Spiritual greatness and meditative calm descend as Eivind Aadland and the Oslo Philharmonic present a programme of Bach's church music and Bruckner´s sacred art of symphonic writing.
Both composers wrote music in honour of God. Still, the distance in style between the two might be said to be as great as that which separates a Lutheran wooden church from a Catholic cathedral. Bach refers closely to the suffering of Christ, giving an intimate musical impression of human vulnerability in his cantata “Ich habe genug”. The Catholic Bruckner, on the other hand, gives religious faith and creative power free reign through overwhelming symphonic waves which billow up towards the heavens in his seventh symphony.
“Soli Deo Gloria” − “Only for the Glory of God” − wrote Johann Sebastian Bach (1685−1750) often on his manuscripts. God was a part of everything he did and everything he composed, whether it was church music or wordly compositions. In 1723 he was employed as cantor in the St. Thomas Church in Leipzig, where he composed a new cantata every Sunday, producing in total more than 300 (100 of them have been lost).
Bach wrote “Ich habe genug” (BWV 82) for Candlemas (2 February) in 1727. The cantata, which has a biblical text from the Book of Malachi and Luke the Evangelist, tells the story of Simeon − an old man who gets to hold the baby Jesus in his arms in the temple of Jerusalem, subsequently feeling ready to leave the world: “Ich habe genug” (I have had enough). The bass soloist in the solo cantata represents Simeon, and Bach has chosen to give the text a musical expression more characterised by calm and satisfaction with life rather than melancholy and resignation. The aria “Schlummert ein, ihr matten Augen” (“Fall asleep, you weary eyes”), a melancholy lullaby at the end of life, is central to this. By contrast, we also perform the jubliant “Sonata” from the cantata “Der Himmel lacht! Die Erde jubiliert!” (BWV 31), composed for Easter Sunday in 1714, with the resurrection as its theme.
An old man's imminent death was also an important subject for Anton Bruckner (1824−1896) when he composed his Symphony No. 7 − more precisely, Richard Wagner's death in 1883. The meeting with Wagner and his music had played a great part in igniting Bruckner's creative spark in the 1860s, inspiring him to write his grandiose symphonies of epic proportions. His seventh symphony is a kind of monument to Wagner, shown most clearly in the gripping second movement, where Bruckner makes use of four Wagner tubas as a tribute to the old master.
The listener is immediately coaxed into Bruckner's symphonic world in the opening when the strings create a vibrating backdrop for the ravishing theme of the cellos and the horns. Then, the symphonic waves sweep one away. After the calm, solemn, but somehow comforting second movement, a contrast follows with one of Bruckner's most playful and spirited scherzos. In the finale, the arc is drawn back to the first movement, this time with an even greater, more insistent strength, the mass of brass increasing in power as we move towards triumph in the coda.
Bruckner's Symphony No. 7 received its world premiere in Leipzig in 1884, 157 years after Bach´s “Ich habe genug” resonated for the first time through the St. Thomas Church in the same city. This work arguably represented Bruckner's greatest success as a composer, and is still considered by many to be his most successful and complete symphony.
(In photo: Hanno Müller-Brachmann; Text: Thomas Erma Møller; Translation from Norwegian: Sarah Osa)
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