MAGNIFICAT Johann Sebastian Bach
16 February 2020
To create a Baroque-like milieu for this composition of Johann Sebastian Bach, the performance, 30 musicians and audience will be on the stage of the Etienne Rousseau Theatre - a once-off experience is not to be missed.
This performance brings together a select group of overseas and local specialists in Early Music: The conductor Norbert Brandauer form Salzburg in Austria and his wife Christine Brandauer on the traverso (the baroque predecessor of the modern flute), Antoinette Lohmann (orchestra leader), the natural trumpet player Nicolas Isabelle from Utrecht, and his colleague Maarten van der Valk on the timpani. The instruments played upon are either original (string) instruments or modern copies of old instruments. As continuo instruments, a harpsichord and a small organ positive are used. Bach`s practice of using only a few singers per part is following using the small chamber choir, in which the soloists sing the choruses as well, imparting a lightness to the music.
In Baroque music tradition, trumpets were reserved for royalty, and the French overture was the piece played when the king entered. Applied to Christ as king in church music, pieces celebrating his coming were always scored for trumpets. Befitting the Magnificat, in which Mary praises God for allowing her to be the vessel for Christ´s entry into the world, the opening piece of the performance starts with such an ouverture. It is the Orchestral Suite No. 3 in D major, consisting of various stylised dance movements, and again representing one of the most well-loved works of Bach. The second movement of the suite, the well-known Air on the G string, is a quiet, simple, and hauntingly beautiful piece, contrasting with the pomp and splendour of the royal opening.
The Magnificat is the Latin text of the song of praise by Mary upon learning that she is pregnant with the Saviour. Apart from the mass, this is the text most often set to music by Catholic and Protestant composers alike. Written in 1723 at the start of his new career as Thomascantor in Leipzig, Bach reworked the piece in 1733, producing the version performed in our concert. Composed for an orchestra consisting of strings, flutes, oboes and trumpets, and a five-part choir with five vocal soloists, a wide palette of sound colours is exploited and some of the most beautiful melodies employed, resulting in one of the most popular works by Bach: inspiring and uplifting.
Performing music written 280 years ago poses problems and challenges often not realised. Since the sheet music has been preserved – in many cases even the parts from which performances of the time were played – one would think that resurrecting a piece from that time is a simple matter. However, performance ideals and styles changed greatly in the interim, and, even more importantly, the instruments themselves underwent major changes. This means that the sound, as well as the idiom of modern performances, can be vastly different from that which a contemporary of Bach would have heard. While acknowledging that it is impossible to know exactly how Bach´s music really sounded, in Historically Informed Performance Practice, musicians act as sleuths, using clues from the original instruments and eighteenth-century treatises on how to perform music to approach the original sound experience. The resultant performances often show the old music in an unexpectedly vibrant freshness compared to well-known performances on modern instruments.
This performance of the Magnificat by JS Bach, follows in a tradition of Early Music performances presented by the Dome Arts Retreat since 2008, including the St. John’s Passion by Bach in 2016, the Requiem Mass by Mozart in 2017, Händel’s Messiah in 2018, and Haydn´s Stabat Mater in 2019. The support of the Rupert Music Foundation is gratefully acknowledged.
Etienne Rousseau Theatre, Sasolburg, South Africa. 15:00 on 16 February 2020. Bookings at Computicket. All tickets R150. All seats are on stage and unreserved.