Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750)
Am Abend aber desselbigen Sabbats, BWV 42

Prelude and Fugue in E flat, BWV 552

Joshua Ryan organ

Ach Herr, mich armen Sünder, BWV 135

Eamonn Dougan director
Academy Bach Consort

Academy Baroque Soloists

All performers at this event are conforming to our safety requirements of being at least two metres apart.

It is difficult not to fall in love with Am Abend aber desselbigen Sabbats, BWV 42. It was composed for the first Sunday after Easter, Quasimodogeniti, during Bach’s second annual cantata cycle in Leipzig (8 April 1725). It is the only cantata in the second cycle to begin with an extended sinfonia – and what a splendid sinfonia it is. Combining aspects so typical of Bach’s craftsmanship, the movement creates a strong sense that we have heard this music before, even if we haven’t – such is Bach’s excellent framing of the concerto grosso technique in simple, warm joyfulness. The middle section is particularly delightful: the first oboe and bassoon enter with a cantabile melody (and labelled such by Bach), which is then taken up by the second oboe.

The cantata demonstrates Bach’s invention with texture to convey emotive content, as well as expressing theological meaning (arguably with the intention of deepening this understanding among his congregation). A short tenor recitative is tremulous in fear of persecution; palpitations seemed to have entered even the bodies of performers as the cellist shudders across the string in semiquavers. Then there is a remarkable scene change. Before the solo alto sings a single word, Bach creates a sense of preparation, of joining together to form sacred space. Indeed, when she sings ‘Where two or three are gathered together in the precious name of Jesus’ we come to understand the tenderest dialogue between the two oboes and the independent bassoon line as this communion. The continuo line, too, establishes the atmosphere of sanctity: the notes are separated by crotchet rests on the second and fourth beats of each bar. In other words, Bach fills the bass line with as much ‘non-music’ as he does with music, with both silence and sound. So when the alto sings that ‘Jesus comes into their midst’, the negative space in the musical texture can be understood not merely to invoke the serenity of mystical ground, but literally to provide the space for Jesus to enter into musical worship that Sunday in Leipzig. And so the cantata continues, rich in these kinds of evocative musical details, supplying endless material for the musical hermeneut to explore.

Bach owned a manuscript copy of Girolamo Frescobaldi’s Fiori Musicali (1635) on which he marked ‘JS Bach 1714’. In around 1710, Bach also made a copy of Nicolas de Grigny’s Premier Libre d’Orgue (1699). As Christoph Wolff speculates, Bach ‘likely nourished the hope of one day publishing an organ book of his own’. Part III of the Clavier-Übung, of which the Prelude and Fugue in E flat, BWV 552, are its opening and closing movements, appeared in time for the Michaelmas Fair of 1739. The Clavier-Übung can be understood to serve as a summary of the art of the organ: the core pieces of the collection, those for grand organ with pedal, were designed to represent a tour de force of organistic technique and what Wolff calls a ‘panoramic overview of historical and contemporary style elements and patterns’.

The Prelude combines the elements of a French overture, Italian concerto and German fugue. There are three separate themes (reflecting these three national styles), which sometimes overlap. These characteristics, as well as the three flats in the E-flat major key signature, have drawn commentators to understand the work, including the fugue, as an expression of the Holy Trinity:

‘The triple fugue […] is a symbol of the Trinity. The same theme recurs in three connected fugues, but each time with another personality. The first fugue is calm and majestic, with an absolutely uniform movement throughout; in the second the theme seems to be disguised, and is only occasionally recognisable in its true shape, as if to suggest the divine assumption of an earthly form; in the third, it is transformed into rushing semiquavers as if the Pentecostal wind were coming roaring from heaven.’ (Albert Schweitzer, 1905)

The fugue that ends Clavier-Übung III, known in English-speaking countries as the ‘St Anne’ because of the first subject’s resemblance to the hymn tune by William Croft, is a triple fugue. The first section in the stile antico style is a five-part fugue; the second section is a four-part fugue on a single manual; and the third section is a five-part double fugue for full organ that concludes in sheer splendour. Bach reveals a compositional craft impossibly difficult to summarise in words without analytical vivisection. Indeed, perhaps this is why scholars have tended to resort to Trinitarian symbolism when discussing the work: understanding the interplay of the triple elements and tripartite structure is somehow graspable through analogy.

Ach Herr, mich armen Sünder, BWV 135, was first performed on 25 June 1724. As the fourth chorale cantata of the cycle, Bach had to observe the scheme he had devised himself, according to which the opening movement would have the chorale melody in the bass and would differ in structure from the three preceding cantatas. Bach opted for a ‘chorale fantasia’ type, which allowed all parts (instrumental and vocal) to share in the chorale theme. The scheme is modified to expressive ends – the chorale line setting the text ‘That I may live eternally’ is subjected to rhythmic augmentation, for example – but it is in the alternating instrumental and vocal sections, a chiaroscuro created by the generally high instrumental lines and the low voice writing anchored by trombone, that captures an enigmatic, almost desperate sense of calling to God, an ‘Ach Herr’ inscribed into the musical fabric.

A secco recitative gains in vividness as the tenor himself overflows: melisma depicts rapid floods of running tears. But this figuration is transformed into joy (‘erfreu mein Angesicht!’) in the next movement. The tenor is surrounded by dancing oboe lines, playful in syncopation and scalic blossom. Yet Bach characterises darkness here too: to experience this joy, Jesus must lift the Christian out of despair. The three-fold repetition of ‘stille’, punctuated by ominous silence, evokes this deathly sinking of sin. The alto recitative similarly teems with splendid details. Depicting the weariness of sighing, Bach throws out the rule book in crafting the metric strangeness of the opening bars. It is almost as if the alto is out of time with the continuo parts, which themselves are confused as to what the time signature is or which beats of the bar they should play. A strident bass aria provides excellent contrast to all the sighing and weeping, and is war-like in ordering these bodily flows of affliction away (‘Weicht’). It is therefore not a surprise that Alfred Dürr praised Bach’s ‘intensive textual interpretation’ in this cantata, and remarked that ‘Whoever penetrates deeply into the beauties of the composition will learn to love it for this very reason.’

Mark Seow

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.

ACADEMY BACH CONSORT

Soprano
Isabel Irvine

Alto
Lucy Thalange

Tenor
Ryan Williams

Bass
Stephen Whitford

ACADEMY BAROQUE SOLOISTS

Oboe
Angelika Stangl
Andres Villalobos

Bassoon
Emily Newman

Chamber organ
Joshua Ryan

First violin
Rebecca Bell
Nivedita Sarnath
Angus Bain

Second violin
Charlotte Spruit
Rodrigo Checa Lorite
Malgorzata Zwierzchowska

Viola
Martha Campbell
Hannah Teasdale

Cello
Hugh Mackay
Osian Jones

Double bass
Alexander Jones