A New Year’s Hymn: Music of Praetorius, Scheidt, and Bach

Das alte Jahr vergangen ist (“The old year now hath passed away”) is a New Year hymn dating back to 1568. The chorale melody has been attributed to Johannes Steurlein (1546-1613), the son of the first Lutheran pastor of the central German town of Schmalkalden. The text suggests a mix of quiet gratitude and apprehension: The old year now hath passed away; We thank Thee, O our God, today That Thou hast …

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Bach’s Chorale Prelude, “In dir ist Freude”: The Evolution of a Melody

Short-short-short-long… This is the motif which famously launches Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony. This brief, tightly wound kernel pervades the first movement, and then returns throughout the Symphony. Although Beethoven’s use of this motive may be the most memorable and persistent example, the “short-short-short-long” rhythm is a common building block throughout music. It’s infused with a natural sense of forward motion, moving “from here to there.” For example, listen to the majestic and expansive …

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Bach’s Jubilant Christmas Cantata, “Unser Mund sei voll Lachens,” BWV 110

Let’s travel back in time to Christmas Day, 1725. Entering St. Thomas Church in Leipzig, we would experience the first performance of J.S. Bach’s cantata, Unser Mund sei voll Lachens (“May our mouth be full of laughter”). We would witness Bach, three years into his tenure as the Lutheran church’s music director, leading the newly written work. By the end of his life, Bach produced five annual cycles of these dramatic religious …

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Bach’s Orchestral Suite No. 4 in D Major, The Netherlands Bach Society

“This Suite laughs, dances, swings,” says Danish harpsichordist and conductor Lars Ulrik Mortensen in his brief but fascinating overview of J.S. Bach’s Orchestral Suite No. 4 in D Major, BWV 1069. Indeed, this infectious collection of contrasting baroque dances, composed sometime around 1730, is some of the most joyful and exhilarating music ever imagined. As Mortensen points out, Bach must have associated this music with “laughter, joy, and rapture,” because he used the opening …

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Bach’s Prelude and Fugue in E-flat Major, BWV 852, Pieter-Jan Belder

The Dutch harpsichordist Pieter-Jan Belder considers Bach’s Prelude and Fugue in E-flat Major (No. 7 from Book 1 of The Well-Tempered Clavier) to be a significant emotional departure from the preceding pieces in the set. “When you get to this Prelude, you’re in another world,” he says. Indeed, from the opening bars a sublime, ever-rising conversation unfolds between two voices—one high, and the other low. This opens the door to an expansive chorale …

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Joyful Sounds of Praise: Five Musical Settings of Psalm 150

Praise God in His sanctuary; praise Him in the firmament of His power. Praise Him for His mighty acts; praise Him according to His abundant greatness. Praise Him with the blast of the horn; praise Him with the psaltery and harp. Praise Him with the timbrel and dance; praise Him with stringed instruments and the pipe. Praise Him with the loud-sounding cymbals; praise Him with the clanging cymbals. Let every thing that …

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Bach’s Prelude and Fugue in B-flat Minor, BWV 867, Kris Verhelst

It’s time to return to the Netherlands Bach Society for another recently released performance. Every Friday the organization adds a new high quality video recording to its website as part of its All of Bach initiative. The project will conclude with a complete catalogue of J.S. Bach’s works in time for the Netherlands Bach Society’s centenary in 2022. Here, the Belgian harpsichordist Kris Verhelst performs Bach’s Prelude and Fugue No. 22 in B-flat minor, …

Read moreBach’s Prelude and Fugue in B-flat Minor, BWV 867, Kris Verhelst

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