Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750) after Giovanni Battista Pergolesi (1710-1736)
Tilge, Höchster, meine Sünden, BWV 1083
Tilge, Höchster, meine Sünden
Ist mein Herz in Missetaten
Missetaten, die mich drücken
Dich erzürnt mein Tun und Lassen
Wer wird seine Schuld verneinen
Siehe! ich bin in Sünd empfangen
Sieh, du willst die Wahrheit haben
Wasche mich doch rein von Sünden
Lass mich Freud und Wonne spüren
Schaue nicht auf meine Sünden
Öffne Lippen, Mund und Seele
Denn du willst kein Opfer haben
Lass dein Zion blühend dauern
Isabelle Atkinson soprano
Lauren Macleod mezzo-soprano
Johann Sebastian Bach
Ich habe genug, BWV 82a
Aria. Ich habe genug
Recitativo. Ich habe genug
Aria. Schlummert ein ihr matten Augen
Recitativo. Mein Gott!
Aria. Ich freue mich auf meinen Tod
Isla MacEwan soprano
Daniel Swani flute
Eamonn Dougan director
Academy Baroque Soloists
As the opera house in Leipzig was demolished in 1729, it is likely that Bach never saw the blockbuster success that was Pergolesi’s La serva padrona. Yet around 1740, the year of its Dresden premiere, copies of Pergolesi’s Stabat Mater would have reached Bach in Leipzig. The Thomaskantor decided to arrange Pergolesi’s work from 1736, using a German paraphrase of Psalm 51 as his text. In this motet, Tilge, Höchster, meine Sünden, BWV 1083, Bach expanded Pergolesi’s orchestral material, enriched the harmony of the basso continuo, and reworked melody in order to fit the new text.
But why would Bach, an old master of counterpoint for the Lutheran church, want to arrange the composition of a dead Italian Catholic whose glittering youthful fame was the antithesis of his own musical lifestyle? Bach clearly saw something special in Pergolesi’s music, and the original Catholic text did not detract from realising that integral core. In other words, arrangements such as Tilge, Höchster, meine Sünden highlight Bach’s craftsman-like approach towards musical construction and an ethos of absorption, particularly from Italian trends, that guided his entire compositional career. Composition was not borne from a seed of inspiration as the Romantics would have us believe, but a process of learning, of dismantling, tweaking, expanding, and arranging. It was composition as craft.
It is one of the most adored solo-voice cantatas in today’s repertoire. Ich habe genug, BWV 82 was composed for performance on 2 February 1727. And if repeatedly performing a work reflects some kind of fondness, then Bach also adored this cantata. He revived it on several occasions, and extracts of it also appear in Anna Magdalena’s second Clavierbüchlein, a music book begun in 1725 that contained particular favourites of the Bach household. Most listeners will be familiar with the original version for solo bass and obbligato oboe. But at some point in the early 1730s, Bach reworked the cantata for soprano. Transposing it to E minor, Bach also replaced the oboe with a part for transverse flute.
These changes make for an altogether different soundworld. The first movement is cast as something more ethereal, more fragile: music lingering on the wind half way between earth and heaven. The cantata was composed for the Feast of the Purification, and as such focuses on the story of Simeon. The anonymous librettist explores typical Lutheran themes of longing for death (or ‘sleep’) and the departure from worldly lusts. It is, of course, impossible to pinpoint what is so exactly wonderful about the first movement. In this version, however, I’m inclined to think that it’s the special relationship between voice and obbligato part, the sound they create together that works its way through the darkened tunnel of throbbing strings. There is a sense that flute and voice transform one another – indeed, motivically they do – and give each other spiritual strength. Wrapped in sonic gossamer, the soprano is finally able to say, ‘I have enough’.
The third movement, known as the ‘slumber aria’, inscribes the metaphor of sleep as death into the musical fabric. Lullaby-like figurations such as appoggiaturas and slurred couplets, soothing pedal points, and an emphasis on the subdominant create the delicate release of ‘sweet peace, quiet repose’. Points of silence interpose the narrative: has slumber finally slipped into eternal sleep? Yet as sleeping in church was itself a widespread problem in eighteenth-century Germany (and with such long sermons, this is perhaps not surprising), it seems as if Bach was commenting on issues not only of eschatological bliss, but also of those happening right there and then in church that Sunday. Writing in 1745, Johann Adolph Scheibe warned of musical compositions that contained too much repetition: they cause a listener to ‘lose all patience when hearing the same thing sung and played so often, so that finally, after yawning repeatedly, he will succumb to sleep’. What was Bach trying to achieve with so much repetition? Bach’s music, in this sense, not only represented sleep or conjured an operatic scene of slumber, but also functioned to test the Lutheran’s strength in resisting a snooze in church. In contrast, the final movement flies past: the vocal phrases and upwards-flung string writing are frenzied in anticipation.
Eamonn Dougan is an inspirational communicator with a wide-ranging repertoire and is a renowned vocal coach and baritone. He is Associate Conductor of The Sixteen, founding Director of Britten Sinfonia Voices, Music Director of the Thomas Tallis Society, and Chief Conductor for Jersey Chamber Orchestra.
Recent highlights have included the world premiere of James MacMillan's All the Hills and Vales Along at the Cumnock Tryst Festival, he assisted Mark Elder for the world premiere concert and recording of Puccini Le Villi with Opera Rara and the London Philharmonic Orchestra, and conducted the off-stage chorus for Berlioz L’Enfance du Christ with the Hallé, Britten Sinfonia Voices and Genesis Sixteen for the 2019 BBC Proms at the Royal Albert Hall. In 2019 he directed The Sixteen’s highly acclaimed tour of Australia and Singapore, Handel's Messiah with Orquesta Sinfónica de Castilla y León and Cappella Amsterdam, made his Spanish debut with the Bilbao Orkestra Sinfonikoa and Real Orquesta Sinfónica de Sevilla, and performed in Paris at the La Seine Musicale with renowned ensemble Accentus and in Copenhagen with Danish National Symphony Orchestra, VokalEnsemblet and KoncertKor. Dougan directed De Profundis on their recent Hyperion release of Esquivel’s Missa Hortus Conclusus to critical acclaim.
Other conducting engagements have included performances with BBC Singers, Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, Irish Baroque Orchestra, Corinthian Chamber Orchestra, Royal Northern Sinfonia, Trondheim Barokk, and Wrocław Philharmonic Chamber Choir. Programming highlights have included a specially curated programme ‘Sun, Moon and Sky’ for Salisbury Festival with violinist Harriet McKenzie and the London Chamber Orchestra, which featured Deborah Pritchard’s double concerto for violin and harp alongside projections which were inspired by Maggi Hambling’s series of paintings EDGE, and curating and conducting ‘A Weekend of Excessively Good Taste’ at Kings Place. Dougan's developing opera work has included performances with Ryedale Festival Opera.
With Britten Sinfonia Voices he has conducted several world premieres including Tavener's Flood of Beauty, Ēriks Ešenvalds's Aqua, Nico Muhly's Looking Forward for Britten Sinfonia’s 20th birthday and the choral premiere of Jóhann Jóhannsson's Orphée at the Barbican. Other projects with Britten Sinfonia have included Bach's St John Passion, James MacMillan's St Luke Passion and Seven Last Words, Britten's Curlew River, Harrison Birtwistle's Yan Tan Tethera, and a programme of Stravinsky and Mozart at Milton Court as part of the Barbican’s Esa-Pekka Salonen composer focus. He has assisted various conductors including Martyn Brabbins, Andreas Delfs and Ádám Fischer.
Dougan has recorded a highly successful five-disc Polish Baroque series with The Sixteen. The first disc, music by Bartłomiej Pękiel, was met with widespread critical acclaim and was shortlisted for a Gramophone Award. The fifth disc, music by Marcin Mielczewski, was released in 2017.
Dougan is a Visiting Professor to the Guildhall School of Music & Drama, where he teaches ensemble singing and directs the Guildhall Consort. He read music at New College, Oxford, before continuing his vocal and conducting studies at the Guildhall School of Music & Drama.
Isabelle Atkinson completed her undergraduate degree as a scholar at the Royal College of Music. She is now generously supported by a Nan Copeland Scholarship at the Royal Academy of Music. Isabelle's accomplishments include winning the undergraduate English song award at the RCM, and the title of 'Best Singer' at the Rotary Young Musician competition.
Her operatic roles include Pamina in Mozart's Die Zauberflöte, Almirena in Handel's Rinaldo, Valencienne in Léhar's Die lustige Witwe, Galatea in Handel's Acis and Galatea, Zerlina in Mozart's Don Giovanni, Miles in Britten's The Turn of the Screw, Barbarina in Mozart's Le nozze di Figaro and Belinda in Purcell's Dido and Aeneas. She has worked with Grange Park Opera, Winterbourne Opera and Hurn Court Opera, and her solo work in oratorio includes Mozart’s Mass in C minor and Requiem, Haydn’s Nelson Mass, Handel’s Messiah, Bach’s St Matthew Passion and cantatas, and Schubert’s Mass in G. She continues to work internationally in opera, oratorio and recital, as well giving masterclasses to young aspiring singers.
Lauren Macleod was born on the Isle of Lewis, and brought up on folk music. A fluent Gaelic speaker, she began competing in the Mòd at an early age, and went on to win awards at the National Mòd, making numerous TV and radio appearances. Although she studied Physics at the University of St Andrews, she spent the majority of her time involved in musical activities, notably with Byre Opera, St Salvator's Chapel Choir and the University of St Andrews Opera Society. With these groups she performed roles including Miss Jessel in Britten's The Turn of the Screw, Athamas in Handel's Semele and Chocholka in Janáček's The Cunning Little Vixen.
After graduating, she undertook an MA in Solo Voice Ensemble Singing at the University of York, under the supervision of Robert Hollingworth, following which she moved to London. In this time, she has been in demand in venues across the United Kingdom and Europe, and has performed with Dominic Ellis-Peckham, Andrew Parrott and John Eliot Gardiner.
Lauren is now studying with Alexander Ashworth at the Royal Academy of Music, performing professionally in both operatic and consort settings. She is particularly proud of her work with her vocal quintet 'Catching Voices'.
Scottish soprano Isla MacEwan is currently studying for a Master of Arts degree at the Royal Academy of Music under Alexander Ashworth. Isla began her vocal training at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland Junior Department before graduating with first class honours from the Royal Northern College of Music.
Isla is an accomplished singer of Handel and has sung as the soprano soloist in Messiah on several occasions across the UK as well as Iris in Jephtha with Knutsford Choral Society. In 2019, Isla toured across Scotland with the Baroque ensemble The Kellie Consort, performing a programme including Purcell’s Te Deum and Jubilate accompanied by period instruments. Other solo oratorio repertoire includes Brahms's Requiem, Mozart's Requiem and Exsultate Jubilate, Fauré's Requiem, Saint-Saëns's Oratorio de Noël, Haydn's The Creation, Vivaldi's Gloria and Schubert's Mass in G.
On the operatic stage, Isla has sung under Vasily Petrenko in a production of Verdi's Falstaff with the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra in collaboration with the European Opera Centre. She has also sung the roles of Susanna in an English translation of Mozart's The Marriage of Figaro with Flatpack Opera, the Governess in Britten's The Turn of the Screw with Leeds Youth Opera, Apparition in Verdi's Macbeth with Dorset Opera and covered the role of Cobweb in Britten's A Midsummer Night’s Dream with Royal Academy Opera. Next month Isla will sing the role of Second Witch in Royal Academy Opera’s production of Purcell's Dido and Aeneas.
In recital, Isla has performed in the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Recital Hall, Bradford Cathedral and Rekstensamlingene Recital Hall in Bergen. In 2020, Isla won the English Song Prize and Oratorio Prize at the David Clover Singing Competition and was Highly Commended in the Michael Head English Song Prize at the Royal Academy of Music alongside her accompanist, Max Bilbe.
Isla is generously supported by the Caird Trust, Mario Lanza Educational Foundation and Split Infinitive Trust.
Daniel Swani is a final year scholar at the Royal Academy of Music studying flute, baroque flute and recorder. Whilst at the Academy, highlights have included playing both principal flute and piccolo in the Academy Symphony Orchestra, performing a Telemann double concerto alongside Lisa Beznosiuk and winning the Nancy Nuttall Ensemble Prize for early music.
Familiar with a wide range of musical styles, Daniel has been invited to perform in concerts with the London Symphony Orchestra, Britten Sinfonia and Armonico Consort, as well as the London Musical Theatre Orchestra, performing alongside Damon Albarn on Later with Jools Holland, recording for BBC Radio 3, and performing on Indian bamboo flutes.
In 2020 he recorded flute and recorder parts for the West-End show Upstart Crow staring David Mitchell at the Gielgud Theatre. As a soloist, he has performed solo recitals for the Cheltenham Music Festival, Leeds International Concert Series and the London International Festival of Early Music. Daniel is grateful for the generous support from the Enlightenment Award, Walter Bergmann Fund, Felicity Belfield Trust, and the estate of Christopher Hogwood.