No Song is Safe From Us

No Song Is Safe From Us - The NYFOS Blog
 |  Paul Appleby

Since I am feeling celebratory after our fantastic NYFOS 30 th Anniversary concert
last night, I picked a joyous bass aria from Bach’s Christmas Oratorio.
Bach has become my favorite composer over the years. He’s just the best not only
because of his incomparable technical chops, his innovativeness and originality, the
deep feeling that is expressed in his music, his text setting and painting, his brilliant
orchestrations, etc. are all among the best any composer ever has to offer. But all of
his discrete skills are always tied together and elevated beyond the sum of their
parts by the joy of making music that is ever-present in his music.




 |  Michael Barrett

Jesu, meine Freude. Jesus, my Joy. Johann Sebastian Bach. It’s fair to say that classical musicians agree that Bach at the very top of creative geniuses. His music seems in a class by itself. And he wrote lots and lots of music. It seemed to just pour out of him. I’m amazed at how personal his music sounds to me. It’s full of emotional feeling, belief, hope, and tragedy. On a snowy day like this, when I hope to stay in, listening to Bach is like having a private religious ceremony. This is a church I actually want to attend.




 |  Michael Barrett

To end the week on an upbeat, let’s have a group sing. Here is the opening chorus from Bach’s Cantata No. 11. It is from the marvelous complete cantata recordings by Gustave Leonhardt and Nicholas Harnoncourt. I had the good fortune of participating in masterclasses with both of them on various occasions. I wasn’t exactly a baroque-nik, but their music making was so fresh and vital, I felt I needed to learn from them.




 |  Michael Barrett

Continuing our quick survey of J.S. Bach, here is another cantata aria. It is really chamber music. The countertenor’s expressive part is underpinned by an incredible duet between the organ and oboe, creating a kind of trio sonata. The mastery of counterpoint is intimidating (at least for us performers), but the outcome is so joyful, it’s irresistible. The text? Well, it is about death, but the joy comes not from some promised afterlife, where, finally, everything will be tolerable. It is about living one’s life fully, so that when you reach the endgame you are ready, fulfilled, and feel that you have made some contribution that has been ultimately satisfying.




 |  Michael Barrett

Today let’s revisit Bach’s Cantata No.199. It’s a favorite of sopranos, for the obvious reason of the absolute beauty and gentleness of the central aria “Tief gebuckt und voller Reue”. In the best Lutheran tradition, the text addresses God, admitting guilt and weakness, but implores God to be patient. This beautiful performance is sung by Magdalena Kozena and conducted by John Eliot Gardiner.




 |  Michael Barrett

I’m surveying some of my favorite Bach this week. I won’t be able to make a dent in the 250 surviving Cantatas, Oratorios, Masses, or Passions, alas. It’s true that most of Bach’s vocal output is liturgical. There are exceptions: The Coffee Cantata, the Hunt Cantata, and this beauty found in Anna Magdalena Bach’s Notebook. Did she write it herself? One of her talented sons? Or was it a valentine from her husband that she wrote down in her musical journal?




 |  Michael Barrett

I’ve just completed a successful time at the 25th annual Moab Music Festival. It’s a big achievement which I am proud of. NYFOS is celebrating our 30th year starting next month, so this seems to be a big anniversary year for me. Moab and NYFOS have converged on many occasions, but never around the music of Bach. There are so many specialty groups now that specialize in early music, which includes Bach. At NYFOS I guess we feel that Bach is covered.




 |  Michael Barrett

I’ve been drawn closer and closer to Bach lately. Maybe he’s the only antidote I have to our perilous and uncertain times. Yesterday was “Bist Du bei Mir”. And the day before “Schlummert Ein”. To follow, I was drawn to the Goldberg Variations, since it starts with an Aria. I thought that would be the basis of the Song of the Day. No performance on Youtube was particularly convincing. I thought, “oh what the hell, let’s see how old Glenn Gould stacks up”.




 |  Michael Barrett

Today’s Song of the Day features one of my all-time favorites, again by J.S.Bach. I’ve been re-reading John Eliot Gardiner’s Bach: Music in the Castle of Heaven with much pleasure. Do yourself a favor and read it. This is from Anna Magdalena’s Notebook—things she wrote down for herself and her many kids. It voices the beautiful wish that at death, one’s beloved is with them, and that they can gently go into that good night of the other world.




 |  Michael Barrett

J.S. Bach is still the guiding light for most of us who have studied and practice classical music. He created a kind of purity that I think married humanity with the loftiest concept of God. I personally find Bach is enough, without religion. And when Lorraine Hunt Lieberson is singing, I feel like I’m safe and loved and touched by grace. Please listen to “Schlummert Ein” from Cantata No. 82 Ich Habe Genug.