The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: Choral music is key to Johann Sebastian Bach as both man and musician, says expert conductor John Eliot Gardiner in his new book. You can hear the St. Thomas Church Boys Choir of Leipzig sing Bach this Sunday night at 7 in Luther Memorial Church.

November 2, 2013
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By Jacob Stockinger

To say that Johann Sebastian Bach loved choral music is something of an understatement.

This Sunday night, Nov. 3, at 7 p.m., tomorrow night, you can hear some of that sublime music performed by the same boys choir that Bach himself (below) directed from 1723 to his death in 1750 at the Saint Thomas Church in Leipzig, Germany. (The choir was founded in 1212. For more information, visit


Luther Memorial Church (below), 1021 University Ave., will host the St. Thomas Boys Choir of Leipzig during the first U.S. concert tour of its 800-year history. The choir will sing from the church’s rear balcony, just as it performs at St. Thomas.

St. Thomas Boys Choir

The program includes music of Bach (Cantata Nos. 196 and 150; and the Motet “Singet dem Herrn”); and Antonio Vivaldi (“Magnificat” and “Gloria”). All are masterpieces that have survived the test of time.

For tickets and further information go to:

Tickets are available for purchase online on the Luther Memorial website at via Brown Paper Tickets. You can select your seats from a seating chart of the church’s nave at $20, $30 or $60. (Below is the Luther Memorial Church interior.)

luther memorial church madison

But the music is about more than beauty, if you listen to John Eliot Gardiner (below), the distinguished British conductor of the Monteverdi Choir who has recorded all the surviving cantatas (about 100 of 300 were lost) after performing them around the world.

John Eliot Gardiner

This week, Gardiner published a book about Bach: “Bach: Music In the Castle of Heaven” (Alfred A. Knopf). It promises to be as important to Bach scholarship and studies as works by Harvard scholar Christoph Wolff, Albert Schweitzer and Philipp Spitta.

Bach Music in the Castle of Heaven

Gardiner also did a long, insightful and informative Q&A with Tom Huizenga, the director of NPR’s terrific classical music blog “Deceptive Cadence.”

The surprising interview includes sound snippets as examples, drawn from Gardiner’s extensive discography. And Gardiner even suggests which single cantata if the best one to listen to if you can only listen to one. (Can you guess which one? It is at the bottom in a YouTube video.)

It would be perfect to read or listen either before the St. Thomas Boys Choir concert or after.

Here is a link:

Classical music: To mark J.S. Bach’s 327th birthday, NPR spends a full week examining the “Goldberg” Variations from Handel to Hannibal Lecter. It is an astounding work of appreciation and analysis.

March 24, 2012

A REMINDER ALERT: The UW Pro Arte Quartet (below, in a photo by Rick Langer) will perform a FREE and UNTICKETED community concert to mark its centennial tonight at 8 p.m. in the Wisconsin Union Theater. They will be joined by guest pianist Christopher Taylor and Juilliard Quartet violist Samuel Rhodes in the world premiere of William Bolcom’s Piano Quintet No. 2 as well as Darius Milhaud’s Quartet No. 7, Webern’s “Langsamer Satz” and Mozart’s String Quintet in G minor, K. 516. The concert is preceded by a free lecture on the state of classical music today at 3 p.m. in the WUT New York Times critic Anthony Tommasini and then a pre-concert interview with Bolcom and Tommasini at 7 p.m.

By Jacob Stockinger

Yesterday, on Friday, I posted a review of Madison’s Bach Around the Clock 3, held last Saturday from noon to midnight by Wisconsin Public Radio and the Pres House. It featured many student, amateur and professional performers.

But National Public Radio has outdone me and really marked Bach’s birthday, which was actually on Wednesday.

All this past week has been devoted to the “Goldberg” Variations.

Once the massive work of theme-and-variations was an esoteric rarity. Now it is iconic – nothing less than Apple founder Steve Jobs’ favorite work by his favorite composer.

So NPR invited several very well known experts and performers to discuss and play the Goldbergs. They include famed musicologist and Bach biography Christoph Wolff of Harvard and Leipzig, pianist Leif Ove Andsnes, and pianist-blogger Jeremy Denk (below), who made several major contributions, as well as a pianist-composer Lara Downes, who has composed and recorded “13 Ways of Looking at the Goldbergs.”

All is all, it is an incredibly comprehensive tutorial on this wonderful world. It examines the origins of the music. It asks whether the work is best heard on the harpsichord or modern piano. It explores pioneering performances of them by Wanda Landowska and Glenn Gould (below).

It is a great idea that was executed greatly. I think that Tom Huizenga and Anastasia Tsioulcas (below top and bottom, respectively), the hosts of NPR’s classical blog “Deceptive Cadence,” have outdone themselves and their now outstanding past record with the week-long series devoted to a single work. It deserves some kind of industry prize or recognition.

See what you think and let me know.

Here are various links:

To an amusing and clever quiz on the Goldbergs:

To scholar Christoph Wolff (below) on the origins of the Goldbergs and the piano versus harpsichord debate:

To pianist-composer Lara Downes (below) on her new, Wallace Stevens-inspired variations based on the Goldbergs:

To pianist Jeremy Denk – one hopes he records them soon — and his thoughts on the origins and structure of the Goldbergs plus his songful and soulful playing of several variations and his take on other topics including Hannibal Lecter’s love of the Goldbergs:

To famed pianist Leif Ove Andsnes (below) on Glenn Gould’s landmark performances of the Goldbergs:

And there is more on NPR’s “Deceptive Cadence” blog site about the Goldbergs, including a look at a great harpsichord plus many videos and photos to look at and many videos to listen to.

Which recording is your favorite version of the Goldberg Variations, and why?

Do you prefer the harpsichord or piano, and why?

The Ear wants to hear.

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