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A Moment of Bach

A Moment of Bach

Author: Alex & Christian Guebert

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Welcome to A Moment of Bach, where we take our favorite moments from J. S Bach's vast output—just a minute's worth or even a few seconds—and show you why we think they are remarkable. Join hosts Alex Guebert and Christian Guebert for weekly moments!

Check wherever podcasts are available and subscribe for upcoming episodes.

Our recording samples are provided by the Netherlands Bach Society. Their monumental All of Bach project (to perform and record all of the works of J. S. Bach) serves as source material for our episodes.

https://www.bachvereniging.nl/en
https://www.bachvereniging.nl/en/allofbach

Artwork by Sydney LaCom
128 Episodes
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A textbook "moment" of Bach -- in a charming setting of the three verses of the German song "O Lamb of God, Most Holy," suddenly near the end of the third verse Bach finally heeds the text and shows us the strange despair we are praying for mercy to avoid. He employs several musical devices in this sudden moment: a change in meter, a suggestion of a distant tonality, and a barrage of harsh chromaticism (notes outside of the key). First we learn the background and the tune "O Lamm Gottes, unschuldig" before showing how Bach introduces this Cantus Firmus (melody) in this organ prelude's beginning and first verse where it is heard on top. The Cantus Firmus moves lower in the second verse, and in the third it is down at the bottom in the organist's pedalboard. Here the text of the last line changes from "have mercy on us" to "grant us peace." Ending strong and firm, Bach gives us peace from that sudden harsh "moment." Netherlands Bach Society: "O Lamm Gottes, unschuldig" as played by Wolfgang Zerer for All of Bach Thank you to listener David for the excellent suggestion. 
One of Bach's most famous works, and one of the greatest melodies of all time -- this comes to us by way of an almost impossibly good performance/recording by the Netherlands Bach Society.  By having the first violin part played by a section rather than a solo, they give Bach's wandering melody more purpose than it has in the famous version for solo violin, "Air on the G String", which is actually a re-arrangement of this original version -- and one which, we assert, does not stack up to the original version's greatness.  That greatness comes not only from getting the first violin part back in its proper higher register and key, but also from the interplay of the inner lines in the second violin and viola parts, as well as the famous walking bass line of the continuo part.  Ultimately, though, it is that upper melody which enchants us most.  Is there any wonder that it has enchanted generations since Bach -- it seems to reach toward some meaning, something just out of grasp -- and will enchant generations to come? Yes, the melody wanders... but not all who wander are lost.  See "Air" from Orchestral Suite No. 3 performed by the Netherlands Bach Society, conducted by Lars Ulrik Mortensen. PATREON for A Moment of Bach - always optional, always appreciated. Huge thanks as always to the Netherlands Bach Society for allowing us to use their audio examples on our podcast. Thanks also to Syndey LaCom for our podcast artwork.
Did Bach write this? Many think not. It's brilliant nonetheless!  We get into a talk about aspects of this motet which would or would not be hallmarks of Johann Sebastian. BWV 230 as performed by the Netherlands Bach Society
This delightful jig closes out our miniseries on Brandenburg 6.  Here we speak about the third movement's jumpy beats. and how these rhythmic anticipations give the whole piece a bouncy energy.  Bach, the expert violist among so many other things, gives the two viola parts the most intricate material, playing off each other and passing along the musical line.  Yet, in the ritornellos, he always doubles them, allowing for a rich, sweet viola tone to dominate in this delightful musical treat. Netherlands Bach Society performs Brandenburg 6 (skip to 3rd movement); Shunske Sato, artistic director
Welcome back to our yearly miniseries on the Brandenburg Concertos of J. S. Bach! This is part two of three. Today we look at the languid and luscious slow movement of Brandenburg Concerto No. 6. Music is (often) a setup of expectations, and then the satisfying fulfillment of those expectations OR the clever subversion of those expectations. Bach is especially good at this principle. We focus first on the unusual written-out cello part, separate from the basso continuo, creating a new entity but bound to the bass still (heterophony). Then we look at Christian's two moments, both of expectation and then subversion. Brandenburg 6 - movement 2 - Netherlands Bach Society
Welcome to our yearly miniseries on the Brandenburg Concertos of J. S. Bach!  Here we jump into Brandenburg 6, delighting in the weirdness that results when Bach decides to omit violins, preferring a dark, low sound of violas, violas de gamba, cello, and violone.  This brings us to some more examples across Bach's oeuvre, as well as some others by Brahms, Bruce Broughton, and John Williams.  As any creative person knows, setting limitations for yourself -- "no violins", for example -- is actually a good strategy for stimulating creativity, and results in a more unique creative output.  How fortunate for us, then, that Bach seems to agree. Brandenburg 6 - movement 1 - Netherlands Bach Society Other pieces that were used as audio examples: BWV 18 (cantata with 4 violas and no violins) - Netherlands Bach Society BWV 80 (Ein feste burg), middle movement (unison chorale) - Netherlands Bach Society Brahms - A German Requiem - movement 1: University of Chicago Orchestra, University Choir, Motet Choir, Members of the Rockefeller Chapel Choir, James Kallembach, conductor (recording used under Creative Commons Attribution Non-commercial No Derivatives 3.0 license) - refer to the first entry on this IMSLP page Other pieces that we talked about, but did not play as examples: Bruce Broughton - score from Tombstone (1993) - Gunfight at the O. K. Corral (4 bassoons can be heard in the first minute of this scene) John Williams - score from Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone (2001) - Hogwarts Forever (French horn quartet) (can be heard from 0:00 - 1:50)
Today we return to the 7th of the Goldberg Variations, the "Canary Jig." We discuss that peculiar name, and then we get into some smaller moments. Soaring flares up the keyboard, surprising altered tones, and crunchy grace notes are all over. Pushing forward into the ending, a high note leads us to the finish. We discuss why the contour of the hands makes this ending so satisfying. Goldberg var. no. 7 as performed by Jean Rondeau for the Netherlands Bach Society
Just after Good Shepherd Sunday, we settle in to this comforting pastorale.  Not the famous opening movement -- no, this is another beautiful sicilienne-type dance, a bass aria, in which Bach gives a masterclass on melodic writing in just 5 seconds of music.  Melodic shape, sequence, pedal point, and effective parallel motion in triads -- these are all showcased in the first few measures.  Then, Alex points out his favorite moment, in the B section of the aria: a long note sung by the bass soloist. Du Hirte Israel, höre performed by the Netherlands Bach Society (this link takes you straight to the bass aria "Beglückte Herde"
In our second look at the monumental Goldberg Variations, Christian selects the beginning of the sprightly and innocent "gigue" (jig), a particular dance set here for an interplay between two hands. The jaunty rhythm of the dance is rather uneven; this leads us into a discussion about how music is naturally not even in this way (and when it is, it's too square). We discuss the Goldberg bass line which underpins the whole sequence of 30 variations and discover how it works with this one also.  In two weeks, Christian will return to this variation and get more into the weeds with particular notes. Goldberg var. no. 7 as performed by Jean Rondeau for the Netherlands Bach Society
Just as the three wise men brought their gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh to the young Christ, so also this trio brings their soprano voice, viola da gamba, and theorbo (a lute variant) as musical gifts.... and we, the listeners, are the ones who are lucky enough to receive these gifts.  Here we discover the plain serenity of this original hymn tune by Bach, set to simple accompaniment, and paired with a tender Christmas text by the venerated hymnist Paul Gerhardt. Performance of "Ich steh an deiner Krippen hier" (BWV 469) by Viola Blache, Mieneke van der Velden, and Mike Fentross for the Netherlands Bach Society Speaking of gifts -- we must, as always, thank the Netherlands Bach Society and the evergreen gift they provide for the world, the All of Bach project.  They are working to complete a full set of high-quality recordings of Bach's complete oeuvre, along with video for each piece.  This is a staggering amount of music.  These are the recordings we have used on this podcast since its inception.  Thanks again to the Netherlands Bach Society for granting permission to use these excellent recordings.
The Mass in B minor is a well which never runs dry; we return to it year after year, and this time to celebrate Easter Monday we jump into the splendid "Sanctus" section. Christian uses the fugue subject on the text "Pleni sunt coeli et terra gloria ejus" (heaven and earth are full of thy glory) to describe one of the best text paintings in history. This blossoming motif doesn't just leap to heaven and fall to earth; it then covers over and under both of them with the glory (gloria) of God.    "Pleni sunt coeli..." fugue section of the "Sanctus," Mass in B minor as performed by the Netherlands Bach Society
Here we do a full "Bach-n-talk" runthrough of the famous "O Mensch, bewein" chorale fantasia which ends the first half of the St. Matthew Passion, which happens to end on Alex's favorite moment.  Join us as we unpack a moment of mode mixture here, at the choir's closing cadence.  The borrowed minor modality gives the necessary spice to give a more complex flavor to the otherwise light and airy music.  But don't be fooled, listener, into thinking the woodwind parts are all just fluff.  They carry a darker undertone in the meaning of this music.  Remember: the flute's not cute. "O Mensch, bewein dein Sünde groß" from St. Matthew Passion performed by the Netherlands Bach Society Different version of "O Mensch, bewein dein Sünde groß" as mentioned in this episode; from the 1725 revision of St. John Passion, also performed by Netherlands Bach Society
Welcome to a moment of something different for once!  We take a momentary diversion from our regular programming to give you a "moment of Vivaldi." In Shunske Sato and the Netherlands Bach Society's rendition of Vivaldi's "Winter" of the "Four Seasons," Sato stuns with innovative solo violin timbres which embody the icy cold themes of the season. We don't normally hear such sounds when we hear baroque music whatsoever! Christian focuses on one Vivaldi moment - a simple low trill, but when rendered with an extreme "sul ponticello" bowing (near the bridge), cold and dry harmonic overtones are heard instead.   "Winter" from the Four Seasons, Netherlands Bach Society
In this gem of a sonata, played on an original instrument, Bach hides the simplest musical theme in plain sight: one note.  Alex looks at the end of movement 3, where Bach gives a pedal point E to the viola da gamba, asking for over 30 seconds of one sustained note on this instrument.  Simple, yes, but perfectly aligned with the notes around it.  It's just another gem in the sea of jewels that is Bach's oeuvre. Performance of this sonata by Mieneke van der Velden and Emmanuel Frankenberg for the Netherlands Bach Society
At the beginning of our podcast seasons, we always look at a new part of BWV 61. This week Christian chooses an unusual bass trill from the sparkling tenor recitative. For this moment Bach opens up the narrating voice and enters a half-aria section so that the singer can repeat the words "You come and let your light shine with full blessing." The lilting cello and bright harpsichord offer repeated "shines" in this section, which concludes with our surprising trill in the basso continuo. This episode's featured recitative as performed by the Netherlands Bach Society Nicholas Mulroy, tenor BachCantataTexts.org annotated translation of BWV 61
Welcome to Season 4!  Thanks so much to all our listeners!   Today we give thanks -- not just for all of you wonderful listeners, but for Bach's creativity in the opening chorus of this cantata, which he based on the classic Lutheran chorale "Now Thank We All Our God".  We explore the origin of the poetry by Martin Rinckart, a man who, like Job from the Old Testament, lost everything dear to him, but still remained faithful -- and grateful -- to his God.  Then, we dive into the music and the clever text painting, and, after hearing so many hundreds of Bach's works, we delight in the way he continues to surprise us. We can always find something new. And that, wonderful listeners, is something we can all be thankful for. Video link: Shunske Sato conducts the Netherlands Bach Society in a performance of BWV 192 Even MORE thanks to Netherlands Bach Society for the permission to use audio examples from their high-quality recordings, and also to Syndey LaCom for our delightful artwork.
In this bonus episode, we have a chat with soprano Emily Wood, a featured soloist in the recent concert performance of BWV 147 at Alex's church.  We hear about Emily's personal experience singing this wonderfully challenging solo which is nestled in the very heart of this cantata; we also reflect on the whole 10-movement masterpiece. Audio recordings of BWV 147 in this episode are from the recording of this concert, at St. John's Lutheran Church, Orange, CA, USA, featuring Cathedral Singers and Chamber Orchestra, conducted by Alex Guebert. Keep an eye out for the second bonus episode soon -- the blooper reel from Season 3!
Listeners!  Thank you for 100,000 episode downloads! It's Bachtoberfest, which means we talk about a silly piece by Bach -- this year's is a little parable about a tobacco pipe.  We also read some of your comments and suggestions, we drink some Hefeweizen, and we talk about our plans for season 4, coming in 2024. TWO MORE BONUS EPISODES are on their way soon -- a blooper reel for season 3, and a post-concert interview with soprano and previous podcast guest Emily Wood. LOCAL LISTENERS in Southern California: Info about the Christmas Carol Festival organized/directed by Christian at his church: 3:00pm, Sunday December 10, Abiding Savior Lutheran Church, 23262 El Toro Rd, Lake Forest, CA 92630, USA. And check out the Bach: Coffee and Cantata online group organized by listener Thierry -- a place for like-minded Bach lovers to meet and discuss cantatas in the context of the Sunday on which they were written.  We mention this in the episode. As always, thanks to Netherlands Bach Society for the use of our audio examples, and Sydney LaCom for our artwork. Until next year... enjoy those moments...
Composer and guitarist Giovanni Piacentini joins us today with guitar in hand and an enthusiasm to share with us one of Bach's most surprising moments.  Bach's "Prelude, Fugue and Allegro" is designated for lute or harpsichord. Classical guitarists have long enjoyed the work, which is successfully adapted to the guitar. Near the end of the prelude, Bach takes us down an unexpected path, then gives us a thoroughly strange chord -- Giovanni's moment of Bach today.  We discuss two normal ways that this chord could have progressed. But as Giovanni says, "Bach isn't normal!" Instead he takes on a wild trip before returning to the peaceful home key. 
Today we take a suggestion from listener Dave, and dive into the wonderfully rich "Trauerode", which was written for the funeral of a princess. Bach put some extra effort into the instrumentation and orchestration.  Here we have an aria with not just one complex obligatto instrument line, but three separate obligatto instrument lines (flute, oboe, violas da gamba), all with different material and different timbres. "Laß, Fürstin, laß noch einen Strahl" (Trauerode) (BWV 198) -- tenor aria Link to information about upcoming concert at Alex's church in Orange, CA: Sunday Oct 1 at 4pm, Bach cantata #147
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Comments (2)

Maysha Gupta Nidhi (Pirate King)

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Jan 29th
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Greg Masters

Isn't it BWV 34?

May 30th
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