Friday, March 27, 2015

What's your favorite?

It’s been a great month exploring J.S. Bach. To wrap up our topic, I thought it would be fun and interesting to see what the staff here at WGUC thinks about Bach so I asked them to name a favorite of his works. While this question proved to be quite difficult for some since Bach’s output is quite impressive, the top contenders were the Brandenburg Concertos, Toccata and Fugue in d, Double Violin Concerto in d, Sheep May Safely Graze, Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring, and the St. Matthew Passion.

Do you have a favorite Bach work?

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Bach's Gift to Coffee Lovers

Have you had a chance to go see any of Collegium Cincinnati’s Bach Festival performances so far this month? There have been a variety of excellent programs around town. If you haven’t had a chance yet, it’s not too late. This Tuesday, March 31 at 7:00pm they are performing Bach’s most famous secular work, the Coffee Cantata! Best of all, you are invited to sing along with the performers! For more details, check this out. 

Coffee Cantata? Yes, this fun work tells of an argument between a father and daughter over the consumption of coffee. Whether you enjoy a cup of coffee or not, you are sure to enjoy this satirical work. Not sure what a cantata is? It is a type of musical work that is written for voice (soloists and/or choir) and an accompanying ensemble. There are sacred cantatas used in Lutheran services that set texts from the day’s Gospel reading and also secular cantatas that contain non-religious subjects. Like opera, cantatas typically used arias (expressive solo sections), recitatives (style of singing that resembles speech), duets, and choruses throughout.

During Bach’s day, there was a group of middle class, amateur musicians in Leipzig that called themselves the Collegium Musicum. Bach directed the ensemble and often times they performed at the local coffee house. Perhaps this Coffee Cantata was among the repertoire used in their performances?

Below you can read the translation of the text for Bach’s amusing Coffee Cantata. Don’t forget to join the fun and enjoy this work live on March 31!

Be quiet, do not chat,
And listen to what happen now:
Here comes Mr. Schlendrian
With his daughter Liesgen,
He grumbles like a grizzly bear;
Hear for yourselves, what she has done to him!

With children, aren't there
a hundred thousand aggravations!
Whatever I, all the time and every day,
tell my daughter Liesgen,
slides on by with no effect.

You naughty child, you wild girl,
ah! When will I achieve my goal:
get rid of the coffee for my sake!

Father sir, but do not be so harsh!
If I couldn't, three times a day,
be allowed to drink my little cup of coffee,
in my anguish I will turn into
a shriveled-up roast goat.

Ah! How sweet coffee tastes,
more delicious than a thousand kisses,
milder than muscatel wine.
Coffee, I have to have coffee,
and, if someone wants to pamper me,
ah, then bring me coffee as a gift!

If you don't give up coffee for me,
you won't go to any wedding parties,
or even go out for walks.

Okay then!
Only leave my coffee alone!

Now I've got the little monkey!
I will buy you no whalebone dress of the latest fashion.

I can easily put up with that.

You may not go to the window
and watch anyone passing by!

This too; but be merciful
and let my coffee stay!

You'll also not receive from my hand
a silver or gold ribbon
for your bonnet!

Sure, sure! Just leave me my pleasure!

You naughty Liesgen,
you grant all of that to me?

Girls of stubborn mind
are not easily won over.
But if the right spot is touched,
Oh! Then one can happily get far.

Now do what your father says!

In everything but coffee.

All right then! So you will have to content yourself with never having a husband.

Ah yes! Father, a husband!

I swear that it will never happen.

Until I give up coffee?
All right! Coffee, lie there now forever!
Father sir, listen, I won't drink none.

So finally you'll get one!

Even today,
dear father, make it happen!
Ah, a husband!
Indeed, this will suit me well!
If it would only happen soon,
that at last, instead of coffee,
before I even go to bed,
I might gain a sturdy lover!

Now old Schlendrian goes and seeks
How he, for his daughter Liesgen,
might soon acquire a husband;
but Liesgen secretly spreads the word:
no suitor comes in my house
unless he has promised to me himself
and has it also inserted into the marriage contract,
that I shall be permitted
to brew coffee whenever I want.

Cats do not give up mousing,
girls remain coffee-sisters.
The mother adores her coffee-habit,
and grandma also drank it,

so who can blame the daughters!

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Happy Birthday J.S. Bach!

Happy Birthday Johann Sebastian Bach! Bach turns 330 today and in honor of this legendary composer, I have compiled a playlist with a few of my favorite Bach works. Enjoy!

Brandenburg Concertos, BWV 1046-1051

Sheep May Safely Graze, BWV 208

Concerto for 2 Violins, BWV 1043

Orchestral Suite #2, BWV 1067

Little Fugue, BWV 578

St. John Passion, BWV 245

Excerpt from Mass in b minor, BWV 232

Well-Tempered Clavier Bk. 1, Prelude and Fugue #1, BWV 846

French Suite, BWV 812-817

Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland, BWV 62

Just a reminder that 90.9 WGUC will feature Bach’s Goldberg Variations arranged for chamber ensemble at 11:00am this morning! 

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Anna Magdalena: Mother and Musician

During this month of Bach, let’s not forget about Johann Sebastian’s lovely second wife, Anna Magdalena, who served as not only the composer’s helpmate, but as the mother of thirteen of his children and a professional musician. The couple married in 1721 during Bach’s time in Cöthen.

While in Cöthen, Bach did not have duties as a church musician so scholars assume he took advantage of the extra time in his schedule to write secular court music and pedagogical works. The Little Keyboard Books, two of which were given to Anna Magdalena, served as music teaching and recreation books for his family. The first of these books (1722) was a wedding gift and contains the earliest source of his French Suites. The second book (1725) contains famous minuets and other pieces used for teaching purposes.

While Bach certainly contributed to these volumes, the second edition in particular contains many pieces by other composers of the time as well as little works by Anna and the children. It was quite rare during this time for a woman to compose, however Anna added quite a few works to her book up until the 1740s!

Join me next time for an all-Bach playlist just in time for his Birthday! Also, tune into 90.9 WGUC (or online at on Saturday, March 21 at 11:00am to hear Bach’s Goldberg Variations arranged for chamber ensemble. 

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Bach in Pop Culture

That is a clip of J.S. Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D minor BWV 565 from Disney’s famous 1940 Fantasia. Many people know this work, either from this movie, from a variety of other movies, television shows, or video games, or maybe you’ve even heard in on our Tunes from the Crypt each Halloween. While this work may be familiar, I would bet most people do not know that it was originally composed for organ by Bach! Today let’s look at what exactly it means to be a toccata and fugue and then have some fun watching this famous work’s appearance in a variety of places!

A toccata is a keyboard composition that developed during the sixteenth century as a work containing elaborate and rapid passages, sometimes even containing imitative counterpoint (a melody appearing in different voice parts). Bach often paired toccatas with his fugues. How does the fugue work? A musical subject begins the piece. After stating its opening theme, a second line of music enters, answering the subject by imitating the same theme at a different pitch level. The fugue can contain any number of independent lines of music, imitating the main subject and all working together musically. Between entries of the subject in the composition, you may hear musical “episodes” that elaborate the main theme and add interest for the listener.

Now let’s have some fun. Do you hear Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D minor in these clips?

 Wonder Years: Begin at 10:41

Spongebob: Begin at 2:45

Donkey Kong Jr.: Begin at 0:01

 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea: Begin at 0:12

The above examples are just a few of many occurrences of this work in pop culture. Have you heard it in The Office? Or what about Malcolm in the Middle, The Tree of Life, Dr. Who or 7 Faces of Dr. Lao

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

J.S. Bach Writings for Organ

Have you heard about the Hands & Feet Together: A Festival of the Organ happening this Saturday, March 14 as part of Collegium Cincinnati’s 2015 Bach Festival? Join three world-class organists for a program exploring the national styles that Bach assimilated in his organ compositions. For more information and to get tickets, you can check out this website.

Johann Sebastian Bach was a working musician meaning that he would compose to meet the needs of his current employer. While working in Arnstadt and Mühlhausen as a church organist and Weimar as a court organist, he found himself composing many works for the organ. Often times Bach wrote organ pieces that would be used in Lutheran services such as chorale settings. Bach became familiar with organ music at a young age finding fascination with composers such as Buxtehude, Froberger, and Frescobaldi. Did you know that at one point he traveled 225 miles on foot to hear Buxtehude? That’s dedication!

Bach wrote over 200 chorale settings for the organ. His compiled manuscript collection of 45 short chorale preludes makes up what is known as his Little Organ Book. These chorale preludes served as introductions for the congregation before they joined in singing the chorale during church services. Bach also intended the book to serve pedagogical purposes in teaching young organ students.

Chorale preludes typically would contain one occurrence of the chorale melody line and then each would have various settings beyond that. Settings may include playing the melody in canon or perhaps with added ornamentation, or even reflecting the text through the music. One example of a chorale prelude that reflects the chorale text is Bach’s Through Adam’s Fall BWV 637. In this chorale prelude, the top line contains the chorale melody while the bass contains descending leaps depicting Adam’s fall in Genesis. The twisted chromatic line in the alto is reminiscent of a slivering serpent and the downward pull in the tenor shows Adam as he’s pulled down by temptation. You can listen to this chorale prelude from the Little Organ Book here.

Join me next time as we look at what has become Bach’s most famous organ piece, Toccata and Fugue in D minor BWV 565, and its appearances in pop culture. 

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Bach Vespers

This month of Clef Notes we are looking at all things Bach in honor of his upcoming birthday on March 21. Last time we looked at the Baroque period of music, the time during which Bach lived and worked. Did you know that Collegium Cincinnati is holding their second annual Bach Festival this month? Check out their website for exciting opportunities to experience some of Bach’s masterpieces around town. 

This Sunday, March 8, Carlton Monroe and the Cincinnati Bach Ensemble will present Bach’s motet Jesu, Meine Freude BWV 227 at St. Thomas Episcopal Church at 5:00pm. Do you plan on going to this event? This motet was written by Bach shortly following his arrival at Leipzig where he took up the position of Kantor at the Thomaskirche. It is said that the piece was composed for the funeral service of the postmaster’s widow, Johanna Maria Keese. It was typical at that time for composers to write for functions rather than to write art simply for the sake of art. Throughout his life, Bach often wrote works that played important roles in his various careers. For instance, when he worked at churches, he typically wrote pieces for the service (as in this case). When working for the court, he would write pieces for court entertainment.

What is a motet? This musical term changes meaning depending on what era you refer to however during Bach’s day, it typically meant a sacred vocal composition used for liturgical purposes. The Jesu, Meine Freude BWV 227 has eleven movements and is a setting on Johann Franck’s German hymn from the 1650s. Most likely the Thomaskirche choir that Bach directed would have sang this motet and others like it during their services.

Can’t wait until Sunday to hear this work performed live? You can check out a video here:

Monday, March 2, 2015

What is Baroque?

Last March we spent the month counting down to Johann Sebastian Bach’s birthday on March 21. After thinking about what to write this month, I thought, “why not focus on Bach again?” There’s always more to talk about when it comes to this infamous composer. Before we dive into different topics connected to Bach however, I wanted to talk briefly about the time period during which he lived and worked.

Have you heard the term “Baroque”? This word is a French term that comes from the Portuguese barroco and means a misshapen pearl or something abnormal, or exaggerated. It originally referred to ornate architecture but was later used by 18th-century critics when discussing the musical time period lasting from 1600–1750. While critics of the late 18th century may have looked down on such a style as they looked to new and simple forms, the 19th century favored the ornate and looked positively upon the Baroque era. Did you know that some scholars say that the Baroque period ended when Bach died (1750)? That illustrates the impact he had in music history.

With the Baroque period came a rebellion from the Renaissance era in the prior century. Renaissance music often used what we call polyphony (music that contains multiple independent voices) while Baroque composers tended to compose a melody line and a bass accompaniment, leaving it up to the performers to fill in the harmonies. Many performers would add ornamented notes, sticking with the standard style of the time. You may compare this performance practice to modern-day jazz in which musicians will improvise or take up a solo based on a given harmony. 

Baroque music often contained forward motion and contrasts, whether it be between loud and soft dynamics, fast or slow tempos, or between a soloist and ensemble in performance. These characteristics also map themselves onto visual art of the time. Early art often portrayed people or objects in still life. Baroque, on the other hand, often showed motion (like the music!) Art also exhibited contrasts such as light verses dark in coloring. A great example of Baroque art is on display in Cincinnati’s very own Taft Museum of Art: Rembrandt’s Portrait of a Man Rising from His Chair.

Courtesy of

Notice the contrasts between light and dark. Also note that the man is rising from his chair. Rembrandt shows motion in his painting.

If you would like to hear me chat with Sunday Baroque host Suzanne Bona on the topic of “Baroque,” you can listen to our discussion on 91.7 WVXU’s Cincinnati Edition from January 23, 2015.