"Art makes life, makes interest, makes importance"

May 29, 2012

Bach Cantatas (30): Pentecost Tuesday

Pentecost Tuesday is also called Whit Tuesday. As other major feasts of the Lutheran Church in Bach's time (Easter and Christmas), Pentecost was celebrated over three days. There are two cantatas for this day. The gospel reading for this day proclaims Jesus as the good shepherd and the rightful owner of his flock.

Readings:
Acts 8:14–17, "The Holy Spirit in Samaria"
John 10:1–10, "The Good Shepherd"

References:
BCWBDECNLSGJNLVHWPText

Cantatas:
  • Erwünschtes Freudenlicht, BWV 184, 30 May 1724

    Rezitativ T: Erwünschtes Freudenlicht
    Arie (Duett) S A: Gesegnete Christen, glückselige Herde
    Rezitativ T: So freuet euch, ihr auserwählten Seelen!
    Arie T: Glück und Segen sind bereit
    Choral: Herr, ich hoff je, du werdest die in keiner Not verlassen
    Chor: Guter Hirte, Trost der Deinen


    ("Desired light of joy") Based on a secular cantata for Prince Leopold of Anhalt-Cöthen’s birthday in 1721. Courtly in tone, the duet, aria and final chorus are in the form of minuet, polonaise and gavotte. After a long recitative follows a dancing pastoral duet between soprano and alto, with a great tune in the flutes, the musical heart of the cantata. After the pleasant tenor aria which sings of Jesus as bringer of a Golden Age, we hear a pleasant chorale. And as surprise, this is followed by a second chorus, a bucolic gavotte. The whole work is permeated by a suitable pastoral atmosphere. (***)

  • Er rufet seinen Schafen mit Namen, BWV 175, 22 May 1725

    Recitativo (tenor): Er rufet seinen Schafen mit Namen
    Aria (alto): Komm, leite mich
    Recitativo (tenor): Gott will, o ihr Menschenkinder
    Aria (tenor): Es dünket mich, ich seh dich kommen
    Recitativo (alto, bass): Sie vernahmen aber nicht
    Aria (bass): Öffnet euch, ihr beiden Ohren
    Chorale: Nun, werter Geist, ich folg dir


    ("He calls His sheep by name") The cantata is thematically divided in two parts, the first one dealing with Jesus as the Good Shepherd and the sheep who hear his voice, and the second one (starting from the bass recitative in movement five) with those who don't hear this voice. The opening recitative by tenor is interestingly accompanied by three recorders over a pedal bass, a musical structure continued in the next pastoral alto aria. The tenor aria was borrowed from a secular cantata, BWV 173a, and is usually considered a rather awkward fit for the new text. The next bass aria is accompanied by a rousing pair of trumpets and changes the character of the cantata from pastoral to martial. The cantata concludes with a great and lustrous chorale harmonization. (***)
(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

May 28, 2012

Bach Cantatas (29): Pentecost Monday (Whit Monday)

Whit Monday or Pentecost Monday is the holiday celebrated the day after Pentecost. Whit Monday gets its English name for following "Whitsun", the day that became one of the three baptismal seasons, when those baptized would wear white garments. There are three cantatas for this day. They texts are based on the phrase "God loved the world so much," and are therefore general praise for God's goodness (which allowed Bach to reuse several secular cantatas praising the ruler of the land).

Readings:
Acts 10:42–48, "Sermon of St. Peter for Cornelius"
John 3:16–21, "God loved the world so much"

References:
BCWBDECNLSGJNLVHWPText

Cantatas:
  • Erhöhtes Fleisch und Blut, BWV 173, 29 May 1724

    Recitativo (tenor): Erhöhtes Fleisch und Blut
    Aria (tenor): Ein geheiligtes Gemüte
    Aria (alto): Gott will, o ihr Menschenkinder
    Aria (soprano, bass): So hat Gott die Welt geliebt
    Aria (soprano, tenor): Unendlichster, den man doch Vater nennt
    Coro: Rühre, Höchster, unsern Geist


     ("Exalted flesh and blood") Based movement for movement on a secular cantata (a tribute to Bach's employer Prince Leopold of Anhalt-Cothen, Durchlauchtster Leopold BWV 173a) that has been lost. Follows the readings for this day: "God loved the world so much," and is a general praise for God's goodness towards men. Starts with introductory recitative for tenor, followed by an elegant aria for the same. After a rather harsh alto aria follows the most interesting part of the cantata, a duet for soprano and bass with sweet strings and ethereal flutes. Three stanzas are treated in ever richer variations and the praise of the noble employer is effortlessly changed into praise of God. The music concludes with an uplifting chorus. (***)

  • Also hat Gott die Welt geliebt, BWV 68, 21 May 1725

    Chor: Also hat Gott die Welt geliebt
    Arie S: Mein gläubiges Herze
    Rezitativ B: Ich bin mit Petro nicht vermessen
    Arie B: Du bist geboren mir zugute
    Chor: Wer an ihn gläubet, der wird nicht gerichtet


    ("Thus has God loved the world") Short cantata framed by two austere choral movements. In contrast, the two arias are in a casual style - they are borrowed from the secular Hunt Cantata BWV 208 (another "praise of the ruler" piece). The first chorus is a stately siciliano. The soprano aria has an almost jolly cello accompaniment, and forms a great contrast to the previous chorus. The bass aria with three oboes is a rocking jig. The final chorus consists of a double fugue. (***)

  • Ich liebe den Höchsten von ganzem Gemüte, BWV 174, 6 June 1729

    Sinfonia
    Arie A: Ich liebe den Höchsten von ganzem Gemüte
    Rezitativ T: O Liebe, welcher keine gleich!
    Arie B: Greifet zu, Faßt das Heil, ihr Glaubenshände!
    Choral: Herzlich lieb hab ich dich, o Herr


    ("I love the Highest with my entire being") Starts with an instrumental movement, an adaptation of the opening movement of the Third Brandenburg Concerto. For the rest, this, too, is a short cantata with only two arias and a final chorus. The long alto aria is an attractively lilting piece of music with a pastoral atmosphere, while the bass aria is accompanied by a beautiful string tune. (***)
(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

May 27, 2012

Bach Cantatas (28): Pentecost Sunday (Whit Sunday)

Pentecost Sunday is also called "Whit Sunday." Pentecost is an important feast in the Christian liturgical year commemorating the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the Apostles, after the Resurrection and Ascension of Jesus. Pentecost is sometimes described as the "Birthday of the Church."

The name "Whit Sunday" is thought to originate in the custom that those formerly baptized on this feast would wear white garments.

Pentecost is celebrated seven weeks (50 days) after Easter Sunday, hence its name. It falls on the tenth day after Ascension Thursday.

Bach wrote four cantatas for this Sunday.

Readings:
Acts 2:1–13 "The Holy Spirit"
John 14:23–31, "Farewell discourse, announcement of the Spirit who will teach"

References:
BCWBDECNLSGJNLVHWPText

Cantatas:
  • Erschallet, ihr Lieder, erklinget, ihr Saiten! BWV 172, 20 May 1714

    Coro: Erschallet, ihr Lieder, erklinget, ihr Saiten
    Recitativo (bass): Wer mich liebet, der wird mein Wort halten
    Aria (bass, trumpets & timpani): Heiligste Dreieinigkeit
    Aria (tenor, strings): O Seelenparadies
    Aria (soprano – Soul, alto – Spirit, oboe, cello): Komm, laß mich nicht länger warten
    Chorale (violin): Von Gott kömmt mir ein Freudenschein
    optional: repeat of the opening chorus


    ("Ring out, ye Songs") Grand and festive cantata suitable for this important Church feast. Based on the reading "Whoever loves Me will keep My Word, and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our dwelling with him." Opening chorus in da-capo form with grand fanfare-like scoring to underline the day's festive character. The recitative broadens into an arioso and is followed by a bass aria accompanied by three trumpets representing the "Holiest Trinity" in the text. The tenor aria is in minor mode as an expression of the desire for the text's "spiritual paradise" (which has not been attained yet). It is accompanied by a flowing ritornello theme in the violin, the "heavenly wind" of the Spirit. The ensuing duet between soprano and alto is a dialogue between the Holy Spirit and a believing Soul, and is combined with an instrumental choral cantus firmus. A remarkably multi-layered movement. A five part choral closes the cantata, after which the opening chorus can be optionally repeated. (***)

  • Wer mich liebet, der wird mein Wort halten, BWV 59, 28 May 1724

    Duetto (soprano, bass): Wer mich liebet, der wird mein Wort halten
    Recitativo (soprano): O was sind das vor Ehren
    Chorale: Komm, Heiliger Geist, Herre Gott
    Aria (bass): Die Welt mit allen Königreichen


    ("Whoever loves me, will keep My word") Very short cantata (parts of which were in fact reused for BWV 74 to better effect). The opening duet is quite charming, almost like an Italian chamber concerto. Trumpets are also present, but the fine string accompaniment dominates. The text and music both stress the "whoever loves me." The accompanied soprano recitative moves into an arioso and is followed by a straightforward chorale ("Come, Holy Spirit"). The song-like bass aria is accompanied by solo violin and expresses the anticipation of heavenly bliss. The final choral is missing, although a note by Bach in the autograph indicates that he intended to end the work with one. Usually, the third verse of "Come Holy Spirit" is played here. (**)

  • Wer mich liebet, der wird mein Wort halten, BWV 74, 20 May 1725

    Chor: Wer mich liebet, der wird mein Wort halten
    Arie S: Komm, komm, mein Herze steht dir offen
    Rezitativ A: Die Wohnung ist bereit
    Arie B: Ich gehe hin und komme wieder zu euch
    Arie T: Kommt, eilet, stimmet Sait und Lieder
    Rezitativ B: Es ist nichts Verdammliches an denen, die in Christo Jesu sind
    Arie A: Nichts kann mich erretten
    Choral: Kein Menschenkind hier auf der Erd


    ("Whoever loves me, will keep My word") This cantata has the same title as the previous one, but Bach used a different author for the text. It presents a more personal treatment of the Bible text, although Bach reuses music from BWV 59 in the first two movements. The message of Pentecost is reflected in the joyful opening chorus with colorful instrumentation. The first aria is for soprano with oboe da caccia. After an alto recitative follows the second aria, for bass as Vox Christi ("I go away and come again unto you..."). The tenor aria again proclaims the joy of the Whitsun story, in a dance-like and declamatory movement. The quickly rising and descending character of the catchy string melody illustrates the "going away and coming again." A bass recitative accompanied by oboes proclaims the central message "There is nothing damnable in those who are of Christ Jesus." The final vigorous alto aria is accompanied by concertante violin and engages in some virtuoso word painting to illustrate the empty rattling of hell's chains by Satan. A quiet but attractive choral ends the cantata. (***)

  • O ewiges Feuer, o Ursprung der Liebe, BWV 34, c 1746–1747

    Coro: "O ewiges Feuer, o Ursprung der Liebe" Recitativo: "Herr, unsre Herzen halten dir"
    Aria (Alto): "Wohl euch, ihr auserwählten Seelen"
    Recitativo: "Erwählt sich Gott die heilgen Hütten"
    Coro: "Friede über Israel"


    ("O Eternal flame, o fount of love") Derived from a now lost wedding cantata, as is still clear from the ardent text of the opening chorus - the fiery love between man is wife is transformed into the heavenly flames of the Holy Spirit. This is in fact one of Bach's great and elaborate choruses, with perfectly integrated trumpets. The "heavenly flames" of Pentecost are represented musically by crackling semiquaver figurations in the first violins. The chorus concludes with a great fugue. Also the most beautiful alto aria "Happy are ye, ye chosen souls" still retains something of the wedding cantata, for example in the reticent accompaniment by flutes and muted strings, or in the tender affection it exudes. The gentle, rocking melody now is supposed to evoke the "floating spirits." A bass recitative next leads into the final joyous choral exhortation for peace, a rousing close to a great cantata. (****)

(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

May 22, 2012

Neo-Noir Films (Movie reviews)

It was already difficult to define the noir style, so what about neo-noir?

Neo-noir - which is generally thought to start somewhere in the 1970s and continue all the way to today - of course shares the characteristics of noir crime films (the sexual motivation of the crime plus presence of a femme fatale, and the general atmosphere of doom), although the precise visual style of classical film noir is more difficult to emulate, as these newer films are in color, but the shadows are often replaced by garishness, such as neon lights and their sleazy colors.

The main difference is that where noir was a period style, in which craftsmen-like directors churned out one B-film after another (although there were of course also individualistic directors as Welles), neo noir is a conscious style selected by an authorist director. He often plays around with noir elements in a postmodern way and often pays homage to classical noir films. For example, Femme Fatale by De Palma starts with footage from Double Indemnity and then places the face of its protagonist, who is watching TV, over that of Barbara Stanwyck to identify them with each other.

Although there are also excellent neo-noirs in other genres than the crime genre - most of all science-fiction films as the very noir Blade Runner or Alien, but also historical costume dramas as From Hell - I limit my discussion to the crime film, as I did for the classical noir film.



Some of the best neo-noir crime films are:
  • Basic Instinct (1992) by Paul Verhoeven and with Sharon Stone and Michael Douglas. A police detective investigating the brutal murder of a former rock star, becomes involved in a torrid and intense relationship with the beautiful and mysterious prime suspect. Sharon Stone is the perfect femme fatale, both in the mind games and in the sexual games she plays with her interrogators. There is also a strong sense of doom, for we see Michael Douglas mentally falling apart and slowly coming closer and closer to the flame of the dangerous seductress. One of the greatest films made in the 1990s, with an unbelievable low rating on IMDB. I give it (10).
  • MulHolland Drive (2001) by David Lynch and with Naomi Watts and Laura Harring. A car wreck on the winding Mulholland Drive renders a woman amnesic. She lifts a new name from a Gilda poster where Rita Hayworth is advertised and hides in a house where she meets a perky aspiring actress who has newly arrived in Los Angeles. Their quest for answers will take them beyond reality into the tricky world of dreams. A game with alternate realities, and, like Sunset Boulevard, about broken dreams in Hollywood. Laura Harring is a classic femme fatale, but here with a twist, for her charms work on another woman. Nightmarish, threatening atmosphere. (10)
  • Femme Fatale (2002) by Brian de Palma and with Rebecca Romijn and Antonio Banderas. A woman thief takes part in a heist at the Cannes Film Festival to steal a golden snake encrusted with diamonds, an object worn by a model on her naked body. She double-crosses her partners, but is by sheer luck able to easily assume another identity and flee to the U.S. Seven years later she returns to France as the wife of the new American Ambassador, but then her past comes to haunt her. Again a film in which a dream plays an important role. De Palma is playing around with genre expectations in a most inventive way and Rebecca Romijn is the classical femme fatale who only looks after her own interests. This film is sheer fun. (9)
  • Body Heat (1981) by Lawrence Kasdan and with Kathleen Turner and William Hurt. While a blistering heat wave rages in Florida, a somewhat sleazy lawyer begins an affair with the wife of a wealthy businessman that is soon blazing away even hotter than the weather. But the husband seems to stand in the way of perfect happiness so they hatch a plot to kill him. There is a nice twist at the end, showing you should never trust a femme fatale. Inspired by Double Indemnity and The Postman Always Rings Twice. Started up the careers of both Turner and Hurt. (9)
  • The Last Seduction (1994) by John Dahl and with Linda Fiorentino, Peter Berg and Bill Pullman. A beautiful but amoral woman who is married to a doctor persuades him to sell medicinal cocaine to drugs dealers. Next she steals the money and goes undercover in a mid-American small town, where she meets a naive young guy who is blinded by her charms and brazen outspokenness. As her husband is still after her, she devises a diabolical plan to get rid of him and the boyfriend in one swoop and start enjoying her millions. Linda Fiorentino is a steely and deadly femme fatale, who turns the men around her into whimpering fools. Again a film which is sheer fun. (9)
  • Klute (1971) by Alan J. Pakula and with Jane Fonda and Donald Sutherland. A square suburban cop comes to New York to find a missing man. The only clue is the connection with a cynical call girl. When the woman is uncooperative, the detective taps her phone intending to blackmail her into helping him. Then it appears that the call girl has a stalker after her, which finally brings them closer. The detective is not the only one listening to tapes. Fonda won an Oscar for her role in this tense erotic thriller and she fully deserves it. (9)
  • Jackie Brown (1997) by Quentin Tarantino and with Pam Grier, Samuel L. Jackson and Robert Forster. Again a film about a woman with nerves of steel who takes it all. A flight attendant who gets caught smuggling money for a weapons dealer makes a deal with the cops to help them arrest the wanted man. Her bail bondsman - a burnt-out man in his fifties - helps her, but gets into more than he wanted when she hatches a plot to play off the cops against the criminals and cash the money herself. Great acting by all: Pam Grier, who was mainly famous for sleazy blaxploitation films from the 1970s, Samuel Jackson as the brutal weapons dealer, Robert De Niro as a brainless hood just out of prison, Bridget Fonda as a big-mouthed chick and Robert Forster as the kind bondsman who falls in love with Jackie Brown but in the end lets her go as she is too strong for him. (9)
  • Bound (1996) by Andy and Lana Wachowski, and with Jennifer Tilly, Gina Gershon and Joe Pantoliano. A young woman longs to escape from her mafioso boyfriend and enters into an affair with an alluring ex-con. The two women hatch a scheme to steal mafia money and put the blame on the former boyfriend. But that is easier said than done. A breezy and highly enjoyable film. (8.5)
  • Blood Simple (1984) by Joel and Ethan Coen and with John Getz, Frances McDormand and Dan Hedaya. The Coen Brothers have made many fine films that deserve the designation "neo-noir." This was their first one and it has the most authentic noir style. A bar owner thinks his wife is deceiving him with one of his bar keepers and has her watched by a sleazy detective. This sets off a complicated round of violence with many funny but fatal misunderstandings. Only the strong survive.  (8.5)
  • Memento (2000) by Christopher Nolan and with Guy Pierce, Carrie-Anne Moss and Joe Pantoliano. An ex-insurance investigator who can no longer build new memories attempts to find the murderer of his wife - the last thing he thinks he remembers. He helps his failing memory with Polaroid pictures, notes and tattoos. Ingenious storytelling with two story lines, one normally moving forward in time, the other moving backward in blocks, so that viewers are in the same position as the protagonist: they have no memories of what has happened and feel displaced. The ending is open and suggests that the memory-less avenger may be endlessly repeating himself. There is also a wry sort of humor in how he is repeatedly cheated by those around him. (8.5) 

    May 20, 2012

    Bach Cantatas (27): Sunday after Ascension

    The Sunday after Ascension is called Exaudi ("Listen"). It is the sixth Sunday after Easter. There are two Bach cantatas for this day, both with the same title but different music.

    Readings:
    1 Peter 4:8–11, "Serve each other"
    John 15:26–16:4, "Farewell discourse, announcement of the Spirit of Truth and persecution"

    References:
    BCWBDECNLSGJNLVHWPText

    Cantatas:
    • Sie werden euch in den Bann tun, BWV 44, 21 May 1724

      Aria (tenor, bass): Sie werden euch in den Bann tun
      Coro: Es kömmt aber die Zeit, daß, wer euch tötet, wird meinen, er tue Gott einen Dienst daran
      Aria (alto): Christen müssen auf der Erden Christi wahre Jünger sein
      Chorale (tenor): Ach Gott, wie manches Herzeleid
      Recitativo (bass): Es sucht der Antichrist
      Aria (soprano): Es ist und bleibt der Christen Trost
      Chorale: So sei nun, Seele, deine


      ("They will put you out of the synagogues") Textually this compact cantata is about Jesus' warning to his disciples that their task will not be easy after he has left them. The dark-colored piece starts with a duet for tenor and bass, setting the theme, followed by an agitated chorus expressing fear of persecution. The alto aria paints the path full of suffering of the Christian on earth. This is taken up in the strangely chromatic chorale for tenor. In the bass recitative Christians are compared to the branches of palm trees which grow higher and straighter when they are weighted down. The lively soprano aria with full orchestral accompaniment finally brings consolation, which is reaffirmed in the last chorale. Musically, the cantata is based on the contrast between pain and consolation. (***)

    • Sie werden euch in den Bann tun, BWV 183, 13 May 1725

      Recitativo (bass): Sie werden euch in den Bann tun
      Aria (tenor): Ich fürchte nicht des Todes Schrecken
      Recitativo (alto): Ich bin bereit, mein Blut und armes Leben
      Aria (soprano): Höchster Tröster, Heilger Geist
      Chorale: Du bist ein Geist, der lehret


      ("They will put you out of the synagogues") This cantata has an unusual instrumentation, such as three types of oboes (oboe, oboe da caccia and oboe d'amore) and a violincello piccolo; it also lacks a chorus. Although carrying the same title as the previous cantata, it is somewhat more optimistic, stressing that fear of persecution will be allayed by the Holy Spirit. After the stark opening recitative by the bass as Vox Christi singing in a sepulchral tone, follows a long and fine tenor aria in an elegiac mood ("I do not fear the horror of death"). Although the voice sings he is not afraid, the tortured melody in fact expresses fear! After an alto recitative ("I am ready"), accompanied by four oboes, the soprano aria follows with a beautiful oboe da caccia line. It is the most exuberant part of the cantata, in a "striding rhythm," although not free from shadows. The conclusion is a simple choral. In this cantata Bach shows his most experimental side. (***)

    (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

    May 18, 2012

    Bach Cantatas (26): Ascension Day

    Ascension Day celebrates Jesus' ascension to heaven (Ascensio Iesu). It is the 40th day after Easter (or 39 days after Easter Sunday) and one of most important feasts of the Christian year, dating back to the late fourth century.

    According to the Christian teaching found in the New Testament, 40 days after the resurrection Jesus was taken up to heaven in his resurrected body, in the presence of eleven of his apostles.

    There are three cantatas and an oratorio for this day.

    Readings:
    Acts 1:1–11, "Farewell and Ascension"
    Mark 16:14–20, "Ascension"

    References:
    BCWBDECNLSGJNLVHWPText

    Cantatas:
    • Wer da gläubet und getauft wird, BWV 37, 18 May 1724

      (Coro): "Wer da gläubet und getauft wird"
       Aria: "Der Glaube ist das Pfand der Liebe"
       Chorale (Duetto): "Herr Gott Vater, mein starker Held!"
       Recitativo: "Ihr Sterblichen, verlanget ihr"
       Aria: "Der Glaube schafft der Seele Flügel"
       Chorale: "Den Glauben mir verleihe"


      ("He that believeth and is baptized") Rather than a musical representation of the Ascension story, this cantata is a dogmatic treatise on the power of the Christian faith. Starts with a dancing chorus, followed by a genial tenor aria singing that belief is a sort of guarantee of Jesus' love. Next soprano and alto sing the chorale "Wie schön leuchtet der Morgenstern," reviving the dancing character of the beginning. The bass recitative and aria are more dark in tone. They remind us that even although one should do good works, justification and salvation result from faith alone. The work ends with an austere choral harmonization. (***)

    • Auf Christi Himmelfahrt allein, BWV 128, 10 May 1725

      Coro (horns, oboes, strings): Auf Christi Himmelfahrt allein
       Recitativo (tenor): Ich bin bereit, komm, hole mich
       Aria e recitativo (bass, trumpet): Auf, auf, mit hellem Schall
       Aria (alto, tenor, oboe d'amore): Sein Allmacht zu ergründen
       Chorale: Alsdenn so wirst du mich


      ("On Christ"s Ascencion Alone!") Choral cantata with full orchestra, including horns and trumpet. Textually it is based on the opening words "On Christ's ascension into heaven alone I base my own ensuing journey," outlining the theological significance of the Ascension and expressing confidence that the righteous will join Christ in Heaven. Starts with an attractive and lively choral fantasia with prominent horns. The bass aria "Up, up, with clarion ring proclaim everywhere: my Jesus sits at the right hand!" is in heroic style and accompanied by a virtuoso trumpet. It is a vision of the disciples seeing Jesus in Heaven. A duet for alto and tenor in da capo aria form has a characteristic rhetorical drop on the "Ergrunden," "Fathom." The final four-part harmonized choral again uses the horns to great effect. (***)

    • Gott fähret auf mit Jauchzen, BWV 43, 30 May 1726

      (Coro): Gott fähret auf mit Jauchzen
       Recitativo: Es will der Höchste sich ein Siegsgepräng bereiten
       Aria: Ja tausend mal tausend begleiten den Wagen
       Recitativo: Und der Herr, nachdem er mit ihnen geredet hatte
       Aria: Mein Jesus hat nunmehr
       Recitativo: Es kommt der Helden Held
       Aria: Er ists, der ganz allein
       Recitativo: Der Vater hat ihm ja
       Aria: Ich sehe schon im Geist
       Recitativo: Er will mir neben sich
       Chorale: Du Lebensfürst, Herr Jesu Christ


      ("God is gone up with a merry noise") Magnificent opening chorus with trumpet and drums, expression the joy about the Ascension, but it passes all too quickly, and the same is true of the other eleven short and condensed movements of this cantata. Among the ensuing arias the most beautiful is the one for tenor with string accompaniment, with the emphasis on "thousands upon thousands." The soprano aria has the necessary sweetness to fit its childlike text. Like in the previous cantata, the bass aria again boasts a solo trumpet. The alto aria is a melancholy meditation on the sad side of the Ascension story. The cantata closes with two choral verses instead of one. (***)

    • Lobet Gott in seinen Reichen, BWV 11, 19 May 1735 - Ascension Oratorio

       Chorus Lobet Gott in seinen Reichen
       Evangelist (tenor) Der Herr Jesus hub seine Hände auf
       Recitative (bass) Ach, Jesu, ist dein Abschied schon so nah?
       Aria (alto) Ach, bleibe doch, mein liebstes Leben
       Evangelist Und ward aufgehoben zusehends
       Chorale Nun lieget alles unter dir
       Evangelists (tenor and bass) Und da sie ihm nachsahen gen Himmel fahren
       Recitative (soprano) Ach ja! so komme bald zurück
       Evangelist Sie aber beteten ihn an
       Aria (soprano) Jesu, deine Gnadenblicke
       Chorale Wenn soll es doch geschehen


      ("Praise God in His Riches") The baffling thing about this beautiful work is that it is relatively unknown - perhaps its neglect is due to the fact that its major parts are all based on (now lost) secular cantata movements? The text of the cantata is a dramatization of the Ascension story, with the tenor as Evangelist. The cantata starts with a brilliant chorus, propelled along by the virtuoso trumpets. Simple and artless in appearance, it is very effective. After that, the atmosphere of the oratorio is mainly melancholic. The alto aria "Ich bleibe doch" is a good example, with its almost begging violins. The middle of the work is a choral setting, “Ermuntre dich, mein schwacher Geist,” with a low-pitched melody, symbolizing how those who remain behind are literally at Jesus feet. The soprano aria "Jesu deine Gnadenblicke" has a mysterious character that closely matches the text - Jesus' bodily departure from earth is suggested by the absence of a continuo part, while the hovering spirit is reflected in the accompaniment for upper strings. The final choral again is accompanied by the whole orchestra blazing away, an amazing tour de force. (***)

    (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

    May 13, 2012

    Bach cantatas (25): Fifth Sunday after Easter

    The fifth Sunday after Easter is called Rogate ("Pray"). Often prayers for a good harvest are said on this Sunday. It is the last Sunday before Ascension Day. There are two cantatas for this Sunday. The text continues Jesus' farewell to his disciples of the previous week. Crucial passages are: “Whatsoever ye shall ask the Father in my name, He will give it you,” and “The time cometh when I shall no more speak unto you in parables.”

    Readings:
    James 1:22–27, "Doers of the word, not only listeners"
    John 16:23–30, "Farewell discourse, prayers will be fulfilled"

    References:
    BCWBDECNLSGJNLVHWPText]


    Cantatas:
    • Wahrlich, wahrlich, ich sage euch, BWV 86, 14 May 1724

      Arioso (bass): Wahrlich, wahrlich, ich sage euch
      Aria (alto): Ich will doch wohl Rosen brechen
      Chorale (soprano): Und was der ewig gütig Gott
      Recitativo (tenor): Gott macht es nicht gleichwie die Welt
      Aria (tenor): Gott hilft gewiß
      Chorale: Die Hoffnung wart' der rechten Zeit


      ("Verily, verily, I say unto you") The text of this cantata considers how the promise "Whatsoever ye shall ask the Father in my name, he will give you," can be understood in the reality of life - the promise will be kept but only God knows the right time. A triple fugue introduces a melodious bass aria (Vox Christi singing the above lines from the Gospel of John). This is followed by an alto aria "I will yet indeed pluck roses, even if they prick me with thorns," in which the frenetic figurations on the violin perhaps symbolize the thorns. After a choral verse sung by tenor and bass comes a tenor aria "God will surely help." It is rather sparse musically, as is the concluding choral - more declamatory than tuneful, as if preaching. (***)

    • Bisher habt ihr nichts gebeten, BWV 87, 6 May 1725

      Arioso B: Bisher habt ihr nichts gebeten in meinem Namen
      Rezitativ A: O Wort, das Geist und Seel erschreckt!
      Arie A: Vergib, o Vater, unsre Schuld
      Rezitativ T: Wenn unsre Schuld bis an den Himmel steigt
      Arioso B: In der Welt habt ihr Angst
      Arie T: Ich will leiden, ich will schweigen
      Choral: Muß ich sein betrübet


      ("Hitherto have you asked nothing in My Name") This cantata concentrates on darker aspects, namely the guilt and fear of mankind. The opening is an imitative arioso for bass, strings and oboe, as if to emphasize the duality of God and Son. The text " Hitherto have you asked nothing in My Name" sets off a warning to pray for forgiveness in the recitative and aria by alto. The strangely chromatic alto aria is accompanied by two oboes da caccia; the word "Vergib," "Forgive," is repeated countless times. Relief comes in the tenor recitative and basso arioso (again Vox Christi), and most of all in the beautiful siciliano aria for the tenor, which is the musical high-point of the cantata. The concluding choral is a harmonization of "Jesu meine Freude." (***)

    (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

    May 8, 2012

    Classical Film Noir (1941-1958)

    Film Noir is a style of Hollywood crime dramas that were made in the 1940s and 1950s, and that share a number of important characteristics:
    • Inevitable doom and a nightmare-like atmosphere - crime films where the main character is usually a small man who commits murder and then is sucked up by the maelstrom he has set off
    • Sexual motivation & femme fatale - the films often center on a vamp-like woman who catches the male protagonist in her spider web
    • Expressionist cinematography - black-and-white visual style with low-key lighting, chiaroscuro, and unbalanced compositions originating in German Expressionism of the 1920s, that greatly influenced Hollywood as many of the key directors such as Fritz Lang moved to the U.S.
    Here is the quintessential Noir dialogue: "Yes, I killed him. I killed him for money and for a woman. I didn't get the money and I didn't get the woman. Pretty, isn't it?" (from Double Indemnity)

    Stories were often taken from hard boiled crime fiction that came up during the Great Depression (Dashiell Hammett, James Cain, Raymond Chandler). There is a lot of cynicism - a pessimistic world view was characteristic for the postwar years when people felt disillusioned (although the Hays Code demanded that the crime be punished). On top of that, the witch hunts of McCartyism in the U.S. brought about a tense atmosphere and we had the new threat of the Bomb...

    [Lauren Bacall]

    The Noir canon was defined in retrospect - in their own time the films were called melodramas - and the term "Film Noir," "Black Film," was coined in 1946 by a French critic, who was thinking of American hard-boiled novels which had been published in France in a series of books with black covers ("Series Noire"). The first study of Film Noir was also written in France in 1955. Film Noir was in that study defined as "oneiric" (having dream-like states), "strange," "erotic," "ambivalent" and "cruel."

    [Rita Hayworth]

    Many Noirs were often helmed by unknown B-masters, but we have also excellent ones by famous directors, such as John Huston, Alfred Hitchcock, Otto Preminger, Billy Wilder, Orson Welles, Fritz Lang, and so on. Actresses known for their roles as femmes fatales were Barbara Stanwyck, Lana Turner, Rita Hayworth, Gene Tierney and Lauren Bacall. Humphrey Bogart was of course the archetypal Noir sleuth.

    [Lana Turner]

    Noirs were also made outside the United States, for example in the U.K. (The Third Man), France and Japan. In the 1960s and 70s ( and in fact, until today) there was a second wave of films in this style in Hollywood which has been called Neo-Noir. In the same period the style of "Noir SF" films came up.

    Whether to include particular films in the canon depends on the exact definition (about which opinions are divided), but generally speaking about 300 Noirs were made between 1941 and 1958, the so-called "Classical Period."

    Here are the best films from Hollywood in the Noir style that fit my definition (inevitable doom, femme fatale / sexual motivation, Expressionist style):
    • Double Indemnity (1944) by Billy Wilder and with Barbara Stanwyck, Fred MacMurray and Edward G. Robinson. Gothic tale of greed, sex and betrayal. An insurance rep lets himself be talked into a murder/insurance fraud scheme by the seductive wife of one of his clients. The investigator for the insurance company has his doubts. Not only a great Noir, but a flawless film in every respect. Great chemistry between "femme fatale" Stanwyck and MacMurray. (10)
    • Gilda (1946) by King Vidor and with Rita Hayworth and John Ford. A twisted Noir film with the most famous femme fatale of all time. Hayworth wears a Jean Louis strapless black satin dress for a song and dance number, one of the most famous dresses in all film. A gambler is employed by a sinister Buenos Aires' casino boss with a dagger in his walking stick. The German also appears the be the head of a Nazi cartel. Trouble starts when the boss brings home a sensuous new wife who his right-hand man already knows and learned to hate. The wife runs wild with other men as her husband seems incompetent, but she also challenges her old buddy who has to watch her. Hate and love splash off the screen in equal measure. (10)
    • Touch of Evil (1958) by Orson Welles and with Orson Welles himself, Charlton Heston, Janet Leigh and Marlene Dietrich. Dark, atmospheric story of murder and corruption in a Mexican border town. A study in moral dissipation - on the American side, with a corrupt police officer who plants evidence to solve his cases - his Mexican counterpart is a hapless do-gooder. The last classical film noir. Starts with great 3-minute tracking shot of a car with a time bomb hidden in its trunk cruising down a busy street, crossing the U.S.-Mexican border at a control post and finally blowing up. Full of visual and dramatic flamboyance, and too big for the Hollywood studio system. (10)
    • The Big Sleep (1946) by Howard Hawks and with Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall. After the novel by Raymond Chandler. A cynical private sleuth is asked to delve into the blackmailing of the daughter of a wealthy family. His quest takes him through Los Angeles' dark streets and lonely houses, and through its underworld, but also across the path of a vamp who finally concedes there is nothing wrong with that her that he can't fix. (9)
    • Criss Cross (1949) by Robert Siodmak and with Burt Lancaster, Yvonne De Carlo and Dan Duryea. A man returns to Los Angeles to find his ex-wife with whom he is still in love, but she marries a mobster. The man and the mobster set up an armored-truck robbery, but end up criss crossing each other with fatal consequences. Great noir with vampish woman and an atmosphere of doom that is thrilling from the start. The sexual tension jumps off the screen. (9)
    • Sunset Boulevard (1950) by Billy Wilder and with Gloria Swanson, William Holden and Erich von Stroheim. Unsuccessful screen writer is drawn into the dangerous fantasy world of a faded silent movie star when he becomes her kept man. Cynical and hard Noir, literally told from beyond the grave. (8)
    • The Lady from Shanghai (1948) by Orson Welles and with Rita Hayworth and Orson Welles.  A seaman is hired by a beautiful woman for a yachting cruise with her crippled husband and his business partner. The poor guy has only eyes for the curvaceous vamp and doesn't notice that he is taken for a ride in a triple-cross murder plot. After the cruise with sunny beach scenes and bathing suits, we get some real noir when the story moves to San Francisco, with a great finale in a hall of mirrors. (8)
    • I Wake Up Screaming (1941) by Bruce Humberstone and with Betty Grable, Victor Mature, Laird Cregar and Carole Landis. Why is a police inspector trying to frame a sports promoter for the murder of a beautiful model he discovered? True Noir, that deserves to be better known, with great expressionist "shadowy" cinematography, sexual  motivation and perversity (the sister of the murdered woman immediately becoming close with the suspected murderer, the sicko detective). (8)
    • Scarlet Street (1945) by Fritz Lang and with Edward G. Robinson and Joan Bennett. Middle-aged man with harpish wife falls in love with young woman and is cheated by her and her boyfriend. They make him steal money from his company and sell his paintings for their own profit. Although the boyfriend pays with his life for the murder of the young woman, the main character loses everything and ends up a tramp. Remake of La Chienne by Renoir. The quality of the print is terrible, but the film is free from copyright.  (8)
    • D.O.A. (1950) by Rudolph Mate and with Edmund O'Brien and Pamela Britton. A doomed man frantically tries to find out who has poisoned him and why. The style of filming is just as frantic as the dying man's quest. Doom is certain: he will be D.O.A. or "Dead On Arrival" at the police station. A low-budget noir that packs lots of punch. Also freely available. (8)
    • Detour (1945) by Edgar Ulmer and with Tom Neal and Ann Savage. A NY nightclub pianist who hitchhikes to Los Angeles to join his girlfriend, gets involved in trouble and is blackmailed by a rather wild vamp. The small man can't evade his doom. Made with the smallest budget possible and shot in only six days, this is a spare Noir that has over the years become a veritable cult film. Watch it here.(7)
    Here are some films which are usually considered as important parts of the Noir canon, but which in my view lack crucial Noir elements (which does prevent them from being fine films in their own right, of course):
    • Ace in the Hole (1951) by Billy Wilder and with Kirk Douglas and Jan Sterling. Biting satire of the sensation press. Down-on-his-luck journalist stops at nothing to fabricate news even when he has to make victims, just to get back his job at a major newspaper. Interesting film, but without any real noir elements. (9)
    • Sweet Smell of Success (1957) by Alexander Mackendrick and with Burt Lancaster, Tony Curtis and Susan Harrison. Small-time, unscrupulous  press-agent working for unethical Broadway columnist is forced to break up the romance of the columnist's sister by foul means. Interesting dialogues and great acting in another satire of the press (and power people have over each other), but I can't see any real Noir elements except in the depiction of nightly Manhattan. (8.5)
    • Laura (1944) by Otto Preminger, and with Gene Tierney, Dana Andrews and Clifton Webb. A police inspector falls in love with the woman whose death he is investigating, even spending the night in her apartment, going through her intimate stuff. Except for this one, perverse element, the film is more a normal whodunit than a Film Noir - the female protagonist is a business woman rather than femme fatale, there is no mood of doom, and little noirish photography. (8.5)
    • The Maltese Falcon (1941) by John Huston and with Humphrey Bogart and Mary Astor. A cynical private detective gets involved with a beautiful liar, three ruthless criminals, and their quest for the statue of the Maltese Falcon. After the novel by Dashiell Hammett. Often called the first film noir, although I find all my key elements missing - no doom, no sexual motivation, no Noir photography - but it is a fun sleuthing film in its own right, as cartoonish as the novel. (8)
    • Out of the Past (1947) by Jacques Tourneur and with Robert Mitchum, Kirk Douglas and Jane Greer. Small-town gas pumper knows his doom is impending when his mysterious past - including a femme fatale - catches up with him. After a good start with a taut Noir flashback sequence the film gets lost in plot complexities and tedious  melodrama. (7)
    • Asphalt Jungle (1950) by John Huston and with Sterling Hayden, Louis Calhern and Jean Hagen (and a small role for starter Marilyn Monroe). A heist film, about a well-planned jewel robbery that does not go off as planned after which the criminals start double-crossing each other. The fact that they are all killed off in the end looks more like a strict application of the Hays Code than any Noir-like doom. In fact, I can find no real Noir elements in this flick. (6)