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BACHanalia 2018

The 12th annual BACHanalia – our city’s annual Bach festival – will be held on Friday, March 16 from 4 – 10 pm at Christ Church Cathedral, 900 Broadway in downtown Nashville. Once a year, musicians from many parts of our community come together to present this unique six-hour concert-without-pause devoted to Sebastian’s music, generously hosted by our friends at the cathedral in their beautiful sanctuary.

BACHanalia is one of the highlights of the musical year in Music City.

Once again this year, I was given a special glimpse of the program in advance of this year’s concert, which I leak to you here, Off The Podium readership. We’re in for a tremendous evening of music-making!

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The Italian Concerto

 

In 1735, when Sebastian was 50 years old, he published his second volume of keyboard works, Clavier-Übung II (“Keyboard Practice II”). It contains two pieces for double-manual harpsichord: Concerto nach Italienischen Gusto (Concerto in the Italian taste, now known at the Italian Concerto, BWV 971), and Ouvertüre nach Französischer Art (Overture in the French Style, or simply the French Overture, BWV 831).

That Sebastian chose to pair these two works in the same publication paid homage to the old tradition (by his time) for composers to seek a harmonious way (or perhaps take sides) between the perceived opposition of French and Italian musical styles – an argument that had been carried on in European musical circles for centuries. This discussion is a part of Sebastian’s œuvre too, and was influenced by the work of his contemporary François Couperin (1668-1733) and his “les Goûts réunis” or “reunited tastes”, which was published in 1724. Although Sebastian and Couperin never met, they corresponded with each other. The subjects of their letters has long been a tantalizing mystery to Bach scholars, as the letters were subsequently used as lids for jam pots and thus destroyed. Since Couperin had died two years before Clavier-Übung II was published, it is possible that in his own way, Sebastian also intended the volume as an homage to Couperin himself – or as a rebuttal or commentary on the various merits of each style .

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2017: What Kind of Blog Is This?

Off The Podium Reflections, Statistics, and Top Ten Posts

In what is becoming an annual tradition, here I review my experience writing Off The Podium over the course of the year and share some statistics. We will also see if I have learned anything and I will attempt to describe what this blog – which sometimes goes off in unexpected directions – is all about.

2017 was a very full year, packed with many significant events and activities. Off The Podium continues to provide a great means to share the activities of the department of Education & Community Engagement at the Nashville Symphony with the world. It also remains a productive format that has inspired me to continue to develop my writing on the topics of Music and Education – these features of Off The Podium reach thousands of readers all over the world and  have brought me into contact with many musicians and educators I would otherwise have had no opportunity to meet or correspond with.

Thank you everyone for your continued encouragement and support.

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Christmas Oratorio at West End United Methodist

West End Chancel Choir and Orchestra, Matthew Phelps, conductor, perform Johann Sebastian Bach’s Christmas Oratorio Part 1, BWV 248 ~ December 3, 2017, West End United Methodist Church, Nashville (click images to enlarge)

 

When I first met Dr. Matthew Phelps nearly two years ago, one of the first things he shared with me was his desire to present Sebastian’s Christmas Oratorio BWV 248 at West End during the advent season. I was excited to hear this, since the Christmas Oratorio is rarely performed compared to Sebastian’s other large scale choral works like the Passions and the B minor Mass, and I had never heard it performed live before. So when I found out earlier this fall that it was happening this year, I marked my calendar and made sure I could be there. (more…)

Martin & Sebastian

Martin Luther nails his 95 Theses to the church door ~ 1878 painting by Julius Hübner (1806-1882) click images to enlarge

This week marked the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. On October 31, 1517, Martin Luther posted his Ninety-Five Theses to the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany. This protest against the sale of indulgences by the Catholic Church led to the social, cultural, and philosophical revolution we now call the Reformation – which in turn led to many changes in the abilities of governments and religions to control the personal lives of individuals in Western Civilization, among other things.

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BACHanalia 2017

On Friday, March 31, from 4 – 10 pm, Christ Church Cathedral at 900 Broadway in downtown Nashville proudly presents the 11th Annual BACHanalia. This unique, beloved event is a continuous, six hour concert of our friend Sebastian’s music presented once a year as a gift to the community. Click here for the church’s official announcement of the event. Note the new times! This year’s event will be held from 4 – 10 pm, not 5 – 11 pm as in previous years.

Again this year I was very lucky, and was granted a sneak peak at BACHanalia 2017‘s performers and selections, which I now leak to you here, oh readers of Off The Podium. Warning: Spoilers!

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Sarabande

disputed portrait of our friend Sebastian by Johann Ernst Rentsch the Elder (d. 1723) painted c. 1715, which would make him 30 years old here. Sebastian most likely wrote the cello suites when he was at Köthen (1717-1723)

Our friend Sebastian was born this time of year in 1685 – on March 21 or March 31, depending on whether you recognize Old or New Style (Julian or Gregorian) calendar conventions for commemorating things that happened centuries ago. I have friends who insist that one or other date is correct, but for me it doesn’t matter – for me, every year for many years now I have observed a quiet little personal eleven-day period of reflection on Bach’s music between March 21 and March 31. Each day for eleven days, I set aside some time to both play some of Sebastian’s music (on piano, harpsichord, or lute) and to intentionally listen to some of my favorite recordings of pieces that have touched me deeply.

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In Dulci Jubilo

InDulciJubilo

the opening of In dulci jubilo, Piæ Cantiones, 1582

Part of a series of articles on
Preparing a School Winter Solstice Performance

In dulci jubilo is a famous medieval Christmas carol. It is a macaronic carol (i.e. the text is in a mixture of languages): the original text alternates between German and Latin. The words are attributed to the German mystic (and student of Meister Eckhart) Heinrich Seuse (1295 – 1366), and describes his vision of singing angels dancing with him.

It is one of our oldest, loveliest, and most important carols. The lilting, singsongy, exuberant melody and the relative ease with which they were able to learn it made it popular with my students of all ages – from elementary through high school. Although not a piece I included as an annual repeating feature of Winter Solstice performances, I would program In dulci jubilo every few years, and most of my students sang or played it in a Winter Solstice production at some point.

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BACHanalia 2016

our friend Sebastian

our friend Sebastian

Next Friday, April 15, from 5 – 11 pm, more than 100 Nashville musicians align efforts to perform the 10th Annual BACHanalia at Christ Church Cathedral, 900 Broadway in downtown Nashville. This unique, beloved event is a continuous, six hour concert of our friend Sebastian’s music presented once a year as a gift to the community. Click here for the church’s official announcement of the event.

In past years I have brought student ensembles to perform in this event, and this year I am fortunate to be performing myself. I was also very lucky, and was leaked a sneak peak at BACHanalia 2016‘s performers and selections, which I am now going to share with you here, dear readers of Off The Podium. Warning: Spoilers Ahead!

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Matthew Halls on J.S. Bach and the Oregon Bach Festival

Part 2 of 3

Continued from An Interview with Matthew Halls (Part 1)

Matt-Halls-31

I asked Matthew Halls what he felt about dramatizations of the Bach Passions – for example, the stagings of the St. Matthew and St. John Passions by Peter Sellars with the Berlin Philharmonic.

Matthew Halls: I have many different feelings on this. The work that Peter Sellars did with the Berlin Philharmonic is wonderful – it’s inspiring, it gives you a new insight. I also saw an incredible realization by Deborah Warner (with the English National Opera), and Katie Mitchell’s done some work in this field as well. There seems to have been a trend in recent years to give dramatic presentations of Bach’s great sacred works.

Fundamentally, I have nothing against this. Any way we can present music from the distant past in a way which is going to make the presentation of the ideas more vivid for someone coming to see the piece for the first time: that gets a big gold star in my book! That a wonderful way of helping and reinterpreting the music of the past.

I think that it comes with the acknowledgement that I’m not quite sure what Bach would have made of it. But at the same time – this is the 21st century and we face different challenges. As long as the integrity of the music survives then I’m really interested and excited by all sorts of approaches to the music.

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