Thanksgiving, Advent, and Bach

by vernsanders on November 25, 2011

It is that time of year again…Thanksgiving at the table, the first Sunday of Advent at church, wedding anniversary at home, and Bach on the music stand. I’m not entirely sure why, but this time of year, almost reflexively, I pull out the Bach for preludes and postludes at church.

Perhaps it is because the weather finally starts to turn cold here on the central coast, or because I’m aurally tired from playing a lot of “contemporary” things, or that baroque music just seems to go with Christmas (see: Messiah, Vivaldi Gloria, etal). Whatever the case, I find that the discipline of playing Bach is refreshing and intellectually stimulating…even if it means that I can’t talk to the platform leadership and play the prelude at the same time, as I am able to do most of the year.

Which brings me to today’s Ipod shuffle tune (I know…two posts in a row…but I don’t intend to make a habit of it…). Nun ist das heil und die Kraft is, in my opinion, one of the most amazing Bach pieces in the repertoire (even if there is some argument as to whether Bach actually wrote it). It is a “single movement” cantata that is, in essence, one (actually two) gigantic double chorus fugue over the course of 4 minutes.

Even if you are not a musician you can, I believe, hear Bach’s mind work in this tune. Notice the opening subject (melody) in the bass line…particularly that the melodic leaps are upwards. As Bach adds voice upon voice from the divided choir and the orchestra the texture gets more and more complicated, but the music inexorably climbs upward (I actually conducted an a cappella version of this once…with 8 voices…one to a part. At the beginning of the rehearsal period they thought I was crazy. By the time we sang it in performance they were practically jumping up and down saying things like “look at this…”).

OK. So halfway through the whole thing comes to a gigantic climax…pauses, and then works its way back to the beginning (so to speak). This time notice that the motion is always downward. There are all sorts of theological word painting reasons for this which you can explore by starting here. What you can’t hear very well in the recording below is that at the end (near the 3:40 mark) there is this marvelous “passing back and forth” of musical material between the two choirs.


Like Bach? What’s your favorite piece? Tell me about it by leaving a comment.

Ipod shuffle status: 3440 (Nun is das Heil und die Kraft – J. S. Bach) of 7875

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