauguration of the town council of Leipzig in the first year that Bach was working there. He clearly wanted to impress and provides spectacular music for the festivities. The magnificent opening chorus is based on a French overture, and is accompanied by the full orchestra of four trumpets, tympani, three oboes, two recorders, and strings. The first aria with two English horns and tenor praises Leipzig as a great town, the chosen place of God ("blessed land, fortunate city"). Indeed, Leipzig was then a flourishing city of 27,000 inhabitants. The gentle tenor aria with accompaniment by a pair of oboes da caccia mentions the linden trees that line the streets of Leipzig. To shake up the congregation, the next bass recitative is grandly accompanied by all the wind and brass instruments. Then follows another gentle piece, now for alto with two recorders, music of great refinement, but with an ideological text ("Authority is God's gift"). After a soprano recitative follows again a monumental chorus. But this is not the end: the cantata's finale is a simple and humble choral setting. (***)
    • Ihr Pforten zu Zion, BWV 193, 25 August 1727

      Chor: Ihr Pforten zu Zion
      Rezitativ Soprano: Der Hüter Israels entschläft noch schlummert nicht
      Arie Sorpano: Gott, wir danken deiner Güte
      Rezitativ Alto: O Leipziger Jerusalem< Arie Alto: Sende, Herr, den Segen ein Chor: Ihr Pforten zu Zion


      Much of the music of this cantata for the inauguration of Leipzig's town council in 1727 was lost, so what we hear today is a reconstruction. The opening chorus is very festive and has a motive that will stick in your mind for a long time. The soprano aria is accompanied by a beautiful oboe and also the alto aria is a fine piece. The melody of the opening chorus is repeated at the end of the cantata. (**)

    • Gott, man lobet dich in der Stille, BWV 120, 29 August 1729

      Alto solo: Gott, man lobet dich in der Stille
      Coro: Jauchzet, ihr erfreuten Stimmen
      Recitativo (bass): Auf, du geliebte Lindenstadt
      Aria (soprano): Heil und Segen
      Recitativo (tenor): Nun, Herr, so weihe selbst das Regiment
      Chorale: Nun hilf uns, Herr, den Dienern dein

      This inaugurational cantata starts surprisingly with an elegant aria for alto, which probably had its origins in a lost violin concerto. But it is a gorgeous setting of the Psalm's words "God, You are praised in the stillness of Zion, and vows to You shall be fulfilled." The chorus stands in second position and must sound familiar to Bach lovers, as it was later also used in the more famous B Minor Mass. It is a brilliant setting with trumpets and drums. The soprano aria has an interesting violin accompaniment, perhaps something from a lost sonata. The cantata ends with a four-voice setting of a verse of the German Te Deum.

    • Wir danken dir, Gott, wir danken dir, BWV 29, 27 August 1731

      Sinfonia
      Coro: Wir danken dir, Gott, wir danken dir
      Aria (tenor, violin): Halleluja, Stärk und Macht
      Recitativo (bass): Gottlob! es geht uns wohl!
      Aria (soprano, oboe, strings):Gedenk an uns mit deiner Liebe
      Recitativo (alto, choir): Vergiß es ferner nicht, mit deiner Hand
      Aria (alto): Halleluja, Stärk und Macht
      Chorale: Sei Lob und Preis mit Ehren


      Central in this festive cantata is gratefulness for blessings received in the past. The elaborate sinfonia for organ and strings at the beginning is based on the E Major partita for solo violin (BWV 1006). It has been arranged like an organ concerto. This is followed by a sublime chorus which was later included as the Gratias in the b-minor Mass. After that, we have three pleasant arias: for tenor with obbligato violin, in which Leipzig is compared to Sion (Jeruzalem); then a quiet sicilliano for soprano (" Bless those who rule us, who lead, protect and guide us "); and finally for alto accompanied by the organ, praising the power and might of the Most High. The final chorale is again accompanied by trumpets and drums. (***)
    • Lobe den Herrn, meine Seele, BWV 69, 1742–48 (adapted from BWV 69a)

      Chorus: Lobe den Herrn, meine Seele
      Recitativo (soprano): Wie groß ist Gottes Güte doch
      Aria (tenor): Meine Seele, auf, erzähle,
      Recitativo (alto): Der Herr hat große Ding an uns getan
      Aria (bass): Mein Erlöser und Erhalter
      Chorale: Es danke, Gott, und lobe dich


      Bach wrote this cantata in his last years. He did little new work for it, but "recycled" BWV 69a which was written for the twelfth Sunday after Trinity of 1723. The recitatives and the chorale were changed for the occasion, as were other details but it is basically the same cantata. The grand opening chorus (preceeded by orchestral ritornello) is followed by two arias, one for tenor, the other for bass. Bach reflected the duality of the words of the psalm in the opening chorus ("Praise the Lord, my soul, and do not forget the good He has done for you!") by creating a double fugue. The first aria is a pastoral movement, the tenor is accompanied by oboe da caccia, recorder and bassoon. In the second aria the contrast between suffering and joy is expressed by chromatic "up and down" figures and vivid coloraturas. The closing chorale is accompanied by festive trumpets and drums. (***)

    (1) New Year's Day (2) New Year I (3) Epiphany (4) Epiphany I (5) Epiphany II (6) Epiphany III (7) Epiphany IV (8) Feast of Purification of Mary (9) Septuagesima (10) Sexagesima (11) Quinquagesima (Estomihi) (12) The Consecration of a New Organ (13) The Inauguration of the Town Council (14) Oculi (15) Wedding Cantatas (16) Feast of Annunciation (17) Palm Sunday (18) Easter Sunday (19) Easter Monday (20) Easter Tuesday (21) Easter I (Quasimodogeniti) (22) Easter II (23) Easter III (24) Easter IV (25) Easter V (26) Ascension Day (27) Ascension I (28) Pentecost Sunday (29) Pentecost Monday (30) Pentecost Tuesday (31) Trinity Sunday (32) Trinity I (33) Trinity II (34) Trinity III (35) St. John's Day (36) Trinity IV (37) Visitation (38) Trinity V (39) Trinity VI (40) Trinity VII (41) Trinity VIII (42) Trinity IX (43) Trinity X (44) Trinity XI (45) Trinity XII (46) Trinity XIII (47) Trinity XIV (48) Trinity XV (49) Trinity XVI (50) Trinity XVII (51) Trinity XVIII (52) Trinity XIX (53) Trinity XX (54) Trinity XXI (55) Trinity XXII (56) Trinity XXIII (57) Trinity XXIV (58) Trinity XXV-XXVII (59) Advent I-IV (60) Christmas Day (61) Second Day of Christmas (62) Third Day of Christmas (63) Sunday after Christmas