The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: Composer-performer John Harbison explains why the Token Creek Chamber Music Festival is revisiting “The Musical Offering” by Johann Sebastian Bach for a third time

August 25, 2017
1 Comment

By Jacob Stockinger

If you have ever attended a concert at the Token Creek Chamber Music Festival (below), which opens this Saturday night at 8 p.m. and Sunday afternoon at 4 p.m., you know how insightful the short commentaries by John Harbison invariably are.

Perhaps that should come as no surprise. Harbison (below), the co-founder and co-artistic director with his violinist wife Rose Mary Harbison, has been awarded a MacArthur ‘genius grant” and won a Pulitzer Prize, all while teaching at MIT.

The concerts this weekend focus on Johann Sebastian Bach’s incredible “Musical Offering,” part of which you can hear in the YouTube video at the bottom.

Here is a program note by composer-pianist Harbison, which will probably be complemented by some additional remarks:

”Every musician has the experience of understanding a piece better after they have performed it. A few have careers which welcome (sometimes to a fault) chances to re-perform, hopefully with greater insight, a piece they wish to carry with them and continue to share with colleagues and listeners.

“We have performed two complete Musical Offerings by Bach (below) at Token Creek. Why are we going back to its Trio Sonata? Because it has become necessary, for the fullness of our encounter, to present what is a revision, a reconsideration, a reinforcement of vows, regarding a masterpiece whose carrot remains forever on the stick.

“Such could be said about other elements on this program. One of the subtexts is about the fascinating issue of continuo realization — the piano or harpsichord part — the strange language in which harmonic structure is described to the player in cipher.

“In pieces by Bach this language is strained to the breaking point in works such as The Musical Offering and the E minor sonata for violin and continuo; it is in fact about to disappear, replaced by the explicit writing out, in pitches, all the musical information. Living in the world before and after this decision was taken is one of the preoccupations of this concert.

“In a concert dominated by Bach, the requirement of the other pieces (by Haydn and Harbison) is really sufficient originality and integrity not to be dwarfed or rendered ephemeral by his authority, a high bar, considered carefully by the management.”

For more information about the five concerts of three different programs, including ticket information, go to: http://tokencreekfestival.org


Classical music: X-rated classic music? The UW-Madison Madrigal Singers will perform a program of choral music “for adults only” this Saturday night.

November 13, 2015
1 Comment

By Jacob Stockinger

So much choral music seems to be sacred music.

Most of it, in fact.

But this week along comes a program of secular music.

For adults.

Only.

The program would probably be rated by Hollywood as NC-17 or X.

Parental Advisory Label

It is called “Not in Front of the Children” and will be performed this Saturday night at 8 p.m., in Mills Hall by the UW Madrigal Singers (below top) under director Bruce Gladstone (below bottom, in a photo by Katrin Talbot).

UW Madrigal Singers

BruceGladstoneTalbot

The program comes with the warning: **For Mature Audiences**

Adds the website for the UW-Madison School of Music:

Choral music isn’t all masses, psalms and spirituals. Madrigals, part songs, folksongs and chansons are just some examples of the secular side of choral singing and, quite honestly, it’s not all nature worship and charming love ballads.

“Long before Tipper Gore (below) was slapping CDs with warning labels, poets and composers were regaling their contemporaries with eroticism and humor that ranged from coy to seriously explicit.

Tipper Gore

“Over the years, supposedly well-meaning editors and musicologists have often provided bowdlerized translations or, worse, simply labeled certain pieces vulgar, leaving them obscene and not heard.

“The Madrigal Singers, consciences pricked, will cast off false propriety and expose their audience to a wealth of bawdy, lascivious, erotic and often hilarious musical gems. From saucy chansons to Mozart’s scatological canons, this will be an evening you’ll long remember. And not just because you left the kids at home …” (One example of such a scatological work by Mozart is in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

No word on specific works. The Ear usually complains about that.

But in this case, that would probably just spoil the surprise and fun!


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