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A Moment of Bach

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A Moment of Bach

Alex & Christian Guebert

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Welcome to A Moment of Bach, where we take our favorite moments from J. S Bach's vast output—just a minute's worth or even a few seconds—and show you why we think they are remarkable. Join hosts Alex Guebert and Christian Guebert for weekly moments! Check wherever podcasts are available and subscribe for upcoming episodes. Our recording samples are provided by the Netherlands Bach Society. Their monumental All of Bach project (to perform and record all of the works of J. S. Bach) serves as s ...
 
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"The psychological effect of all this key-shifting, some jerky, some smooth, is very difficult to describe...perhaps it is the magic of Bach that he can write pieces with this kind of structure which have such a natural grace to them that we are not aware of exactly what is happening." In this episode we use these words by author Douglas Hofstadter…
 
Today, we give a play-by-play of the opening chorus of this extravagant cantata, which was suggested to us by listener Riley. We talk horns, stretto, and... why you should listen to all different kinds of music. See this delightful work as performed by the Netherlands Bach Society: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vLDTvI1RrgI Thanks to all our liste…
 
A divine duality: our bad thoughts and God's comfort, our imperfections and God's forgiveness, our guilt and God's love nevertheless. In this long cantata masterwork, Bach does the Psalms justice and expresses their vast emotions. He uses a set of spry and agile musical tools as varied as each phrase of the psalms he puts to music. This is the seco…
 
All Bach arias are duets. This is the first of two episodes on BWV 21, which is one of Bach's earlier works. It's a cantata rich with meaning, with biblical truths spread out from the Psalms to Revelation. And, Alex has a revelation of his own about Bach arias -- sparked by this very piece. Performance of this cantata by the Netherlands Bach Societ…
 
In this hymn prelude about bewailing our sins, Bach chooses not to set the familiar melody starkly and austerely. Instead, the most flowery and passionate ornaments decorate the song. Organists know that our moment is going to be at the end: the famous c-flat major chord which strikes the word "Kreuze" (cross) and the following twists to the slow e…
 
Listener Alysse requested this triumphant moment from the energetic "Cum sancto spiritu" -- which happens to be Alex's favorite movement of the Mass in B minor. This movement is full of verve and rhythmic complexity. In this episode, we marvel at these rhythms and how they manifest in the two fugues. And, along with listener Alysse, we stand awe an…
 
Bach's Magnificat tells the story of Mary's rejoicing and God's providence. In the lovely "Esurientes" alto aria with a duo of flutes, we hear God's bounty against the silence of the rich being turned away empty-handed. But how do we, or Mary, or Bach, cope with the ever-present staggering wealth inequality in human society? Admitting it and learni…
 
Nestled in the middle of Bach's setting of the Magnificat, we can find a moment of extreme tension -- a striking diminished chord, followed by silence, and then... instead of a resolution, Bach playfully subverts our expectations and gives us an even weirder dissonance, an augmented chord. The choir and orchestra of the Netherlands Bach Society, op…
 
Composer Kian Ravaei joins us this week as guest and shares with us the powerful spiritual connection points that Bach has made recently in his life in this interview. Kian describes the power that the music of Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme (cantata 140), the St. Matthew Passion, and the collected chorales have had on him. We discuss the particul…
 
This breezy little two-line chorale doesn't seem like much, but it is Bach's setting of a tune that was very well known -- the German Magnificat. This leads us down a rabbit hole of discussion about how this performance relates to BWV 10, a cantata that Bach based on this same tune. We explore the tune and its psalm tone, and we delight in the way …
 
Episode 3 of our miniseries on Brandenburg 4. How much of Bach's music is actually written on the page, and how much is worked out by the performers? What is actually left out of the music notation, and kind of training is needed to realize what's missing? If performers are going to slow down or speed up subtly during a performance, that is usually…
 
Episode 2 of our miniseries on Brandenburg 4. In this episode: JAZZ? We talk a bit about jazz harmony and how it shares some foundational chord progressions with baroque music. We also pick apart a couple of measures from this twisty, moody movement, and we put them back together in a couple of different configurations, just like how Bach did it wh…
 
Welcome to our miniseries on Brandenburg Concerto No. 4! In this first episode, we will talk about the first movement. Bach's Brandenburg Concertos are considered by many to be the pinnacle of instrumental Baroque music. Come and join us as we explore why. This episode explores the many small building blocks that come together to make the first mov…
 
Passed down to us through almost two millennia, the poem that would later become "Savior of the Nations, Come" was set to a plainchant melody in the Middle Ages, and that melody was given a strong, angular treatment by Martin Luther, who also adapted and translated the text. A couple centuries later, it was Bach's turn to create something new from …
 
This is the second episode of our double-part look at the "Bach Double" violin concerto. In this episode, we hear how one moment of expressive subtlety can demonstrate the difference between "flashy fast notes" and true baroque emotion. A single "sighing" motif written as plain eighth notes demonstrates to us that the musicians of Bach's time were …
 
Contrast -- a major aspect of all good art. The striking colors of a sky at sunset, the thrilling first few notes of "Et resurrexit" from the Mass in B minor, or the shadowed look of a chiaroscuro painting -- all are much more powerful for the presence of sharp contrast. In this episode we explore how Bach uses contrast in the sublime middle moveme…
 
In celebration of Easter, we complete the pair of parts including last week's "Crucifixus." In one of the most stunning reversals in all of music, Christ is laid into the dark grave in the lowest of lows, when suddenly "And he rose again on the third day..." bursts forth with triumphant celebration. Bach was a master of text. Without rushing past t…
 
Some of the most evocative and emotional music ever written, the "Crucifixus" movement from the Mass in B minor depicts Christ's suffering and death -- you can hear the striking lashes, the plodding steps of His painful walk to Golgotha, the twisting of the crown of thorns, the nailing and the crying, the sighing and the dying. Bach's use of the pa…
 
A dark and imposing masterwork like the St. John Passion needs a moment of joyful reprieve. That reprieve comes in the form of the soprano aria ”Ich folge dir gleichfalls mit freudigen Schritten" (I too, follow you with joyful steps), in which we hear light flutes bouncing their steps. But even this happy sound comes with a strange chromatic ascent…
 
Today we take our first dive into the St. John Passion. In the very first measure of music, the strikingly twisted sounds of the oboes in harsh dissonances calls to mind the pain and anguish of the Passion story. The scene is set for Good Friday. Bach's St. John Passion, performed by the Netherlands Bach Society, conducted by Jos van Veldhoven: htt…
 
The St. Matthew Passion is full of short bursts of dramatic expression. In this episode, we explore two moments of reaction by an onlooking crowd. One of Bach's shortest and most surprising moments happens when Pontius Pilate asks the crowd which prisoner should be released -- Jesus, or Barrabas? The crowd's reply is as disturbing as it is musicall…
 
Sometimes the simplest expression is the most powerful. At a pivotal point in the intimidating and complex St. Matthew Passion, Bach places this strikingly stark, simple, yet devastating piece of music. We discuss how the sparse instrumentation, with its lack of bass sounds, leaves the listener unmoored, feeling the vulnerability of the soloist's e…
 
Do you suffer from "sound fatigue?" Do you worry that after just a few seconds of starting to listen to a piece of music that the rest of it will just... sound the same? Good news! We have something just for that. Bach's B minor mass boasts a wide variety of sound color for your listening pleasure. As long and towering as it is, it never gets old; …
 
"All's well that ends well." It's an old adage, perhaps best known as the title of a Shakespeare comedy... but for Bach, and in the context of his church life, "all's well that ends well" took on a much more serious meaning. In this cantata, his librettist, Picander, used the phrase to mean that a life well-lived in the service of the Lord will fin…
 
"Bach's music is for many people, as it is for me, daunting. I must be wrong there, because he must have wanted his music to be played...without all this awe and respect. Bach has proven that in the time between him and us, there is little or nothing better than his work." The paraphrased words of the harpsichordist for this recording show us how B…
 
Possibly the most famous organ work ever written, the Toccata and Fugue in D minor is instantly recognizable by its first few notes. But... are those the notes that Bach wrote? The answer might surprise you... In fact, this cornerstone of the organ repertoire has flummoxed so many musicians and music scholars through the generations, it's no wonder…
 
As our second season is beginning, we revisit the masterwork Christian selected for his first moment, but this time we look at the very beginning. The cantata Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland is the regal music for the first week of the liturgical year, but its overture is more than just pomp and circumstance. If we delve into the first few seconds, we…
 
Welcome back! For our first episode of Season 2, we dive into one of the great violin solo pieces. And there is a rich well of musical material here in the Violin Partita No. 2. Alex's moment features the technical prowess of the soloist, Shunske Sato -- a bravura section of flurrying fast arpeggiated figures. But even more profound is the structur…
 
In our season finale before we take a break and return early next year, we celebrate the first season’s wrap! For this "Bachtoberfest," we talk Coffee Cantata, German beer, and all things A Moment of Bach. We answer a bunch of listener questions about our own musicmaking processes and history with Bach, and we get deep into some listener ideas. Spe…
 
Today we are joined by Dr. William Heide, longtime music minister at St. John's Lutheran Church, Orange, CA -- as well as a longtime Bach expert. He has conducted over 60 full Bach cantatas in concerts spanning the three decades of his tenure at St. John's. The three of us chat about the lasting power of this particular work, in which the soloist s…
 
A short, simple piece for a solo instrument -- only 35 seconds long. Yet it has captured the imaginations of so many people: musicians, philosophers, artists, mathematicians, and more. It's all because of the unique cleverness of Bach -- showing us here that he can construct a piece that can be played forwards OR backwards... OR both at the same ti…
 
The organ is an instrument built into a building. Selecting a variety of sounds for an organ composition which requires more than two is a new task on each different organ, and the varieties and combinations are essentially endless. In this chorale prelude in "trio" texture, three distinct organ sounds make up the musical texture, each with a disti…
 
Alex spends one more episode excitedly leading us through some of his favorite music, this time from the "Et in terra pax" movement. Picking up from where last episode left off, we talk about the beauty and simplicity of the main melody of "Et in terra pax", which Bach cleverly reuses as a fugue subject a bit later. This is classic Bach -- elegant …
 
"Glory to God in the highest!" The orchestra and choir burst with excitement and joy. Alex and Christian talk about the beauty of the Latin language, the huge orchestra (which seems actually pretty small by today's standards), the Protestant Reformation, and somehow Christian even gets a tuba joke in there. Alex talks us through his favorite moment…
 
In the second half of a two-part mini-series, Christian picks up where we left off and covers moments from movements three through five of the cantata Aus der Tiefen rufe ich, Herr, zu dir (BWV 131). At the end of this episode, we play for you all five moments in order. If you haven't listened to episode 30, you should start there. This very early …
 
For our thirtieth(!) episode, we celebrate by taking a five-movement cantata and giving you one moment from each. This will be a two-part series; this episode introduces the cantata and delves into Christian's moments from the first two movements, while next week we'll see his moments for movements 3-5. This very early work uses arcane sounds and w…
 
What is the "flow state"? The answer can be heard in this performance of Bach's "Chromatic Fantasia and Fugue" by Menno van Delft. So deeply "in the zone" of playing this piece, he demonstrates what so many professional musicians can do after practicing a piece for so many hours: the muscle memory kicks in and the piece just plays itself, with the …
 
The harsh musical interval of the tritone, the "Diabolus in Musica" (devil in music), was strictly controlled in much of early music. So wouldn't it be striking and bold to make a melody out of two of them? In this scary cantata opening, Bach does exactly this to set a terrifying fugue on the words "They have made their faces harder than a rock" to…
 
Bach died on July 28, 1750, leaving behind a staggering 1,100 complete musical works, some comprised of many separate movements of music. Today we honor the 271th anniversary of Bach's death -- by digging into the double choir motet Komm, Jesu, komm. We talk about funeral music, Pascal's Wager, the "angry" interval of the diminished 7th, and the sp…
 
What is it that makes some magical moments of music feel like freefall or floating? What is it that makes some moments feel like firm, steady ground? The key is in the bass -- the lowest part of the music, which (by Bach's time) had developed a foundational role in all current musical styles. Listen here how Bach takes a firmly grounded bass line a…
 
One of the most beloved arias of all time, "Erbarme dich" ("Have mercy on me") comes straight from the contrite heart of Peter, the disciple of Jesus, on Good Friday. After denying Christ three times, he realized his sin, and "went out and wept bitterly". The violin solo represents the anguish of Peter's soul at this moment. Bach scores the emotion…
 
In our first episode about the monumental Goldberg Variations, Christian shows how to break down a canon (round). Unlike "Row, Row, Row Your Boat," the two parts in this canon do not start on the same note. But we can also learn about how this canon was written by using a different perspective entirely. The recipe is simple: start with a very simpl…
 
A solitary voice: "I believe in one God." Then a second voice: "I believe in one God." Then another, then another, then another: "I believe in one God..." soon the whole room is full of people confessing their shared faith. Bach sets this simple text (the beginning of the Nicene Creed) to a simple seven-note tune, but spirals it out into a seven-vo…
 
In this short bonus episode, we continue our discussion with Alec but go into greater technical detail. At the beginning Christian narrates the topics for discussion to come. To hear Alec play through the minuets uninterrupted, go to the main Episode 22 at 57:25. To get more context for this bonus episode, we recommend you first listen to Episode 2…
 
Our second guest Alec Santamaria brings his viola to show us how violists can play the Bach cello suites! We delve into tuning for baroque music, perfect pitch, the viola and aspects of its technique when playing Bach, and Alec’s narration of his “moments” from the most famous part of any of the suites -- the G major prelude (and other topics too!)…
 
Join us as we uncover the complexity under the surface of the seemingly simple music of Bach's English Suite in A major. The harpsichord is an elegant yet austere instrument. It has only a fraction of the power and versatility of a pipe organ, and none of the soft/loud sensitivity of the piano, yet, it is elegant in its simplicity. We remark on how…
 
What is counterpoint? What’s a fugue, and why is that musical structure so tied to the idea of Bach’s work? The answer lies not only in the most towering and imposing works of fugue, but also the most simple and graceful. This early wedding cantata features a small moment of fugue so sublimely perfect that it seems like it must have always existed.…
 
Our first guest episode! We chat about one of the greatest and most enduring pieces of music ever written, "Jesu Joy of Man's Desiring." Eric Clausen, a Lutheran pastor and Alex and Christian's brother-in-law, shares his perspective on church music and how this piece became so meaningful for him. We talk about Bach's life as a church musician, how …
 
The orchestra is full of countless sound combinations. In Bach's time, the orchestra was smaller and these new expressions mostly hadn't yet been explored. But in the "Wohl euch" aria from the Pentecost cantata O ewiges Feuer, o Ursprung der Liebe, Bach experimented with a new language in tone color with violins and flutes. The Pentecost story of t…
 
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