Behind the Musik: Bach B-Minor Mass

Download the Program Notes and Program Listing

PROGRAM NOTES
By Charlotte Nediger

In the last years of his life, Johann Sebastian Bach set about composing and compiling a series of works that would represent a summation of his life’s work. The works were written, not for specific occasions, but rather as a testimonial to his achievements, and include The Musical Offering, The Art of the Fugue, The Goldberg Variations, and the eighteen chorale preludes. The last to be composed was the Mass in B Minor. Much has been written as to why Bach, a devout Lutheran, would have chosen a setting of the Roman Catholic Ordinary as a testament to his choral work. A plausible explanation is that Bach wished to leave to posterity a great Latin mass, a centuries-old symbol of Western culture, and a musical form that had challenged generations of composers. The tradition and the architecture of the Roman mass gave him the opportunity to write a complex, highly structured work, with a formality and on a scale not permitted by the Lutheran cantatas and Passions. Like those of the other great cyclical works mentioned above, the score of the Mass in B Minor can be seen almost as a “text book.” It was, in fact, never performed in its entirety in Bach’s lifetime. Bach’s score was inherited by his son Carl Philipp Emanuel, who performed the Symbolum Nicenum at a charity concert in Hamburg in 1786. Forkel and Haydn had copies, and Beethoven made two unsuccessful attempts to procure a score. The Berlin Singakademie apparently rehearsed the work in the second decade of the nineteenth century, but the first performance of the complete work, translated into German and “modernized,” took place in Leipzig in 1859, more than a century after it was written.

One of the most astonishing features of this work is that, despite its elaborate symmetry and complexity, it is largely a compilation of works written much earlier. The first section to be composed was the Sanctus, first performed in 1724 as part of the Lutheran Christmas service. Manuscript parts of the Kyrie and the Gloria accompanied Bach’s petition in 1733 for a court title to the new Elector of Saxony in Dresden. Two new sections, the Credo and the movements from the Osanna to the end, contain large-scale reworkings of earlier works, including movements from several of Bach’s German cantatas. Only a few choruses were newly composed. It does not seem, however, that early models were chosen in order to facilitate or hasten the compositional process, a practice that was common in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries as composers struggled to meet deadlines. Bach’s reworkings were extensive and detailed: even details of text accentuation and resulting changes in articulation have been fully considered. It seems rather that Bach’s use of early material was carefully planned, so that this “text book” score could preserve a vast range of styles and genres. It is a remarkable demonstration of Bach’s great skill at reworking and restructuring existing works. It was also a testament to the tradition of the parody mass: parody is the term used to describe the extensive reuse of existing material, and this technique was widely used in mass composition during the renaissance. Parody masses form a large proportion of the masses of such composers as Gombert, Victoria, Lassus, and Palestrina. Bach’s use of the renaissance stile antico in several movements of the mass is a further nod to the long tradition of mass composition, here ingeniously coupled with movements written in high baroque style, and others in a “modern,” galant musical language.

Bach’s manuscript score of the Credo, described by Nägeli as “truly the most amazing piece of music in existence […] the awakening of the powers of faith through the wondrous force of music.”
Bach’s manuscript score of the Credo, described by Nägeli as “truly the most amazing piece of music in existence […] the awakening of the powers of faith through the wondrous force of music.”
From this diverse material Bach created a coherent and balanced work, each of the four main parts presented in a symmetrical design complete unto itself, and yet all parts intricately interconnected. This complex work, which both challenges and satisfies on countless levels, is perhaps the ultimate expression of Bach’s belief that “the aim or final goal of all music shall be nothing but the honour of God and the recreation of the Soul.”

The autograph manuscript score of the Mass in B Minor is in the Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin Preußischer Kulturbesitz (Mus. Ms. Bach P180), and can be viewed on their website. After Bach’s death, the score was inherited by his son, Carl Philipp Emanuel, and then by CPE’s daughter, Anna Carolina. Hans Georg Nägeli, a composer and music publisher in Zurich, acquired the score from her estate in 1805, and in 1818 announced his plans to publish the score and sell it by subscription:

ANNOUNCEMENT
of the Greatest Work of Art of All Times and Nations
The incomparably great Johann Sebastian Bach has now, in our own time, been accorded a degree of recognition that makes it possible to proceed toward the publication of the work that, in content and length alone, but above all in grandeur, style, and wealth of invention, surpasses his works hitherto printed, to the same extent that these, without considering the vicissitudes of taste and the contingency of art forms, surpass those by all other composers. This is a Mass in five voices with full orchestra.


PROGRAM LISTING

Directed by Ivars Taurins

April 5–8, 2018, Jeanne Lamon Hall, Trinity-St. Paul’s Centre
April 10, 2018, George Weston Recital Hall, Toronto Centre for the Arts

JOHANN SEBASTIAN BACH

Mass in B Minor

Dorothee Mields soprano
Laura Pudwell mezzo-soprano
Charles Daniels tenor
Tyler Duncan baritone

Tafelmusik Chamber Choir
Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra

There will be a 20-minute intermission between the Missa and the Symbolum Nicenum.

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My Instrument: Christina Mahler and her Vuillaume cello

In a previous issue of a Tafelmusik house program, Christina Mahler introduced you to the cello she plays in baroque repertoire, made by José Contreras c.1740. In our issue for Beethoven “Pastoral” Symphony, she introduces her second instrument, a later instrument made by Jean-Baptiste Vuillaume c.1840.

By Christina Mahler, cello

Some of you may remember the wonderful Canadian double bass player David Sinclair. He played with us often in the 1990s, and can be heard on quite a few of our recordings of classical music from that time. He now lives in Paris with his family and works mostly in Europe.

David’s grandmother, Adelaide Liefeld, was a professional cellist, a difficult career choice as women were not accepted in symphony orchestras at that time. At the age of eighteen she went to the Chicago Musical College to study with Jaroslav Gons, paying for her tuition and food by playing in silent movies.

After graduating, Adelaide joined a women’s orchestra which played in New York, before touring the world from 1927–29. They played on all continents, staying in each place for weeks, months, and in the case of Australia, for over a year. There is a wonderful photo of her riding a camel, with pyramids in the background! It must have been an exciting life, in spite of having to play frustratingly “light” music as a steady diet!

Her last stop was Paris, where she resumed her cello studies with Gérard Hekking at the Paris Conservatoire. Hekking played a beautiful Vuillaume cello and was able to find another gorgeous Vuillaume for Adelaide, which she played for the rest of her life. She returned to Canada in 1933 to marry and raise a family. She later played in the Regina and Winnipeg Symphony Orchestras, and was a passionate chamber musician and teacher.

Just as José Contreras, the maker of my baroque cello (eighteenth century), is considered the Stradivarius of Spain, Jean-Baptiste Vuillaume (nineteenth century) is often called the Stradivarius of France. His instruments are robust, well-balanced, and simply superb. They are in a class of their own.

In 1994, David’s family was ready to part with this extraordinary cello that they had inherited. I fell in love with it and was fortunate enough to find an investor. I now have the privilege of playing it whenever I want, which I will be doing in the Beethoven concerts in Koerner Hall in May.

Get to know Susan Suchard, soprano

Soprano Susan Suchard has been a member of the Tafelmusik Chamber Choir since 2003. She teaches voice in her private studio at Trinity-St. Paul’s, and conducts the Preparatory Chorus of the VIVA! Youth Singers of Toronto, for whom she also serves as General Manager. 

How did you come to be a singer?
I grew up singing in church. When I was young my family attended a Brethren church in London, Ontario. There was no piano or organ played in services. One of the elders, always a man, would stand up and “call out” a hymn. He would then proceed to sing the first line and everyone would join in. My brother, sister, and I would giggle when the singing got into dangerously high or low ranges, which it often did.

Then, in elementary school, I was inspired by Mrs. Sheila Schaus, the itinerant music teacher. I loved when she came into the classroom. Her perfume was exotic and she wore bangles that jangled when she conducted.

In high school, there was no vocal music program, so I took up the French horn, an instrument that allowed me to create lovely lyric singing lines (when I wasn’t required to play off-beat quarter notes!).

I became a horn major at Western University and began studying voice on the side. I did as much playing as I could in large ensembles and quintets, but each year I also sang in one of the Faculty of Music’s choirs. In my fourth year, I joined the Opera Workshop, and after singing Pamina in The Magic Flute and Blanche in The Dialogues of the Carmelites, I gave up the French horn to concentrate solely on singing. [Editor’s note: Tafelmusik Chamber Choir Director Ivars Taurins was playing viola in the orchestra for those operas at Western!]

What was your first music gig?
My first paid gig was as a horn player in the London Musicians’ Union Marching Band at the Western Fair in London, Ontario. I suppose my first unpaid gig was as the student music director of a high school musical for children called The Lion Who Wouldn’t starring Tom McCamus, now of Stratford Festival fame, and Nancy Palk, one of the founding members of Soulpepper Theatre.

Who has been your greatest inspiration?
Both of my parents played piano very well by ear. I learned to play too, and I read well enough to accompany my voice students, but sadly I did not inherit their skill at just sitting down and rattling off a tune. At any party or event, one of my parents could often be found leading a sing-along. To this day, my dad can’t pass a piano, in an airport, restaurant, or on the street in Huntsville, without sitting down to show off his party pieces.

What is your favourite music to listen to?
I am a sucker for a sad beautiful tune. I love the ballads from musicals and standards. I’ve always wanted to put together a cabaret show, but, because the songs I love are all sad, I’m not sure anyone would want to sit through them! 

What are the last 3 recordings you’ve listened to?
In trying to help one of my students find repertoire for a grade 9 Royal Conservatory examination: Bach’s “Ich nehme mein Leiden mit Freuden auf mich,” Fauré’s Au bord de l’eau, and Jean Coulthard’s Quiet.

What is your favourite thing to do in Toronto during your free time?
During my daily 45-minute drive to Trinity-St. Paul’s, I like to listen to audio books, with a decaf latte in the cup holder.

What’s your favourite restaurant in Toronto?

I like to try a new restaurant every time I go out downtown, but a trusty standby in the east end is The Real Jerk on Kingston Road.

Where is your own, personal, oasis in Toronto?
I’m fortunate enough to have a lovely, leafy back garden with lots of shady space. Last summer, my husband built a swanky new deck, so I’m looking forward to getting out there again in the spring. Otherwise, my daughter and I like to have a spa day every now and then at the Elmwood.

Are you involved with any other organizations?
When I’m not singing or teaching in my studio at Trinity-St. Paul’s, you’ll find me in the basement, also at Trinity-St. Paul’s, in the office of the VIVA! Youth Singers of Toronto with my general manager’s hat on.

Where do you see yourself ten years in the future?
I’m itching to be in front of an adult choir as a conductor. I enjoy working with children’s choirs, and have done all my life, but I am really feeling the urge to work with an SATB or SSA group. I have a church soloist job and, when the organist is away, I step in as conductor. Each time I do it, I realize how much I enjoy the experience.


Hear Susan sing with Tafelmusik Chamber Choir and Baroque Orchestra in BACH B-MINOR MASS, from April 5–8, at Jeanne Lamon Hall, Trinity-St. Paul’s Centre, and on April 10 at George Weston Recital Hall, Toronto Centre for the Arts. Tickets are available here.

Get to know Patrick Jordan, viola

Patrick Jordan has been a violist with Tafelmusik since 1995. He hails from Texas, and is also a member of the Eybler Quartet, based here in Toronto.

Patrick Jordan, viola. Image: Sian Richards

How did you come to choose your instrument?
Great story here. The Grade 6 orchestra teacher gave all the Grade 5 students a music aptitude test. I’d never had any real music instruction, but did very well (despite consistently mixing up the major and minor modes). We were told that one could choose the violin, viola, or cello for the next year. I had never heard of the viola, so that’s the one I chose!

What was your first music gig?
The first time I received cash for playing was excerpts of Messiah at some church in Lubbock, TX.

Who has been your greatest inspiration?
That’s a brutal one. My teacher in Lubbock, TX, Susan Schoenfeld, basically saved my life as an adolescent — she gave me work to do, a home away from home at times, and a carefully considered socialistic outlook on the world. Tick the inspiration box there! Another of my great teachers was Eugene Lehner, who taught me how to relate music emotionally and structurally, but also about why we teach. Tick the inspiration box there! Bruno Weil has been an inspiration. Jeanne Lamon has also been one. So have my Eybler Quartet colleagues Aisslinn Nosky and Julia Wedman. Perhaps the greatest of them all has been my treasured wife, Margaret Gay (also cellist of the Eybler Quartet). 

What is your “guilty pleasure” music to listen to?
There’s really just music; I think I did all my “guilty” time as a kid growing up on the buckle of the Bible Belt in Texas. What might be unexpected in my listening is Top-40 pop, R&B, and Ravel! My go-to comfort piece, about once a year, is Morton Feldman’s Rothko Chapel. If you haven’t heard that, do yourself a favour, and devote the 24-26 minutes to a profound experience. 

What are the last 3 recordings you’ve listened to?
Well, I’m in the middle of editing a new Eybler Quartet CD, so movements 2, 3, and 4 of Beethoven’s Op. 18, no. 6. (Editor’s note: the album is now available.) If you’d like a less navel-gazing answer, I can offer The Seven Last Words of Christ by Haydn, Build a Rocket Boys by Elbow, and Senesce by Nick Storring.

What is your favourite thing to do in Toronto during your free time?
Modesty forbids answering that directly. I do love cooking, however.

What’s your favourite restaurant in Toronto?
See the answer to the previous question — I don’t eat out a lot. Chiado, however, has never disappointed me.

 Where is your own, personal, oasis in Toronto?
About 40 cm to the right of my stove, where I do most of my kitchen time.

You have a night off — what do you do?
Between April and September I might go to a baseball game (Blue Jays, Toronto Maple Leafs of the Intercounty Baseball League, or more likely the Toronto Cardinals, my son’s elite-level team); as often as not, cook for a bunch of people!!

What is your great ambition?
To keep working and recording with the Eybler Quartet until the energy or money runs out.

Where do you see yourself ten years in the future?
In many professional fields, I’d be expected to have retired in the next ten years. Playing the viola means I might be able to squeeze another two or three decades out of it.

What words of wisdom would you pass to budding musicians?
Make your own fun. Whatever is being presented to you as “the way to do music” is a tiny slice of the whole picture. Play music that turns your crank, and you’ll almost certainly turn someone else’s!

Behind the Musik: J.S. Bach: The Circle of Creation

Download the Program Notes and Program Listing

PROGRAM NOTES
By Alison Mackay

Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra standing in from of the Bach statue outside St. Thomas’s Church at the Bach Festival in Leipzig in 2014.
Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra standing in from of the Bach statue outside St. Thomas’s Church at the Bach Festival in Leipzig in 2014.

J.S. Bach: The Circle of Creation is a celebration of the genius of Johann Sebastian Bach, with an emphasis on the instrumental music which he created for his family, his students, and his colleagues. Using words and images, the performance also honours the artisans and tradespeople whose labor and expertise made the performances of Bach’s music possible, both in his own time and in the 21st century.

The project was born in June of 2014, when the members of Tafelmusik were invited to live in the city of Leipzig for two weeks as orchestra-in-residence at the city’s famous annual Bach Festival. Immersed in the atmosphere of the composer’s hometown, we were able to explore the craft of Bach’s own artisans under the guidance of our generous partners and advisors at the Bach Museum, who have provided many of the images for the project.

Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra performing The Circle of Creation with a portrait of Bach on a screen.
Photo by Glenn Davidson

Since that time, the orchestra has taken the concert across Canada and the US, and to South Korea and China. Over years of this kind of touring, there is tremendous artistic growth in the performers’ understanding of the music and in a deepening rapport amongst themselves and with the actor on stage. Before we embark on a seven-city tour of Australia this May, we wanted to share with our Toronto audience the version which concertgoers on the other side of the world will experience.

The concert begins and ends with poetry about the honorary patrons of Bach’s city of Leipzig — the Roman god of music, Apollo, and his brother Mercury, who made a glorious musical instrument from the shell of a tortoise and seven strings of sheep gut.

Image of the hands of oboe maker Harry vas Dias, projected behind Tafelmusik oboists John Abberger & Marco Cera.
Image of the hands of oboe maker Harry vas Dias, projected behind Tafelmusik oboists John Abberger & Marco Cera. Photo by Glenn Davidson

Two millennia later, the instrument makers of the eighteenth century still used materials from the natural world — bird feathers for the quills that pluck harpsichord strings, maple and spruce for the bodies of stringed instruments, and boxwood for oboes. Sheep intestines were still used to create strings for Bach’s instruments, and brass strings were made by hand for his harpsichords.

Centuries-old methods are still used today for the making of historical strings for period instruments. Because the guild members of early modern Europe were obliged to guard their trade secrets, modern makers have had to be detectives, using forensic evidence from scraps of old strings and sources such as Diderot’s eighteenth-century encyclopedia to determine the materials and techniques that would have been used for Bach’s instruments.

The images seen in this concert portray artisans from Bach’s time as well as modern instrument builders who use historical techniques to create instruments for the Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra. Film footage and still photographs created specially for this performance feature Toronto builder and restorer Quentin Playfair, who made a cello inspired by an instrument from the Stradivarius workshop in 1726; English harpsichord and string maker Malcolm Rose; American oboe maker Harry vas Dias; German bassoon maker Peter Wolf; Toronto bow maker Stephen Marvin; and the artisans of the Aquila String factory in Italy.

Much of the music on the program is typical of the works which would have been performed at Zimmerman’s Coffeehouse in the center of Leipzig. In 1695, the merchants’ guild of Leipzig had petitioned the town council for “street lanterns that would, as in Vienna and Berlin, burn all night to prevent incessant nocturnal crime.” On Christmas Eve of 1701, 700 oil-fuelled streetlights were installed in the city, making it safe for the first time for all citizens to walk freely at night, transforming coffeehouses into venues for recreation and music.

Bach directed an ensemble which performed on Friday nights at the cafe for which the owner, Gottfried Zimmerman, acquired a set of musical instruments. The orchestral suites BWV 1066 and 1068, the Third Brandenburg Concerto, the Trio Sonata BWV 1039, the Goldberg Variations, and the shorter solos for harpsichord, violin, or cello are typical of music which Bach would have performed with members of his family, university students, and amateur players of the ensemble known as the Collegium Musicum. Professional players from the Leipzig town band also participated in these performances.

These municipal musicians had responsibilities for outdoor performances from balconies at City Hall or one of the church steeples in town. Gloria laus et honour and Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme are well-known hymn tunes which would have been played instrumentally by these performers. They were given salaries, clothing, music, instruments, and housing for themselves and their families in the Stadtpfeiffer Gässchen (City Pipers’ Lane), which was also the traditional street for the city’s midwives.

Blair Williams and the orchestra at the end of a tour performance, in front of the image of the canon held by Bach in the Haussmann portrait.
Blair Williams and the orchestra at the end of a tour performance, in front of the image of the canon held by
Bach in the Haussmann portrait.

In 1746, the Dresden official court painter Elias Gottlob Haussmann painted a portrait of the 61-year-old Bach holding, as was customary, an emblem of his art. Rather than being pictured with a keyboard, the famous virtuoso chose instead to hold a small piece of paper with three short lines of music — the first eight notes of the bass line of the Goldberg Variations with a six-part canon written in code. It was a powerful symbol of Bach’s roles as composer, performer, and teacher. Like the instrument makers who made his violins and harpsichords, Bach regarded himself as a craftsman who had inherited much from the guild musicians who were his forebears.

The concert ends with a reflection on human hands and the thousands of hours it takes to master the use of a violin bow or a chisel. In the long hours of labour, musicians, and artisans are sustained by the beauty of materials, the artistry of their tools, the guidance of inspiring mentors, and the exhilaration of exploring

Quentin Playfair carving the scroll of a cello.
Quentin Playfair carving the scroll of a cello.

the art of a great genius. We share with our audiences around the world an abiding love for the music of J.S. Bach, and it is a privilege to be able to perform it in celebration of his art and in recognition of the artisans, scholars, tradespeople, and music lovers who have made our own performing lives possible.

To see a complete list of the images projected during the concert, please visit: tafelmusik.org/CircleofCreationImages

Special thanks to:

The Banff Centre for its generous support of film editing for the project.  Film editor Jane MacRae and Alison Mackay were able to work at Banff as recipients of Paul D. Fleck fellowships.

Ivars Taurins for his beautiful rendering in calligraphy of the bass line of the Goldberg Variations.

 Quentin Playfair and Sue Dickin for the creation and photography of a new cello commissioned by cellist Sandra Bohn.

Jean-Marc St. Pierre of maj productions in Montreal for permission to use his footage of the Aquila factory.  We also warmly thank Paul Lewis, and Elizabeth Brown of the Discovery Channel, and Tafelmusik Board of Directors member Trina McQueen for facilitating our use of this footage.

Timothy Barrett, Director of the Iowa Centre of the Book, and filmmaker Avi Michael, creator of the film Chancery Papermaking, for the footage of paper being made as in the time of Bach.

Dr. Daniel Geiger, Microscopist and Curator of Malacology at the Museum of Natural History, Santa Monica, California for his stunning magnified images of materials from Bach’s world.

For technical information about the capturing of these images, please visit tafelmusik.org/CircleofCreationImages

The Bach Museum, Leipzig for facilitating photography at the museum and permission to use images from the collection.

Production designer Glenn Davidson for creating the photo sequences of hands and Saxon sheep.


PROGRAM LISTING

Conceived, programmed, and scripted by Alison Mackay
Directed by Elisa Citterio
Blair Williams Narrator
Marshall Pynkoski Stage Director
Glenn Davidson Production Designer
Raha Javanfar Projections Designer
Jane Macrae Film Editor

March 14–18, 2018, Jeanne Lamon Hall, Trinity-St. Paul’s Centre

JOHANN SEBASTIAN BACH

Sinfonia to Cantata 249a

Sonata for 3 violins in C Major, after BWV 1005: I. Adagio

Orchestral suite no. 1 in C Major, BWV 1066: Ouverture

Chorale tune “Gloria laus et honor”

Orchestral suite no. 1 in C Major, BWV 1066: Bourrée & Forlane

Sinfonia in G Minor, BWV 797, for solo harpsichord

Prelude in C Major, BWV 933, for solo harpsichord

Suite no. 3 for violoncello in C Major, BWV 1009: Sarabande

Brandenburg Concerto no. 3 in G Major, BWV 1048: I. Allegro

Adagio, after Cantata 202/1: “Weichet nur, betrübte Schatten” (Depart, melancholy shadows)

Brandenburg Concerto no. 3 in G Major, BWV 1048: II. Allegro

INTERMISSION

Andante, after Cantata 208/9: “Schafe können sicher weiden” (Sheep may safely graze)

Partita for violin in D Minor, BWV 1004: Allemande

Tish Nign (18th-century Klezmer tune)

Cantata 140: Chorale “Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme” (Awake, calls the voice to us)

Orchestral suite no. 3 in D Major, BWV 1068: Gavotte

Sonata for 2 violins and continuo in G Major, BWV 1039: Adagio & Allegro ma non presto

Canons on the first 8 notes of Goldberg Variations, BWV 1087
Simplex – Duplex a 4 – Duplex a 5

Excerpts from Goldberg Variations, BWV 988
      Air – Variation #18: Canone alla sexta – Variation #22: Alla breve

Canon triplex on the first 8 notes of Goldberg Variations, BWV 1087/13

Adagio, after Cantata 42/3: “Wo zwei und drei versammlet sind”

(Where two and three are gathered together)

Sinfonia, after Cantata 11/1: “Lobet Gott in seinen Reichen”
(Praise the Lord in his riches)

Movements from Cantatas 249a, 202, 208, 42, & 11, and Goldberg Variations #18 & 22 transcribed & arranged by Alison Mackay. Sonata BWV 1005 arranged by Christopher Verrette.