Archive for March 15th, 2014|Daily archive page

JS Bach – A Personal Pilgrimage

In Bach Pilgrimage, Baroque, JS Bach on March 15, 2014 at 10:20 am

A series of happy coincidences has prompted me to undertake what amounts to a personal pilgrimage.

The first was the fiftieth anniversary of the Monteverdi Chorus. As with many other people, this magnificent ensemble – together with the English Baroque Soloists – has played a seminal role in my own musical life. Their numerous recordings from Bach to Brahms, and their live performances have been a constant in my life but just as importantly so has their passion and enthusiasm for classical music. They were – if I am not mistaken – one of the first ensembles to cock a finger at the major recording labels and set out on their own. And where they have gone, others are starting to follow, determined not to be diminished by the selfishness of labels and there obsession with mediocrity and the bottom line.

Secondly – but related – was the recent release of their Easter Oratorio and Actus Tragicus. Suffice it to say at this stage – as the Actus Tragicus will indeed be one of the first cantatas to feature in my pilgrimage – that these are joyous recordings.

And third is that this is my 150th blog entry and one of my earliest blog entries was all about the majesty Bach’s cantatas. In both school and college I have both sung and played various of his cantatas and oratorios. Repeated listening hasn’t dampened by enthusiasm or sense of awe for any of them and it always amazes me that about two fifth are still missing.

Therefore I am, for however long it takes, going to embark on my own Bach pilgrimage. I will listen to every cantata as recorded by this eminent ensemble but of course there will be occasions when I will listen to performances outside of Gardiner’s epic oeuvre.

Originally I thought of listening to the cantatas in their respective cycles. But upon further consideration I have decided to listen to them in chronological order. Clearly listening to the cantatas in their cycles would provide a sense of narrative – religious and spiritual – but by listening to them chronologically I believe that while I won’t necessarily lose the ‘spiritual’ impact created by Bach’s genius, I will also experience the development of Bach’s musical genius as well.

Similarly this won’t be an aria-by-aria, chorale-by chorale, chorus-by-chorus account. That would be impossible. Instead my entries will be determined by the whimsical, emotional impact of my listening.

So to begin, his earliest cantatas written in 1707.


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