Ton Koopman conducts Bach
30 Jan 2010
Johann Sebastian Bach
Orchestral Suite No. 3 in D major, BWV 1068 (19 min.)
Symphony No. 98 in B flat major (29 min.)
Johann Sebastian Bach
“Lobet den Herrn, alle Heiden”, motet, BWV 230 (8 min.)
RIAS Kammerchor, Hans-Christoph Rademann Chorus Master
Johann Sebastian Bach
Magnificat in D major, BWV 243 (34 min.)
Klara Ek Soprano, Rachel Frenkel Mezzo-Soprano, Ingeborg Danz Contralto, Werner Güra Tenor, Klaus Mertens Bass, RIAS Kammerchor, Hans-Christoph Rademann Chorus Master
An introduction by Ton Koopman (13 min.)
For years now, the rigid barriers between historic and modern performance practice have been breaking down. As a result, numerous Early Music conductors have in the meantime worked with the Berliner Philharmoniker – from Nikolaus Harnoncourt to Trevor Pinnock. Another major exponent in this field is Ton Koopman. In this concert he makes his début with the Philharmoniker, conducting works by Bach and Haydn.
Many other symphony orchestras have also performed under Koopman’s direction, such as the Concertgebouw Orchestra, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and the Symphonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks. His work with these orchestras is not, however, at odds with his musical ideals. In an interview he explained: “Fortunately in our days more and more modern symphony orchestras are going to perform Mozart, Bach and Haydn with their instruments but with a different aesthetic. ... I think it’s an important thing that it’s possible to make a bridge between the two things.”
Along with Haydn’s Symphony No. 98, central to this début is Johann Sebastian Bach, whom Koopman admires more than any other composer: “Bach is able to compose in a way that mind and emotion are in a fantastic balance. You can just look at his music, surprised saying: ‘How is it possible that you can write in counterpoint like that, that you have the craftsmanship that Bach has, which is enormous, and still be able to reach the heart?’”
Trumpets in the Coffee House
Musical Wisdom and Reality – from Bach and Haydn
What notions does music awaken? In 1830 the young Felix Mendelssohn travelled to Weimar to visit Goethe. The agenda on those mornings: music history. Mendelssohn sat down at the piano and presented older, new and his own works to his host. The music of Johann Sebastian Bach stimulated splendid scenes in Goethe’s imagination. In a letter, Mendelssohn reported: “I played for him on the piano, as well as I could, the Overture in D major with trumpets by Sebastian Bach and could tell that he was delighted by it: ‘It begins so pompously and decorously that one can almost see the well turned-out company descending a great staircase’.” Not yet 100 years after Bach’s death, cultivated individuals’ associations with Baroque music were already historical in nature, with a seemingly strong emphasis on genre. Goethe admitted to loving the “historical” aspect of music, its gradual evolution, its chronological progression, and he sought a term to describe “how music has developed”. But the story of a composition like Bach’s Overture No. 3 in D major BWV 1068 has some surprises of its own in store, surprises that thoroughly confound our notions of pomp and decorum.
Honoured gentlemen, paying guests
Bach probably composed this overture in 1718 – at first for a small but select ensemble of strings and continuo: for the “CammerMusici”, elite players in the Cöthen court chapel, which Bach had been directing for a few months. Not until years later, in Leipzig in 1730 or 1731, did he augment the scoring with three trumpets, two oboes and timpani – this time not for a princely court but for the middle-class audience of his public concerts. Beginning in 1729, Bach appeared weekly with his Collegium Musicum, a colourfully assorted ensemble of Leipzig University students, the Thomaskantor’s own private pupils, itinerant virtuosi and city musicians granted the privilege of playing the trumpet. It was traditional on 3 August, the name day of the Saxon elector, for the collegium to present him with “solemn music containing trumpets and drums” which, when the weather was fine, would be performed in the garden of a coffee house, even by flickering torchlight after the sun went down. The Leipzig version of the Overture BWV 1068 may well have been accorded its first hearing at just such a “night musick”. The history of this work shows how early the aspiring middle class began emulating the courtly lifestyle, displaying itself as nobler than the nobility. Already in Bach’s lifetime a conception of the Baroque and music began taking hold that actually had nothing to do with the reality of middle-class listeners’ lives, but rather with their pronounced sense of ambition and attraction – Bach’s trumpets paid homage, not to a monarch, but to Leipzig’s paying public.
Not only for Christmas
There is yet another impression that transcends all generations and changing times. The moment Baroque music is sounded, the listener associates it with Christmas, and Bach’s Magnificat in D major BWV 243 seems entirely to confirm this cosy preconception. Although the canticle of Mary from the first chapter of St. Luke’s Gospel was sung throughout the year by the congregation of Leipzig’s principal churches – in Martin Luther’s German translation, to the medieval melody of the ninth psalm tone – on feast days, a polyphonic Latin setting of the Magnificat was permitted, one on a large scale: with soloists, choir and instruments. By the time Bach transposed his Magnificat from the original key of E flat major (BWV 243a) into the “trumpet key” of D major, the composition could now also be performed at Easter, Whitsun and on the Leipzig Marian feasts – in any event, not just at Christmas.
To be or not to be?
The circle of association is larger still. As already mentioned, when you hear Baroque music your thoughts may well stray to the holidays, to elegantly clad people illuminated by torches or candles, perhaps at Christmas time. Or to “old masters”, a title of honour which, however, can also expose a sore point in the dim light of anonymity: the issue of unverified authorship or legend fabrication. The motet “Lobet den Herrn, alle Heiden” BWV 230 was first published in 1821 by Breitkopf & Härtel in Leipzig, purportedly “based on J. S. Bach’s original manuscript”, of which no trace exists. The question of its authenticity has therefore remained unsettled up to the present day – is this composition really from Bach’s pen? An elaborate setting of Psalm 117, with alternation of fugue, double fugue and free polyphony, it has a number of unusual features for a Bach motet. A recent hypothesis has it being based, not on the psalm’s German text, but on the Latin: “Laudate Jehovam, omnes gentes”. The German version that has come down to us, according to this theory, must then be a later arrangement, which begs the next question: did Bach compose the original or was he responsible for the reworking? Or both – or neither? Music historians find themselves in the awkward situation of not really knowing either the work’s date or its author. But is that a reason for banishing the motet BWV 230 from the repertoire? God forbid! “Lobet den Herrn, alle Heiden” – “Praise the Lord, all ye heathen”.
Joseph Haydn takes his leave
With or without trumpets – Bach is the shining star of European music, the composer “from whom all true musical wisdom emanates”, as Joseph Haydn sang his praises. Haydn’s artistic emulation of Bach occupied the spheres of a higher, but by no means ivory-tower, “compositional science”. As a Kapellmeister in courtly service, he also followed in the footsteps of his great predecessor; but unlike Bach, who never left the central and north German cultural realm, Haydn in his later years travelled as far afield as London. As one of England’s most eagerly awaited visiting stars from the Continent, he was celebrated as the “Shakespeare of music”. When on 2 March 1792, he presented the first performance of his Symphony No. 98 in B flat major in the packed Hanover Square Rooms, the assembled listeners were so excited that the outer movements immediately had to be repeated. Specifically, the opening Allegro corresponded completely to the combination of grandeur, elevation and majesty that English contemporaries associated with Haydn’s music, while the solemn Adagio, which begins like a paraphrase of “God Save the King”, epitomizes the composer’s ambition of leading his audience through all of life’s highs and lows. Last but not least, however, Haydn also paid court to the English sense of humour: the finale of Symphony No. 98 is constantly getting sidetracked when its composer again and again interrupts the prevailing furore to indulge the Konzertmeister with solo insertions. Then in the coda, Haydn himself makes a totally unexpected solo appearance at the fortepiano. He has been directing the orchestra from the keyboard in order to bid farewell to his listeners at the end with this concertante punchline: farewell to an audience that has come to be wooed, impressed, surprised and entertained. Like the customer one proverbially calls a king.
Translation: Richard Evidon
Ton Koopman studied the organ and harpsichord and also musicology. Fascinated by Baroque music and by historically informed performance practice on period instruments, he formed the Amsterdam Baroque Orchestra in 1979 and the Amsterdam Baroque Choir in 1992. In the course of his career he has performed in leading concert halls and at international festivals on all five continents and as an organist has played on the finest instruments in Europe. Together with his Amsterdam Baroque Orchestra and Choir he has appeared regularly as harpsichordist and conductor at the Amsterdam Concertgebouw, the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées in Paris, the Munich Philharmonie, the Alte Oper in Frankfurt and New York’s Lincoln Center and Carnegie Hall. He has also conducted some of the most famous orchestras in Europe, the United States and Japan, including the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, the German Symphony Orchestra of Berlin and the Boston, Chicago and Vienna Symphony Orchestras. Between 1994 and 2004 he recorded a critically acclaimed set of Bach’s cantatas, following this up in 2005 with a complete recording of Buxtehude’s works. He teaches the harpsichord at the Conservatory in The Hague and also holds a chair at the University of Leiden. An honorary fellow of the Royal Academy of Music in London, he is artistic director of the Festival Itinéraire Baroque in France, the recipient of an honorary doctorate from the University of Utrecht for his work on Bach’s cantatas and Passions and the holder of Leipzig’s Bach Medal, which he received in 2006. This is Ton Koopman’s debut with the Berliner Philharmoniker.
Klara Ek studied at the Royal College of Music and the University College of Opera in Stockholm and also at the Royal College of Music in London. Among her teachers are Craig Rutenberg, Kerstin Meyer, Birgit Nilsson and Lillian Watson. She made her professional stage debut in 2003 as Susanna in Mozart’s Le nozze di Figaro with the Royal Danish Opera. Since then her engagements have taken her to many of the leading opera houses and concert halls in Europe, including Den Jyske Opera, La Monnaie in Brussels, the Stuttgart State Opera and the Grand Théâtre de Genève. Among the conductors with whom she has worked are René Jacobs, Helmuth Rilling and Vladimir Ashkenazy, while the orchestras with which she has appeared include the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra, the National Symphony Orchestra of Washington, DC, the Israel Philharmonic, the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra, the Royal Scottish National Orchestra and the Philharmonia. She is particularly closely associated with two period ensembles, Alan Curtis’s Il Complesso Barocco and Christopher Hogwood’s Academy of Ancient Music. She enjoys performing unusual works: with Pablo Heras-Casado and the Compañía y Orquesta Barroca de Aranjuez she appeared in the first performance in modern times of Giuseppe Bonno’s L’isola disabitata, while for the Vadstena Summer Opera Festival she sang Lisken in a revival of Johan David Zander’s Kopparslagaren to a libretto by Carl Envallsson. She has also given song recitals featuring works by Mozart, Haydn, Lehár and Zeller. Klara Ek is making her debut with the Berliner Philharmoniker.
The German contralto Ingeborg Danz studied singing with Heiner Eckels. In addition to her operatic performances, she is particularly associated with the concert and lieder repertory and has worked closely with Helmuth Rilling’s International Bach Academy in Stuttgart and Philippe Herreweghe’s Collegium Vocale of Ghent. Her repertory includes Mahler’s symphonies, Berlioz’s Nuits d’été, Schumann’s Scenen aus Goethes Faust and Masses by Bruckner and Beethoven. Her performances of Bach’s music have received particular acclaim. Among the conductors with whom she has worked are Riccardo Muti, Claudio Abbado, Christopher Hogwood and Semyon Bychkov. She has performed at La Scala, Milan, and the Lucerne and Salzburg Festivals, while the orchestras with which she has appeared include the Royal Concertgebouw, the Vienna and Munich Philharmonics, the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra, the German Symphony Orchestra of Berlin, the Bamberg Symphony Orchestra and the Los Angeles Philharmonic. Ingeborg Danz is particularly drawn to lieder and has toured with Juliane Banse, Christoph Prégardien, Olaf Bär and James Taylor. Her accompanists include Michael Gees (piano) and Edgar Krapp (organ). This is her debut with the Berliner Philharmoniker.
Rachel Frenkel was born in Israel in 1981 and studied with Mira Zakai at the Buchmann-Mehta School of Music in Tel Aviv. She trained as a soprano but in 2005 switched to high mezzo-soprano roles. Among the roles she has sung since then are Cherubino in Mozart’s Le nozze di Figaro for the summer programme of the Israeli Vocal Arts Institute and, during the 2006/7 season, Hänsel in Humperdinck’s Hänsel und Gretel, the Second Lady in Die Zauberflöte and Mercédès in Carmen, all of which she sang as part of the Young Artist Programme of the Israeli Opera. In 2008 she made her debut at La Monnaie in Brussels, singing the part of the Second Servant in Cherubini’s Médée. In addition to her Classical operatic roles, Rachel Frenkel’s concert repertory extends from the Baroque to the 20th century. She has already worked with leading Israeli orchestras and appeared onstage in Belgium, France, Great Britain and the Netherlands. She has also sung at the Abu Gosh Chamber Music Festival and won first prize at the annual competition organized by the European Academy of Music at Aix-en-Provence. Since August 2009 she has been a member of the International Opera Studio at the Staatsoper Unter den Linden in Berlin. This is Rachel Frenkel’s debut with the Berliner Philharmoniker.
The German tenor Werner Güra was born in Munich and studied at the Mozarteum in Salzburg and later with Kurt Widmer in Basel and Margreet Honig in Amsterdam. He joined the Dresden State Opera in 1995, enjoying particular success in Mozart’s tenor roles. But his operatic repertory extends from the Baroque to the present day. He has appeared regularly at the Staatsoper Unter den Linden since the 1998/99 season. Among other venues where he has been heard principally in Mozart roles are the Opéra National de Paris, La Monnaie in Brussels, the 2006 Innsbruck Early Music Festival and the Baden-Baden Festival, where he performed under the direction of René Jacobs. In the concert hall he has worked with orchestras of the eminence of the Dresden Staatskapelle, the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra, the Vienna Symphony Orchestra, the London Philharmonic, the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, radio orchestras in Germany, England and the Netherlands and the Orchestre National de France. Conductors with whom he has sung include Claudio Abbado, Riccardo Chailly, Nikolaus Harnoncourt and Ton Koopman. As a lieder recitalist he has appeared in London’s Wigmore Hall, the Amsterdam Concertgebouw, the Philharmonie in Cologne, New York’s Lincoln Center and the Schubertiade Festivals in Schwarzenberg and Barcelona. Werner Güra first appeared with the Berliner Philharmoniker under the direction of Daniel Barenboim in May 1999 singing the tenor part of Mozart’s Coronation Mass KV 317. His most recent appearance was an all-Mozart programme under the direction of Daniel Barenboim.
Klaus Mertens began studying singing while he was still at school. He later studied music and teaching. His voice teachers include Else Bischof-Bornes and Jakob Stämpfli (lieder, concert singing and oratorio) and Peter Massmann (opera). He has worked closely with many conductors specializing in early music, including Ton Koopman, Nicholas McGegan, Philippe Herreweghe, René Jacobs and Nikolaus Harnoncourt, but he has also appeared with other distinguished conductors in the Classical repertory, namely, Herbert Blomstedt, Sir Roger Norrington and Kent Nagano. Among the orchestras with which he has appeared under these and other conductors are the Amsterdam Baroque Orchestra, the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, all the major orchestras in Berlin, the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra, the Zurich Tonhalle Orchestra, and the Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra. Klaus Mertens also appears regularly at major international festivals in Europe, the United States and Japan. Much in demand as an interpreter of Baroque music, he took part in the complete recording of Bach’s cantatas with the Amsterdam Baroque Orchestra under the direction of Ton Koopman. He is also a committed lieder recitalist with a repertory extending from the earliest contributions to the medium to the present day. This is Klaus Mertens’ debut with the Berliner Philharmoniker.
The RIAS Chamber Choir was founded in 1948 and was the first professional concert choir to apply the findings of historically informed performance practice to early music. The choir’s earliest recordings were intended to meet RIAS’s needs in Berlin and as such were largely restricted to the radio. Today, by contrast, the RIAS Chamber Choir works as a concert choir with many international commitments. Throughout its history, it has championed the music of the present day and has given the first performances of many works written specially for it by composers of the eminence of Arnold Schoenberg, Ernst Krenek, Bernd Alois Zimmermann and Hans Werner Henze. Former music directors include Herbert Froitzheim, Günther Arndt and Uwe Gronostay, all of whom turned the RIAS Chamber Choir into an internationally acclaimed ensemble, a position consolidated by Marcus Creed, who led the choir from 1987 to 2001 and who introduced it to orchestras such as Concerto Köln, the Freiburg Baroque Orchestra, the Akademie für Alte Musik and the Orchestre des Champs-Élysées. Creed’s successor, Daniel Reuss, focused on 20th-century classics, while Hans-Christoph Rademann, who has been the choir’s principal conductor since 2007, has extended the Classical and Romantic repertory, promoting the music of Jan Dismas Zelenka and his circle, music that Rademann himself rediscovered in Dresden. The RIAS Chamber Choir has worked closely with the Berliner Philharmoniker since 1949. Their last joint undertaking was in 2006, when they performed Bach’s B-minor Mass under the direction of Sir Roger Norrington.