Lectio et Auditio Divina
Some may recall that a year ago, almost to the day, I posted on dotCom the following:
One of the truly remarkable undertakings in classical music recording was the pilgrimage of John Eliot Gardiner and his Monteverdi Choir during the millennium year 2000. It was also the 250th anniversary of the death of Johann Sebastian Bach. Gardiner, his singers and orchestra committed to performing all the Bach Sacred Cantatas in the course of the year on the liturgical feast for which they were composed. The performances were given in churches in Europe and America, providing the settings for which the cantatas were intended and adding to their spiritual power.
Recordings were made and are now being released on the Soli Deo Gloria label.
They are an awesome achievement: superb renditions, enhanced by the notes of Gardiner that are remarkable not only for their musical, but for their liturgical and theological insight. Most recordings of Bach’s Cantatas are by their BWV number that bears little relation to the liturgical rhythms and seasons that nourished and sustained Bach. Gardiner’s lend themselves to an auditio divina that can nourish one’s own faith journey. Listening to one in preparation for the Sunday or Holy Day feast is to combine lectio divina with auditio divina
I repeat these reflections here, not only because I have been listening (and praying) these days Bach’s Christmas Oratorio (six cantatas, embracing Christmas Day, the second and third days of Christmas, New Year’s Day, and Epiphany), but also because the recordings from that Bach Pilgrimage continue to be released. One of the latest releases is the final concert of the whole series, recorded live in St. Bartholomew’s Church in New York City. It contains Cantatas for the Sunday after Christmas and for New Year’s Day, and is labeled as SDG vol 16. Here is the notice on the Soli Deo Gloria website:
The fourth release of 2007 was recorded at the 59th and final concert in John Eliot Gardiner’s triumphant year-long adventure, in a packed – and hushed – St Bartholomew’s New York. It opens with Bach’s great double-choir motet, Singet dem Herrn BWV 225. BWV 152 Tritt auf die Glaubensbahn follows. Bach shapes this intimate chamber piece, scored only for soprano, bass and six instruments, as a spiritual and musical journey.
BWV 122 Das neugeborne Kindelein, a chorale cantata composed in 1724 as part of Bach’s second mini-Christmas cycle for Leipzig, is as close to the traditional Christmas carol-like image of the infant Jesus as Bach ever got.
BWV 190 Singet dem Herrn ein neues Lied! was composed for New Year’s Day 1724, of which the first two movements have had to be partially reconstructed since only the voice lines and two violin parts survived. Between the psalm verses Bach inserts two lines from Luther’s vernacular version of the Te Deum (1529). These he assigns to the traditional liturgical plain-chant delivered in long notes by the choir in octaves, a technique of musical relief of which he was a master – and which is hugely imposing in performance.
A year later, as part of his third Leipzig cycle, Bach presented BWV 28 Gottlob! nun geht das Jahr zu Ende, a fitting title to sum up the parallel sense of loss and fulfilment, relief and regret within the Monteverdi Choir and English Baroque Soloists at the very end of a year-long, life-changing experience.
For those who have never delved into Bach’s Cantatas, here is a perfect entrance point. For those already familiar with them, this magnificent recording will rekindle your wonder. A splendid New Year’s gift to someone … or yourself! For, as Gardiner has written in another place:
The very heart of Bach’s music lies in his church cantatas. Composed week in and week out to reinforce the scriptural readings, to underpin the sermon, and to enrich the church services, they provide us with a treasure trove containing some of the most consistently beautiful and varied music ever to be composed. Taken together, they form a corpus of work which counts as one of the great glories of European music.
Amen. And blessed New Year: Singet dem Herrn ein neues Lied!