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Andrews University Orchestra Concert
November 22, 1998

Bach: Cantata 51 | Beethoven: Eroica Symphony

Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750)
Cantata No. 51 Jauchzet Gott in allen Landen
Musically, Bach's years as the Cöthen court conductor were in many ways rewarding ones. The Prince had established a first-rate chamber orchestra and had acquired some fine instruments. In this position Bach had great artistic freedom to create a vast quantity of chamber, orchestral, and keyboard works. However, because of the Calvinist persuasion of the prince (church music was limited to the singing of psalms) the composer did not have much opportunity to really fulfill his Calling: "to further well regulated church music to the Glory of God."  By the end of 1721, life in Cöthen had become less congenial for Bach following the prince's marriage to a pleasure-loving girl, whom Bach called Amusa. Not only did she lack interest in music, but was even jealous of the prince's interest in it. The death of Johann Kuhnau made available the post of Cantor of Leipzig, center of traditional Lutheranism. It still must have been a difficult decision for the Bach family to consider a move to Leipzig. Anna Magadalena Bach was a trained musician and had a paid singing position in Cöthen. In Leipzig women were not even allowed to perform in church, and as wife of the cantor she would be expected to stay in the background. The pay at Leipzig was considerably less and more sporadic (depending on things like funerals, and extra administrative duties) than what Bach had received at the court.  Composing music was not considered the most important duty of the cantor. To top it all, Bach was only the third choice of the Leipzig town council for the post. He did take the position but spent the rest of his days struggling with the many administrators to which he must answer, and many duties he disliked, such as teaching Latin and dormitory supervision that he disliked. However, in spite of all this, during this 27 year period, the composer created some of the most splendid and uplifting church music ever written.

The church cantatas form the core of Bach's vocal output. He composed five complete cycles (around 300), many completed at the rate of one per week. The Lutheran cantata that had been developed in the 17th century was generally a work of several sections, generally setting poetic paraphrases of scripture to music.  Cantatas became sermons in themselves and, in the Lutheran liturgy, usually preceded or even surrounded the spoken sermon.  Most of Bach's church cantatas are set for choir and instruments with soloists used in some movements.  The final movement is usually the four-part setting of a chorale (hymn). Cantata 51Jauchzet Gott in allen Landen,  is one of Bach's few cantatas for solo voice and orchestra. It is an exceptional work in its virtuosic writing for singer and trumpet. Scholars wonder what singer capable of doing this work would have been available in Leipzig at the time. Women weren't allow to perform in church, and Bach often complained of the lack of musical ability of the boys in his choirs. Usually by the time a rare one had developed musically, his voice would change. However, there are records of occasional male singers with the necessary capabilities being around.  Although it is not likely that this work, exceptional in its demands and exceptional in its spirit, received many performances in Bach's lifetime, audiences today can be grateful for the creation of this work inscribed "SDG," (To the Glory of God).

Cantata 51 is a wonderful example of Baroque ornamental partnership between singer and instrumentalist.  The first aria is a jubilant paean of rejoicing, calling on all to praise God and bring an offering to the one who stands by them in their time of need.  The soprano consorts boldly with the trumpet and other instruments.  The strings accompany the opening of the second movement, the text of which is based on Psalm 138:2 and 26:8.  The accompaniment changes to continuo only (organ and bass) when "the broken voice  is only able to stammer in feeble praise of God's wonders."  The gentle, pastorale-like third movement, again accompanied by continuo, speaks to the loving Father God rather than the Lord of Glory.  The two-part final movement is an extended doxology.  The soprano intones the chorale melody against the concerto-like interplay of the two violins with the trumpet and tutti strings joining the soprano for the concluding alleluias.

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Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827)
Symphony No. 3 in E-flat Major, Op. 55  "Eroica"

After a rather dismal youth in Bonn, the twenty-two year old Beethoven moved to Vienna where he was to spend the rest of his life.  He quickly gained acclaim as a virtuoso pianist, winning the friendship of princes as well as common people.  As one the first of free-lance composers largely independent of church or royal patronage, Beethoven established the status of the artist in society making much of his living from publishing and performing his own compositions.   As the turn of the century approached, the composer  turned seriously to the genre of the symphony.  The form had been well-developed in the 18th century by C.P.E. Bach, Stamitz, Mozart, and Haydn, but Beethoven had other ideas that burned within him.  His first symphony, largely in 18th century style, was completed at the dawn of the new century, and was received with considerable interest.  Just when it seemed that his life and career were going so well, tragedy struck. He began to realize that he was losing the faculty most precious to a musician, his hearing.  In the autumn of 1802 he poured out his despair in what has become known as the Heiligenstadt Testament.  He realized that others heard things that he could no longer hear, and wrote that "such incidents brought me to the verge of despair, but little more and I would have put an end to my life–only art it was that withheld me, ah it seemed impossible to leave the world until I had produced all that I felt called upon to produce, and so I endured this wretched existence."  Endure he did, and during this dark time Beethoven composed his sunny second symphony.  However, the real watershed for the history of music was to come with Symphony No. 3 in E-Flat Major (Eroica).
A friend of princes, but totally dedicated to the ideals of the French revolution: Liberté, égalité, fraternité (Liberty, Equality, Fraternity (Brotherhood)), Beethoven originally intended that this symphony, so full of his own revolutionary ideas and aspirations, would be dedicated to the egalitarian accomplishments of Napoleon.  However, upon learning that Napoleon had crowned himself emperor, and had thus given up the ideals of democracy, Beethoven wrathfully tore up the title page bearing the name "Bonaparte," threw it on the ground and stamped on it.  The title page was later inscribed, "Composed to celebrate the memory of a great man" and was rededicated to his friend and patron Prince Lobkowitz.  Reactions to the work's first performances were mixed.  Beethoven's friends viewed it as a masterpiece, but the poorly educated audiences couldn't handle what they saw as the composer's perversity.  Others found many fine things in the work, but were bewildered by his challenges to convention.  Certainly the length of the piece shocked people.  One patron was said to have shouted from the balcony, "I'll give another Kreuzer [about a penny] if only the thing will stop." Audiences at the turn of the 19th century were accustomed to hearing elegantly turned music that pleased and delighted them, and didn't last too long.  In Eroica, Beethoven established the status of a work of art–it must be considered on its own terms and had the right to challenge the status quo.

The opening two hammer-like chords set the stage for complexity growing from the simplest of material, a melody consisting simply of the outline of a triad.  The breaking of convention and elements of heroism continue in the second movement, a funeral march.  Beginning softly with the strings, the theme is picked up by the entire orchestra, then appears as a fugue where each in turn the different instruments play the melody.  The typical 18th century third movement, an elegant minuet, is replaced with a dashing scherzo.  The trio section, in this case, truly features a trio–a trio of horns.  The figure of the hero returns in the final movement with a set of variations on a theme from Beethoven's popular ballet The Creatures of Prometheus.  It's almost as if the composer is rewarding his patient listeners with a tune that they have already come to enjoy.  The final variation in the style of a country dance concludes with what we recognize as Beethoven's signature, a long series of closing chords–twenty-four of them in all.

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Program notes by Linda Mack. Copyright 1998.
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