Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750)
Max Reger Arr. (1873-1916)
Suite in G Minor
Composed approx. 1705
Arranged 1915 (pairs of flutes, oboes, bassoons, and trumpets, timpani, and strings)
Baroque composer and counterpoint master Johann Sebastian Bach was born in Eisenach, Thuringia, Germany. His father, Johann Ambrosius Bach was a seventh-generation musician and taught his son how to play the violin at a very young age. Coming from an esteemed lineage of composers, music was certainly something special that ran in the family.
For more than 300 years the Bach family worked as professional musicians, yet Johann Sebastian Bach is no doubt the most celebrated member of his family. Surprisingly enough, it was not always this way. Unfortunately, J.S. Bach’s music was not fully noted and appreciated until after Felix Mendelssohn’s performance of St. Matthew’s Passion, a little more than 70 years after Bach’s death.
Composing over 1,000 pieces of music throughout his lifetime, including music for organ, orchestras, choirs, concertos, and suites, Bach is regarded today as one of the greatest and most influential Western composers of all time.
Johann Baptist Maximilian Reger, known better as Max Reger, was a German composer, pianist, organist, conductor, and academic teacher. Like Bach, Reger wrote an enormous amount of music in only 25 years. Though he was considered a retrospective composer, he is recognized today as one of the last composers to infuse life into the 19th-century music traditions. What makes Reger’s work so influential was his ability to combine the classical structures of Beethoven and Brahms with the extended harmonies of Liszt and Wagner and blend it all with the complex counterpoint of Bach.
Bach’s Suite in G Minor arranged by Max Reger contains five movements: I. Grave (and Prélude), II. Sarabande, III. Courante, IV. Bourée, and V. Gigue. In the music world, a suite is a group of instrumental dance movements of varying characters, each movement typically remaining in the same key.
This idea of a suite containing related dance movements originated with the paired dances of the 14th and 15th centuries, such as the pavane and galliard. Typically, the idea was that the same melodic theme would be treated in different tempo and meter in each dance. By the 16th and 17th centuries, German composers arranged a collection of three or four dances into a suite, and by the mid-18th century, the collection of five dances in a suite became standard.
Hilary Tann (b. 1947)
With the Heather and Small Birds
Composed in 1994
From growing up in the heart of the coal-mining valleys of South Wales, Hilary Tann has enjoyed a love for nature and the outdoors ever since she was a child. Her music is influenced by her love for the natural world. As a listener, you can get a sense of her close bond with nature, if not from the titles of her works, from the beautiful lyricism and scene-setting imagery presented by her compositions. Tann is notably one of the most popular and well-respected composers of her generation, and her remarkable orchestral works, chamber orchestral works, songs, choral works, and chamber works have been performed and recorded by ensembles such as the European Women’s Orchestra, Marsyas Trio, Thai Philharmonic, Royal Liverpool, and BBC National Orchestra of Wales. Today, she lives in the foothills of the Adirondack Mountains in Upstate N.Y. where she chairs the Music Department.
With the Heather and Small Birds was commissioned by the 1994 Cardiff Festival. This celebratory overture for chamber orchestra premiered on September 17, 1994, by the European Women’s Orchestra, conducted by Odaline de la Martinez. The title came from the translation of the last stanza of a poem entitled “Mountain Stream,” by Welsh poet John Ceiriog Hughes.
“Son of the mountain am I
Far from the home making my song
But my heart is in the mountain
With the heather and the small
With the Heather and Small Birds opens with boisterous ascending string unisons overlapping and competing to their ascent, a theme that will come up more than just once. Everything soon settles, and the listener can hear the woodwinds playing melodies in conjunction with one another. This transition brings the piece to a new height as it introduces a similar theme, but this time with the high and low brasses working together with great intensity.
The piece then moves to a solo “chirping” piccolo accompanied by murmuring scales played by various other woodwinds behind it—a prime example of Tann’s use of imagery to create a scene of nature. Tann creates a similar image during a lightly scored section featuring various solo woodwinds. Before ending the piece, the winds, brass, and strings all come together in a weft of swirling lines. The compositional techniques Tann reveals in this nature-inspired work truly make it a delightful and energetic opening piece.
Ludwig Van Beethoven (1770-1827)
Mass in C Major Op. 86
Composed in 1807 (pairs of flutes, oboes, clarinets, and horns, vocal soloists, choir, strings)
Beethoven’s Mass in C was a serious test for the distinguished composer. The Mass in C was composed at the request of Prince Nikolaus Esterhazy II. At this point in his life, Beethoven was learning his deafness was growing worse, causing his mental health to also deteriorate. Furthermore, Beethoven had very little experience setting sacred texts. Joseph Haydn, who was Esterhazy’s former house composer and Beethoven’s former teacher, happened to be very skilled in his composition of masses, putting a lot of pressure on Beethoven as he composed Mass in C. While Beethoven approached this commission with unease, an outstanding masterpiece rose from these difficult circumstances. His experience with this piece also helped to establish his own success with his later sacred masterpiece, Missa Solemnis.
Despite Beethoven’s innovative and often wild temperament as a composer, his Mass in C Major follows the traditional customs for a setting of the Ordinary of the mass in the Classical era. In the Catholic Church, the liturgy is comprised of texts sung by the choir to teach the gospels, and two groups of the mass text exist— the Proper of the mass and the Ordinary of the mass. The ordinary employs texts that remain the same for every mass: Kyrie, Gloria, Credo, Sanctus, and Agnus Dei. Beethoven’s five movements of his Mass in C adhere to these conventional parts of the mass. Another element of this mass worth noting is the use of four vocal soloists standing out from the choir. These four vocalists are treated in context as a unified quartet of voices lyrically interwoven into the text.
Beethoven added quite a few of his own touches, making the piece a unique mass composition. Some examples of this include the rapidly crescendoing repetition of the word “Credo” adding force to the Credo movement, escalating harmonies at the end of the Gloria movement, and the constant traveling of keys throughout each movement. Beethoven speaks of his own mass, believing that he “treated the text as it has seldom been treated before.”
Perhaps a lot of this creativity arises from the fact that Beethoven was working on perhaps his most renowned work, Symphony in C, his Fifth Symphony at the same time he was composing his Mass in C.
Beethoven’s Mass in C is a humanistic, religious, and artistic expression that combines the splendor of the old traditions with his new and fresh ideas that heightened the Romantic period. This piece is a true display of Beethoven’s brilliance.