The Niagara Brass Ensemble is dedicated to excellence in brass chamber music performance. Composed of remarkable musicians and led by international soloist and CBC recitalist James Tinsley, the Niagara [...]
They spoke about it
” In the chorales, the musical thought unfolds at a slower pace; it is no longer covered, but infiltrated by much tenderness and precision. The chant takes over each phrase, carries it to the limits of its restrained intensity, then lays it down; it relies on rests so that the heart can listen to itself being penetrated by meditation. ” Jacques Rivière, Études. We can, of course, fully appreciate Bach’s sacred works without sharing the intensity of Rivière’s faith; but this does not mean we should be deaf to their secret intention: deeply rooted in the Lutheran tradition, the works speak to us at least of the experience of faith, of a life in which each element is dedicated to the fashioning of a universal truth. Luther, in the 16th century, had already insisted upon music’s inherent power to unite. With the chorale, “the congregation,” to quote the Grove, “united through the act of singing, could participate by responding to the spoken word of the pastor, proclaiming the Gospel and expressing the joy of faith and the praise of God.” But there is more. In Luther’s church—the church “within”—communion had to be made more direct, thus more perfect, between the Creator and his creatures. Hence music and word must become the simplest expression of the Word, as all limits between inner faith and its exterior manifestations—between the call of the Lord and the believer’s response—are abolished. When Bach, two centuries later, begins his immense body of work based on the Lutheran chorale (Cantatas, Chorale Preludes, etc.), these melodies had already been treated in various ways. The most important of these—as far as Bach is concerned—is the development of the Canzionalsatz in the late-16th and early-17th century, later inbued with the serene mysticism of the Pietists. This choral setting, of which Melchior Vulpius, Hans Leo Hassler, and Johannes Crüger were the most important composers, consisted of a four-voice harmonization in which the melody was no longer in the tenor part but in the soprano. Moreover, the texts of the chorales were increasingly written by poets, which “led to the growth of the individual devotional song as a vehicle of self-expression.” (Grove). In Bach, this “self-expression” goes beyond the mere voicing of his personal faith. For him, the four-voice harmonization does not consist of a chord progression (as the romantic era will see it); rather, the true essence of these settings can be found in the contrapuntal art that unfolds within—independant voices harmoniously combined. Hence the Chorales, as the Preludes and Fugues and the Contrapunti from The Art of Fugue, had two different but related functions: on the one hand they served to express universal Harmony—an understanding of the “world wisdom” so prevalent in 17th-century philosophical thought; on the other, by their educational value they were meant to teach the very meaning of “harmony.” The Niagara Brass Ensemble, on this CD, propose that, from the intellectual and spiritual spheres of Bach we descend to a more “terrestrial” atmosphere, without, however, the loss of music’s wonderful sense of elevation. In the dances of Holborne, particularly the Galliards, joy is at the forefront, as is the impression of being “of this world”—a world of purely human feelings (The Fruit of Love). The profound sadness expressed by Gibbons in The Silver Swan is also close to our hearts; death as loss, death as tragedy—beauty and wisdom ephemeral: The silver swan, who living had no note, When death approached unlocked her silent throat: Leaning her breast against the reedy shore, Thus sung her first and last, and sung no more: Farewell all joys. O death come close mine eyes; More geese than swans now live. More fools than wise.