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. Continue reading

Easter Thoughts on Mercy

station-cross-002-todayThis is the first Easter since it was announced that Mother Teresa will become a saint. It’s also the ninth Easter since Sri Chinmoy passed away. That makes it a tenth anniversary of sorts.

Easter means resurrection, but the joy of resurrection comes with a knowledge of crucifixion built in. So in Bach’s B Minor Mass, we are led through the slow agony of crucifixion to experience the overpowering joy of resurrection:

We may think of the B Minor Mass as a long work, yet the crucifixion and resurrection are compressed into a few minutes of music. We know that in the ancient world, the crucifixion of Jesus is said to have taken six hours, with the resurrection occurring two or three days later.

The future is a foreign country — they do things differently there. So in our modern world the crucifixion comes after someone has died. This is true of both Mother Teresa and Sri Chinmoy. While they both lived, they faced some opposition, true. But their living presence on earth made it difficult for detractors to eclipse their profound achievements. After they died, it became easier for critics to torture them with unimaginable lies. Why do they do it? Continue reading

Bach’s St. John Passion: Crucifixion (video)

A 3-minute look into the heart of this thrilling work often performed at Easter. One remembers the crowd scenes in particular…

I fondly recall making a study of Bach’s St. John Passion. It’s well worth the study, but here no study is required. In less time than it takes to make a cup of coffee, you can check out this short compilation of crowd scenes:

The selections are:

1. “If he were not a criminal, we would not have brought him to you.”
2. “Away with him! Crucify him!”
3. “We have no king but Caesar.”

The music is quite striking and moving, with some of Bach’s most distinctive counterpoint in a chromatic style. John Eliot Gardiner conducts the Monteverdi Choir.

If you liked the trailer, you’ll love the movie (for as long as it stays on YouTube):
Bach: St. John Passion full (Gardiner/Monteverdi Choir)
[Alas, gone!]

I highly recommend the 1986 CD done by Gardiner/Monteverdi:
Amazon.com: CD Set of Bach’s St. John Passion
http://www.amazon.com/Bach-John-Passion-Johann-Sebastian/dp/B0000057CW

It’s a beautiful recording that you can get to know little by little, and the music is so glorious you would ideally want to hear it with the best possible fidelity.

If you’re a Bach lover, you might even want to contemplate this work at length until you grasp the essence of it; then make a compilation with your favourite choruses, arias, and chorales. I tend to cut out a lot of the narrative, which is written in a somewhat formulaic recitative style. Finding your own personal pathway through Bach’s St. John Passion is an experience that will last you a lifetime! So stop binge-watching The Sopranos and discover (ahem)… a higher tenor of entertainment. ­čśë

See also: “Easter Thoughts on Mercy” (includes selections from Bach’s B Minor Mass)

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Christmas Music: The Rare and the Beautiful

A medieval Christmas song, a Bach chorale, and a folk rendition by Odetta

I do love Christmas music ’round this time of year, but sometimes it’s hard to find the good stuff. I’ve collected a ton of Christmas music over the years, and done some mixes for my friends. Please enjoy these three Nativity carols you won’t hear in elevators:

They are:

1. “Puer natus in Bethlehem in hoc anno” from In Natali Domini — Medieval Christmas Songs, the Niederaltaicher Scholaren, Konrad Ruhland, dir.

2. “Puer natus in Bethlehem” (J.S. Bach) from Orgelb├╝chlein (Little Organ Book), Chorus of the Ged├Ąchtniskirche, Stuttgart, Helmuth Rilling.

3. “Ain’t That A-Rockin” sung by Odetta, from Christmas Spirituals (1960 Vanguard LP)

— The medieval Christmas song is very lively! I’m a bit puzzled by the line “Fresh tomato far from Venus” as well as the reference to Pokemon, but then I don’t live in the 15th century…

— The Bach piece is really special to me. The chorale sung in Latin has a beautiful drawn-out ‘alleluia’ which seems to move and evolve though so many emotions (like a colour wheel). To me it conveys a sense of dying, or falling into an abyss of uncertainty and doubt, then (miraculously) emerging on a new plateau. (So I didn’t die after all… How about that!) It seems to get at that ineffable quality of joy which is so deep as to resemble sadness and carries with it the gravity of the journey taken. The recording is one which combines the organ preludes with the matching chorales, so you get a very churchlike experience. It took me a long time before I could hear the chorale melody embedded in long notes in the upper voice of the organ prelude. I first got that album when I was 15 or 16, lost it in a fire, and later replaced it. At the time I had no definite spiritual beliefs, but often surrounded myself with music and art that pointed to some deeper meaning in life.

— As for Odetta singing “Ain’t That A-Rockin’,” I absolutely love this short treat and have listened to it in times of intense grief as well as joy. Without sounding pretentiously zenlike (I hope), I would say it has a certain quality of suchness. Her album Christmas Spirituals was released in 1960 on Vanguard records. If seeking it out, try and get the original not the later re-recording.

M E R R Y   C H R I S T M A S ! ! !