Bach, Brahms & Bartok

February 9, 1969, 07:30 PM
Roger Wagner, Conductor
Dorothy Chandler Pavilion
TITLE COMPOSER/ ARRANGER GUEST ARTISTS
Motet No. 3 Jesu, Meine Johann Sebastian Bach
Cantata No. 227 Freude Johann Sebastian Bach
Neue Liebeslieder Waltzes Op. 65 Johannes Brahms
In the Village Bela Bartók
Boatman, Boatman Bela Bartók
See the Roses Bela Bartók
Four Slovak Folk Songs, Sz 70 Bela Bartók
Four Hungarian Folk Songs Bela Bartók

Bach, Brahms & Bartok Program Notes

By KEITH CLARK
 
Keith Clark, Assistant Conductor of the Master Chorale, is a composer and a candidate for the PhD. degree in music theory at UCLA.
 
Motet No. Ill, "Jesu, meine Freude," s. 227
Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750)
 
I. Jesus, my great pleasure,
My heart's greatest treasure,
Thou my crown, My lord!
II. There is now no condemnation
for all those in Jesus Christ.
Ill. Jesus, thou my refuge,
Brace me when griefs deluge.
Drive all foes away
IV. For now the law of the spirit hath
given life in Jesus Christ.
V. Flee, thou roaring lion,
Foul foe of Zion,
Fie, all fears and cease!
VI. Ye are not of flesh, but of spirit.
VII. Away all earthly treasure.
Thou art my greatest pleasure,
Jesus, thou my joy.
VIII. If now Christ be in you, then is the
body dead for sin.
IX. Fare ye well all passions,
For the vain world's fash ions
Please me no more.
X. If God's spirit dwell in you, then will
he give you life.
XI. Hence, all thoughts of sadness!
Come, Thou lord of gladness,
Jesus, come within.
 
The motet, its primeval form developed in France during the 13th century, derives its name from the French word mot (word), and is thus "music with words." A more precise definition is elusive, for the form underwent many mutations during its 500 year existence. Generally, however, the motet is an unaccompanied choral composition with sacred text. (Exceptions abound: 17th century accompanied motets, 15th century ceremonial motets with secular texts, and so on.) During the German Baroque, this old form was further developed, and, with the more contemporary "cantata" and "geistliche Konzert," was a favorite of church musicians. Heinrich Schűtz, patriarch of this era, included many motets in his three Symphoniae sacrae, and J. S. Bach, spiritual son, brought both the age and the form to a great and final culmination.
 
Jesu, meine Freude, the third of Bach's six motets, was composed during his tenure as Cantor of St. Thomas Church, St. Nicolai Church, and three smaller congregations in the university town of Leipzig. In eleven movements, it is his longest motet, and the only one which employs a chorale cantus firmus throughout. Also unique is its scoring with sections for 3, 4, and 5 voice parts, a rare instance of Bach's use of 5 part chorus for music with non-Latin text. Framed at beginning and end by settings of the chorale, "Jesus, my joy" (melody by Johann Crűger, text by Johann Frank), the motet alternates chorale verses with settings of Biblical passages (Book of Romans). A massive fugue, its subject derived from the chorale melody, stands in the exact center, its text proclaiming the spiritual theme of the motet, "Ye are not of flesh, but of spirit."
 
Crűger's chorale had earlier provided thematic material for a similar composition by Buxtehude, Bach's early mentor and object of the famous winter's journey, but it was in Bach that profound theological and musical thought became one. Born in the shadow of Luther's Wartburg near the dark Thuringian Forests, Bach was filled with the rugged spirit of Protestant individualism, and his music with the rough-hewn bulk of German chorales. But his art stretches beyond bounds of denomination or region. Jesu, meine Freude is a grand arch, buttressed by the solidity of Cruger's chorale, the fugue's stirring spiritual message at the keystone, through which strides the finest that is man's.
 
Three Hungarian Folk Songs
Four Slovak Folk Songs
Four Hungarian Folk Songs
Béla Bartók (1881-1945)
 
As the music of Bach was imbued with the spirit of the Protestant chorale, so was that of Bartók rooted in Hungarian folksong. Early in the 20th century, Bartók, his wife Marta, compatriot composer Zoltán Kodály, and Kodály's future bride, Emma Gruber, trekked the remote areas of Hungary, recording on wax cylinders thousands of peasant tunes. Numerous expeditions were undertaken, as the composers attempted to classify scientifically the ethnic music of Romanians and Slovakians, Walachians and Turks. More than preserving the fast-disappearing Magyar folksong, Bartók was establishing a personal aesthetic, based on musical elements as well as national ties, which would guide his creative life.
 
Three Hungarian Folk Songs reflect Bartók‘s early style of simple settings, the piano doubling the soprano melody and providing harmonic support. Brief and to the point, these melancholy little love lyrics are scented with the freshness of new-cut clover. The vitality of Bartok's personality is stamped on the Four Slovak Folk Songs. Composed in 1917, these songs contain more contrapuntal and harmonic involvement than the earlier works, the tri-tone flavor of the predominant modality providing great harmonic color. The first is a dialogue between the wicked mother and the young daughter she has given to a bad husband. The girl returns as a blackbird, but because of her strange and sad song is again sent off. Following is a harvesting song, set in a subtle irregular meter, and then two lively dancing tunes. The Four Hungarian Folksongs, based on melodies collected in Bartók's earliest expedition, were composed in 1930. Studies for his Cantata Profana, these are not simple settings of folksongs, but involved compositions, inspired by peasant life as well as music. Rich in polyphonic dexterity and rhythmic vitality, these works reflect Bartok at his finest.
 
Neue Liebeslieder, Op. 65
Johannes Brahms (1833-1897)
 
I. Renounce, 0 heart, all rescue…
II. Perilous darkness of night…
III. On either hand with pledges I had bedecked my fingers…
IV. Those dark'ning glances, they need but beckon…
V. Neighbor, neighbor, guard your son…
VI. Mother decked my breast with roses…
VII. From the mountain, wave on wave comes the river singing…
VIII. Sheltered softly midst the grass…
IX. Heartsore and restless…
X. I sweetly kiss with her and her…
XI. Willy, nilly in the wind…
XII. Darkest wood, your shadows are so gloomy…
XIII. No, beloved, sit not near…
XIV. Fervent glances, raven hair…
XV. Conclusion: Now, ye Muses, enough…
 
Liebeslieder Walzer, Op. 52
Johannes Brahms
 
I. Answer, maiden, all too lovely…
II. Deep in thunder roars the tide…
III. Oh, these women. How they lead meto heaven! …
IV. Like the evening sunset's rapture might my weary spirit glow…
V. The tender hopvine wanders with winding stem
VI. There was a tiny, pretty bird who saw the garden fruit…
VII. How dear, alas, was life together with my beloved…
VIII. When your eyes so fondly seek, and so dearly hold me…
IX. On Danube's border, doth stand a house…
X. Oh, how calm the river flows, through the meadows winding
XI. No, I will not listen to them with their chiding
XII. Go and bring me padlocks large and small
XIII. Every bird that soars the sky, seeks a branch for nesting
XIV. See how bright the fountain gleams from the moon above her! …
XV. Nightingale, you sing so sweet…
XVI. My love is a well of sorrow…
 
With the turn of the 17th century a social practice emerged, scandalous and licentious in character, which threatened the very moral fiber of European order. The waltz, the first dance in history in which partners embraced, was condemned by Burney, music's Boswell of the time, as "... rolling in the dirt of mire," and spoken of testily as the "familiar treatment and ...obliging manner in which the freedom is returned by the females," (Reece, Cyclopedia, c. 1805). Naturally, such activity evoked enthusiastic welcome as well as violent protest, and soon the waltz was providing inspiration to both dancing feet and composing imaginations.
 
An outgrowth of the Austrian peasant Ländler or Deutsche Tanz, the waltz was most popular in Vienna. And in Vienna, Johannes Brahms - pianist and conductor of the local ladies' choir - slowly was achieving repute as a skilled composer, his works championed by Robert Schumann. The years 1866-1869 and the appearances of the German Requiem (Op. 45), Liebeslieder Walzer- the "Lovesong Waltzes" (Op. 52), and the Alto Rhapsody (Op. 53) saw Brahms finally accepted by the general public, his career firmly established by these choral works. Such was the success of the Waltzes that Brahms was prompted to compose a second set, the Neue Liebeslieder (Op. 65).
 
Daumer's Polydora, a collection of German imitations of Slovak and Magyar folk poetry, provided texts for the Lovesong Waltzes, the verses exuding a mood of joyous rapture. For fourteen of the New Love Songs of fifteen verses, Brahms again turned to the Polydora; Goethe's poem Nun ihr Musen provided a graceful conclusion. For both works, Brahms created settings of great charm and vitality, with music of both folk-like simplicity and studied sophistication. Not music of the silent brooding Brahms in C minor, these are works spilling over with sharped enthusiasm.

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