7.30 pm, Saturday 14th December, 2019
St Edmund’s Church, Shipston-on-Stour
Mozart – Sparrow Mass K220
Soloists – to be confirmed
Kuhnau was J.S.Bach’s very distinguished predecessor at the Thomaskirche in Leipzig. He was enjoying a glittering career as composer, lawyer, novelist and general man of letters. When he was 41 he was unanimously appointed Kantor at the Thomaskirche, but that was when things started to go downhill.
A young Georg Telemann enrolled at the university, like Kuhnau, to study Law, but he, as did Kuhnau before him, became very active musically. He established a collegium musicum which was a rival to Kuhnau’s establishment and attracted Kuhnau’s musicians and some of his pupils. He even approached the mayor for permission to compose music for the Thomaskirche, utterly undermining Kuhnau. To rub in salt yet further, in 1703, when Kuhnau was suffering one of several periods of illness, the council asked Telemann to succeed him, should he die.
Kuhnau, in fact, lived for a further 21 years.
7.30 pm, Saturday 11th May, 2019
St. Edmund’s Church, Shipston-on-Stour
Handel – Foundling Hospital Anthem
Monteverdi – Beatus vir
Vivaldi – Dixit Dominus
* by arrangement with Ann Ferrier Artists
The UK premiere of John Rutter’s Magnificat was given in Coventry Cathedral, but this was a year after the world premiere, which was in the Carnegie Hall, New York. Indeed, most of Rutter’s larger choral works were written for American choirs.
It is an immediate, tuneful, sunny work, which has the added bonus of being performable by amateurs. Its directness is explained by Rutter himself: he says, ‘In countries such as Spain, Mexico and Puerto Rico, feast days of the Virgin are joyous opportunities for people to take to the streets and celebrate with singing, dancing and processions. These images of outdoor celebration were, I think, somewhere in my mind as I wrote, though I was not fully conscious of the fact till afterwards.’* It should be added, that it is highly singable because Rutter happens to write very well for the voice.
His conscious model, however, was J.S.Bach’s Magnificat, specifically the earlier E flat version which has a set of so-called Lauds, or Songs of Praise, which were traditionally inserted amongst the Latin text (these included the popular German hymn, Martin Luther’s Vom Himmel hoch, and the plainsong Virga Jesse floruit). So similarly Rutter has interpolated a setting of the anonymous 15th century English text Of a rose, and he uses the plainsong tune for the Sanctus, which, again, would not normally be part of the Magnificat. (There are other bits of plainsong lurking amongst the orchestra.) Rutter has also dipped into other ‘traditional’ formal ideas, such as in the Doxology, as it was in the beginning. Here he has employed the common practice of making this a repeat of the opening music (as did Bach (Magnificat), Handel (Dixit Dominus), Vivaldi (Gloria) – and many more).
Rutter has made this piece available in a version for full orchestra and also for a smaller ensemble. Stour Singers will be using the latter version, for the simple reason, the smaller orchestra will fit in the church.
*© Collegium Records
If you would like to listen to John Rutter talking about the Magnificat on YouTube, please click on the following:
Fauré’s Requiem does not follow the traditional pattern of a mass for the dead. It was not triggered by the death of someone he knew, nor was it a commission. He said it was ‘composed for the pleasure of it’.
It was started when Fauré was 32, and it took him 16 years to finish. It is a wonderfully serene work, despite being composed during what might now be called a protracted ‘mid-life crisis’.
He had been appointed choirmaster at the famous Madeleine church in Paris and had become engaged to Marianne Viardot – he had been in love with her for 5 years. In October Marianne broke off the engagement because she felt, not love for him, ‘only affection mixed with fear’. It appears that behind his outwardly charming manner Fauré hid a darker side.
Fauré was devastated and immediately went away on long travels in Germany, England and Switzerland. He met Liszt twice, but it was Wagner and his operas which particularly fascinated him. Despite this obsession, strangely there is no trace of Wagner in his style of composition.
Eventually returning to Paris aged 38, he married and settled down to the tedium of organising services at the Madeleine, and teaching piano and harmony – what he called his ‘mercenary work’. But his ambition was to flourish as a composer. Sadly the daily grind ensured he only had time to compose during the summer holidays, and he despaired of ever reaching the public. Being so grossly thwarted in his real calling, perhaps it was not surprising that privately he suffered from what he called ‘spleen’, which took the form of depression and anger, perhaps violence. Things did not improve until he was 45, when he did start at last to gain some recognition. He finished work on the Requiem 3 years later, in 1893 (although he would go on to reorchestrate it in 1900).
Considering the turbulence of his spirit during its composition, the serenity of the Requiem is quite extraordinary.
9th December 2017
St. Edmund’s Church, Shipston-on-Stour
Robyn Allegra Parton – soprano
Phillipa Thomas * – mezzo-soprano
Robert Tilson * – tenor
Alistair Donaghue – bass baritone
(* by arrangement with Birmingham Conservatoire)
and our rehearsal accompanist Rachel Bird on keyboard
Much of Bach’s prodigious output consists of re-workings of previous compositions.
This is true of Cantata 191. It is described by Bach as a Christmas Cantata, and it is entirely a reworking of parts of the Gloria from his Mass in B minor. For the first movement he has used the chorus Gloria in excelsis – et in terra pax from the Mass unchanged, and the following duet is the Domine Deus from the Mass sung to the words ‘Gloria Patri et Filio et Spiritui sancto’. The cantata concludes with the chorus Sicut erat in principio.The music for this is the chorus Cum sancto spiritu which concludes the Gloria in the Mass. The words Sicut erat don’t fit the original, so he has modified the beginning so that they do.
So we get a small insight into the way Bach worked. There are many more examples of reworkings to hand, since all the Mass in B minor apart from the Kyrie and the Gloria consists of reworkings of previous cantatas.
When Kuhnau died in June 1722 the Leipzig authorities needed to find a new Kantor for the Thomaschule. This was a prestigious post and there were six applicants. The obvious front-runner was Georg Philip Telemann,
who was very highly regarded and already had connections with St. Thomas’s. He showed definite signs of accepting the post, but the Hamburg Senate tried to block his acceptance. Telemann argued that if they wanted him to remain in Hamburg they should raise his salary. This they duly did, and he duly stayed.
So Leipzig looked to their
2nd choice, Christoph Graupner, who was Kappelmeister in Darmstadt and one of Kuhnau’s distinguished pupils. Graupner was keen to accept, until Darmstadt offered to increase his salary and improve his status – an offer he could not refuse.
This left them with the 3rd choice.
Councillor Platz observed, ‘As the best man cannot be got, we must make do with the mediocre’ – namely one J.S.Bach!
One of the duties of the position was that they should teach the boys Latin. All of the applicants refused to accept this, but the upshot was that Bach, as successful applicant, had to employ a Latin teacher and pay him out of his own salary.
Johann Kuhnau (1660 – 1722) was Bach’s predecessor as Kantor at the Thomaskirche in Leipzig, something of a renaissance man, and at the time considered to be the equal of Handel and Telemann, – certainly superior to J.S.Bach. He published an important body of keyboard music (including the first keyboard sonata published by a German composer); but his cantatas were not published and are mostly lost – just a few have been found amongst Bach’s huge collection of cantatas. Uns ist ein Kind geboren is one such. It was indeed assumed in the 19th century to be by Bach himself – Cantata 142, but Bach scholars have long been questioning this.
He was born Johann Kuhn in 1660. His parents were Czech, but being protestants, they had fled to the mountains on the border of Germany to avoid the scourge of the Counter-Reformation.
At the age of 10 Johann went to Dresden to be educated, since he was an exceptionally clever child; he also had a fine voice. Dresden was the home of the court of the Elector of Saxony, Johann Georg II. In 1667, the Elector was offered the presidency of the Fruitbearing Society, which he accepted. The Fruitbearing Society’s main aim was to establish German as the official court language throughout the Holy Roman Empire (rather than French). The Elector also strove to make Dresden a major cultural centre & to this end brought distinguished artists, writers and musicians into his court. His activities as a patron left considerable debts for his descendants to deal with, but it was an environment greatly conducive to the education of young Johann Kuhn. In Dresden he received an education that included French and Italian, the languages of the court; and he sang, learned the organ and composed music much appreciated by the court Kantor, Vincenzo Albrici.
But in 1680 plague came to Dresden. Johann went home, but was soon back at school, this time in Zittau. He was head chorister in the choir of the Johanniskirche. Shortly after this, both the organist and Kantor of the church died, so at the age of 20 Johann Kuhn was asked to act in their stead for a year as organist, choir director and composer.
Two years later Johann became a Law student at Leipzig University. But he impressed the City Council with his musical talent and he became very active as a performer (presumably as a singer and organist?) and as a composer. Rather fashionably, he had at this time italianised his name to Cuno, but it was not long before that turned back into the German-sounding Kuhnau. At the age of 24 he was appointed organist at the Thomaskirche.
Alongside his musical employment, he studied law. By the time he was 29 he had married, was practising law, and was still organist at the Thomaskirche. During the next 10 years over and above his fame as an organist, he became proficient in Maths, Greek and Hebrew, translated French and Italian books into German, wrote a satiric novel, published his substantial and significant body of keyboard music and composed music for the church. In addition he had 8 children and a thriving legal practise.
When he was 41 he was unanimously appointed Kantor at the Thomaskirche, but that was when things started to go downhill. One Georg Telemann enroled at the university, also to study Law, but he, like Kuhnau before him, became very active musically. He established a collegium musicum which was a rival to Kuhnau’s establishment and attracted Kuhnau’s musicians and some of his pupils. He even approached the mayor for permission to compose music for the Thomaskirche, utterly undermining Kuhnau. To rub in salt yet further, in 1703, when Kuhnau was suffering one of several periods of illness, the council asked Telemann to succeed him, should he die.
Kuhnau, in fact, lived for a further 21 years, and although he became very dissatisfied with conditions at the Thomaskirche, he attracted many students who would become distinguished musicians themselves, such was the esteem he was held in by his fellow musicians. He was the last of the Thomaskantors who had something of the ‘renaissance man’ about him. It is easy to see that, at the time, Bach was seen as a less distinguished man – indeed he was in broader terms – he just happened to be one of the greatest musicians ever.
Kuhnau died in June 1722.
Click here to find out about the next Kantor at the Thomaskirche.
I would like to thank Vic Twyman for bringing together such an excellent group of soloists for the recent performance of Handel’s Saul. Apart from singing so beautifully, through their sensitive characterisation they made the piece work as a most moving piece of drama.
Congratulations to the choir, too, for their musical commitment; and also, in their role as the People of Israel, capturing convincingly the wildly fluctuating moods of the people.