Easter Music from Bach’s B minor Mass

I’ve been beating the Baroque bushes on behalf of my readers, trying to find not just any recording of Bach’s B minor Mass, but the best recording on YouTube. Of course, the Mass in B minor is such a beautiful work that it’s hard to make it sound bad. Still, I think this 1969 recording with Karl Richter conducting sounds exceptionally good. It’s a warm analogue recording, and when the trumpets come in you can really hear the wonderful ambience of the church where it was recorded.

For Easter, we hear Et incarnatus, Crucifixus, and Et resurrexit:

These selections seem to be from a September 1969 recording released on DVD in 2006, and not easy to find. So in this case, YouTube saves us.

Is that tenor really named Hedda Hopper? No, actually it’s Hertha Töpper. Were the musicians really munchkins? Not exactly. Karl Richter conducts the Munich Bach Orchestra, and Munich Bach Choir. The great-sounding hall is the Marienmünster church in Dießen am Ammersee. We see some of its interior in the Bach videos, but this overflight video shows the exterior:

Almost looks like you could film The Prisoner there. “Where am I?” “In the village…” Actually, The Prisoner was filmed at a village in Wales with a similar name: Portmeirion:

Beautiful music! But they don’t say what it is.

If you’ve longed to listen to Bach’s B minor Mass in it’s entirety, but never found time in the pre-quarantine era, now’s your chance. The complete performance is on YouTube here:

Since this is one of the outstanding works of the Baroque period, people often debate how it should be performed. If you’re Karl Richter, and have the right musicians and hall, you can realise it in a slow, grand style. But if you’re John Eliot Gardiner, and need to get back to the farm before the oinkers miss their swill, you can take it at a faster tempo, be home 15 to 20 minutes earlier, and still count it as a fantastic night out.

Death and Rebirth

The Holy Week culminating in Easter is a time when people are naturally concerned with crucifixion and resurrection, or more broadly, death and rebirth. The present world pandemic heightens these concerns.

Science is very good, but the achievements of science have the unfortunate side effect of persuading people that they are merely collections of chemicals, and have no soul. Without an understanding of the soul, and of the cycle of birth and death, people are ill-equipped to deal with death — that is, they suffer more.

Those in quarantine or self-isolation may pass the time by reading Tolstoy’s War and Peace or tweeting pictures their cat. There is nothing wrong with those activities. But it can also be a time for spiritual readings, self-reflection, and gaining greater insight into the deep mysteries of life. In Death and Reincarnation, Sri Chinmoy writes:

We are all like passengers on a single train. The destination has come for one particular passenger. He has to get off at this stop, but we still have to go on and cover more distance. Now we have to know that this hour of death has been sanctioned by the Supreme. Without the approval or tolerance of the Supreme, no human being can die. So if we have faith in the Supreme, if we have love and devotion for the Supreme, we will feel that the Supreme is infinitely more compassionate than any human being, infinitely more compassionate than we who want to keep our dear ones. Even if the dying person is our son, or our mother or father, we have to know that he is infinitely dearer to the Supreme than he is to us. The Supreme is our Father and our Mother. If one member of the family goes to the father and mother, the other members of the same family will never feel sad. If we have taken to the spiritual life and want to have real joy, we must know that we can have this only by surrendering our life to the Will of the Supreme. Now we may not know what the Will of the Supreme is, but we do know what surrender is.

If the Supreme wants to take somebody away from our life, we must accept this. “Let Thy Will be done.” If this is our attitude, then we will have the greatest joy. And this joy does the greatest service to the one who is going to depart. When we totally surrender to the Supreme, this surrender becomes additional strength and power for the departing soul that is suffering here in bondage. So if we really surrender our will to the Will of the Supreme, then this surrender will verily bring peace, an abiding peace, to the soul that is about to leave the earth-scene.

Those who have started meditating and concentrating are getting glimpses of their past incarnations. If we believe we had a past and we know we have a present, then we can also feel that we will have a future. Knowing this, we have to be always conscious of this truth: that there is no death. In the Bhagavad Gita it is said, “As a man discards his old clothes and puts on new ones, so does the soul discard this physical body and take on a new body.” When we know that the person who is going to die is just leaving aside this old body before accepting a new one, and if the person who is dying also has the same knowledge, how can there be any fear?

We do not know what death actually is; that is why we want to stay here on earth as long as possible. But real death is not the dissolution of the physical body. Real death, spiritual death, is something else.

– Sri Chinmoy from Death and Reincarnation, Agni Press, 1972

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