Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Music for Psalm 130

Psalm 130 was one of the favorite psalms for baroque composers, for reasons we discussed at last week's Bible study. It was also very important to Martin Luther.


BWV 131 - "Aus der Tiefe"
Notice how "Aus der Tiefe ... " is solemn, tragic - (out of the depths, I call, Lord, to You"). It then progresses to something more bold - with "Herr, höre meine stimme" - "GOD, HEAR MY VOICE! Your ears take note of the sound of my pleas." "Aus der Tiefe" provides the tragic setting of despair - and out of that despair - our bold, confident voices calling to God.

Hmm, I didn't know this: it was written after the town of Mülhausen was burned down! Ton Koopman talks about this piece, before the choir & orchestra perform it - - a very good description of Bach's faith regarding this piece as well. I think what Koopman misses in his description is the contrast between the context - "aus der Tiefe" - and the boldness, and almost joyful anxiety in singing "Lord, hear my voice!"

Koopman's performance is definitely professional - but a bit "old fashioned," and in my opinion, not so baroque - if you're interested though, there's another one I'd like you to hear - a more "modern" performance (this usually means, examining the Baroque context and trying to play it more "authentically," the way it was probably performed in Bach's time, and not so much the way we are accustomed to hearing it - since we have hundreds of years of music interpretation between us, especially the Romantic era - which makes us sometimes tend to play baroque pieces a bit more slowly, and less "confidently," with things sounding very soothing, and rarely sharp, rhythmically, or with "oomph" - more like music that's perfect for aiding the digestion. When I think that often baroque music isn't always intended to sound peaceful and serene, but sometimes quite forcefully expressive. Anyways - listen to how these people sing it - - the performance is less professional, but listen to how they sing, "Herr, höre meine Stimme" - Lord, hear my voice! This sounds in a way a bit more primitive, more rushed - but I think it carries the spirit and expression of the piece much better than Koopman's. There is something - a bit frenzied - but yet joyful and confident here - it sounds like me, when I am anxious, and crying out to God - not nice, measured tones, but something like rushing to God in my eager cries to Him.

BWV 106 - Actus Tragicus
The Actus Tragicus is not based on Psalm 130, but it belongs "together" with this Cantata - if you're listening to the first, you may as well listen to this one, so here it is. Here's a performance by Junghänel (not quite as 'old school' as Koopman and a bit more vigorous) - Part I - Part II . This is one of Bach's earliest cantatas.

There are LOTS of settings of Psalm 130, especially from the baroque period.

I'll close here with one from John Rutter's Requiem - this one is special since ZoeRose's church choir is going to be performing it for Good Friday.