It was quite popular, in the Baroque era, to use numbers and equations for riddles and the hiding of messages; and the study of J.S. Bach's work has revealed that he used numbers symbolic of notes in the major and minor scales formulated into equations and then composed his works around these equations. It was with one such series of equations that researchers found that inside of J.S. Bach's music there was a large number of other compositions almost fractally entwined. Of particular interest was J.S. Bach's "Six Sonatas and Partitas for Solo Violin" which had been designed with a sort-of numeric equation that turned out to actually have the music fractally built around a very small part. Intrigued by researcher's findings Christoph Poppen discussed with ECM Records head and producer Manfred Eicher the possibility of a recording that would make the "hidden chorales" as the smaller, fractal pieces were later termed, more audible. A collaboration with the excellently gifted interpreters of early music, the Hilliard Ensemble was proposed and with Christoph Poppen directing they set about liberating the numeric/ melodic equations from the fabric of J.S. Bach's "Partita No. 2". With Morimur for the first time we hear the music the way that J.S. Bach might have heard it when he was composing his Partita No. 2 as they are linked with various chorales that also used the numeric equation that is found in "Partita No. 2". Beyond the fascinating story behind Morimur it's an excellently well crafted, and well-produced recording that truly brings the piece to life. If you're a fan of J.S. Bach it is recommended that you give this recording a listen as it is fantastic and excellently read with the Hilliard Ensemble in top form. A must have for your collection!
All Music Guide
In music of the Baroque era, it was popular to use the medium of numbers for riddles and hidden messages. Research on the works of Johann Sebastian Bach has over the years unearthed numerous coded references, for instance to his name, and a veritable theology in numbers and notes has been deduced from his sacred music.
The unexpected insight that purely instrumental works, such as the Six Sonatas and Partitas for Solo Violin can also be read this way is the discovery of Professor Helga Thoene, of the University of Dusseldorf. Her interpretation of the Ciaccona from the Partita in D Minor BWV 1004 as an "epitaph in music" for Maria Barbara Bach is based upon the chorale quotations concealed in the piece as well as on the symbolism of the numerical patterns, interpreted by means of gematria: "Frequently we can identify two or even three lines of a chorale in interlocking counterpoint and discover that they define the harmonic progression of a phrase, or even of an entire movement. Often the secret chorale quotations are embellished in the contrapuntal texture with broken chords containing the notes of the melody, sometimes in alternating registers. The quotations are also highlighted by musico-rhetorical figures that reflect the unstated words or emotional contents of the chorale (...) The abstract figures in this wordless music speak a specific but clandestine language that can be made intelligible through decryption."
Professor Thoene published her findings on the Ciaconna in the Cothener Bach-Hefte, an academic journal devoted to Bach studies, in 1994. Intrigued by the implications of this text, Christoph Poppen discussed with producer Manfred Eicher the possibility of a recording that would make the "hidden chorales" audible and a collaboration with the Hilliard Ensemble was proposed. Widely acclaimed for their adventurous reconstructions of early music (including Lassus, Guillaume de Machaut, and "Officium" with saxophonist Jan Garbarek) the Hilliard singers rise to the challenge of illuminating Bach's thought. "What we hear [on "Morimur"] is surely something of what went on inside Bach's head as he composed the pieces," says tenor John Potter. What words and musical notation present analytically becomes an audible reality in this recording.
The five movements of the Partita No. 2 are linked together by various chorales on "Morimur". (It is striking, too, to hear Bach chorales sung by a small ensemble). So: the Partita is played in its entirety.
The album's dramaturgy climaxes with a revelatory version of the Ciaconna for violin and voices, where the Hilliard singers intone the single verses in parallel with the solo instrument. Herbert Glossner, in the liner notes: "The present recording of the Ciaconna with members of the Hilliard Ensemble makes perceivable the ingenious interplay between the virtuoso and harmonically complex violin part and the lines of the chorales. This recording turns the piece into a work literally never heard before." Except perhaps in the composer's own mind.
Ex Deo nascimur/In Christo morimur/Per Spiritum Sanctum reviviscimus is a Trinitarian formula summing up the central articles of Christian faith. ("We are born of God, We die in Christ, We are reborn through the Holy Spirit") Amongst her many discoveries, Professor Thoene finds this saying embedded, encrypted, throughout the D Minor Partita and stressed particularly in the Cicaonna; the discovery adds weight to her thesis that the work was conceived originally as a tombeau for Bach's wife.
Christoph Poppen, perhaps best known as the dynamic conductor/artistic director of the Munich Chamber Orchestra, also has a long and distinguished history as a violin soloist and chamber musician.
Born in 1956 in Munster, at the age of 14 Poppen won first prize in the international Kocian competition in the former USSR. He studied with Kurt Schaffer at the Robert Schumann Institute in Dusseldorf and, subsequently, with Oskar Schumsky, Nathan Milstein, and Joseph Gingold. He has won many prizes in national and international competitions, including awards from the Kulturkreis in Bundesverband der Deutschen Industrie (1975), the International Vaclav Huml Violin Competition (1977), the Rudolf Lipizer Competition in Gorizia and the Carl Flesch Competition in London (both 1983) and performed with leading orchestras and conductors around the world.
In 1978, Poppen founded the Cherubini Quartet with whom he was first violinist, and in 1981 won the Premier Grand Prix at the international string quartet competition in Evian. In 1988 he became professor of violin and chamber music at the Academy of Music in Detmold, and took on the direction of the Detmold Chamber Orchestra the following year. In 1994 he was appointed professor of violin at the Hanns Eisler Academy of Music in Berlin; he was also Director of the Academy from 1996-2000. He became artistic director of the Munich Chamber Orchestra in 1995. The beginning of the association between Poppen, the Munich Chamber Orchestra and ECM was marked with the release of the CD "Funebre", with works by Karl Amadeus Hartmann, in 2000. A recording of music of Sofia Gubaidulina, with Elsbeth Moser, Boris Pergamenschikow and the Munich Chamber Orchestra under the direction of Christoph Poppen will be released by ECM New Series in Autumn 2001.
The Hilliard Ensemble is one of the most outstanding vocal chamber groups in the world today, and its reputation in the fields of both early and new music is unsurpassed. The group has been associated with ECM since 1987, when they contributed to Arvo Part's "Arbos". Other recordings for the New Series include music of Victoria and Palestrina ("In Paradisum"), Gesualdo ("Tenebrae"), Lassus, Walter Frye, Thomas Tallis ("The Lamentations of Jeremiah"), "Codex Specialnik" (Josquin Desprez, Petrus de Grudencz, Johannes Touront, John Plummer etc.), "A Hilliard Songbook" (Barry Guy, Morton Feldman, Ivan Moody, James MacMillan, Veljo Tormis, Arvo Part, Joanne Metcalf etc.), as well as Part's "Passio", "Miserere" and "Litany". Their 1993 collaboration with improvising saxophonist Jan Garbarek, "Officium", proved to be enormously successful; the Garbarek/Hilliard combination issued a second record, "Mnemosyne" in 1999, and continues to tour widely.
On "Morimur", long time Hilliard Ensemble members David James, John Potter and Gordon Jones are joined by soprano singer Monica Mauch. Mauch is a specialist in early music, well-known for her work with the Taverner Consort, the Ricercar Consort, the Ensemble Daedalus of Geneva, and the Ravensburg medieval music ensemble Ordo Virtutum.
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The most arcane secrets of harmony
Even concert-goers who listen to Alban Berg's Violin Concerto without any preparation at all will sit up and take notice at the strange melody that the solo violin starts playing at the beginning of the Adagio section of movement 2 (m. 136). Unless they know something about the Protestant church or its musical traditions, however, they will not realize that this tune, with the distinctive tritone outlined by its first four notes, is in fact a Bach chorale. Usually the riddle is explained in the concert's program booklet, just as Berg explained it in his score: the piece, written in 1935 (the year of the composer's own death), is dedicated "to the memory of an angel", and the angel in this case is Manon Gropius (the daughter of Alma Mahler-Gropius), who died at the age of eighteen. Berg has ennobled her with the death-chorale "Es ist genug" from Bach's cantata "O Ewigkeit, du Donnerwort" BWV 60, first in the solo violin, then in a four-voice harmonization in the clarinets. Berg's quotation is thus not, strictly speaking, a riddle. Still, it is a code word, and as such accessible only to connoisseurs and those to whom it has been explained beforehand.
One is reminded of the Act 2 tavern scene in Berg's "Wozzeck", where a chorale melody outside the standard tradition is deliberately parodied or "caricatured" in the bass tuba. A similar example occurs at an extremely tense moment in Act 2 of Bernd Alois Zimmermann's "Die Sol-daten". Here, in a scene consisting of three overlapping plot lines, the composer superimposes a "Capriccio, Corale e Ciacona" and quotes a four-voice harmonization of the chorale "Ich bin's, ich sollte bussen" from Bach's "St. Matthew Passion", scored for trumpets, trombones, and woodwinds. In both these cases, traditional material charged with a layer of acquired meaning has been employed to intensify a situation on stage; and once again the references will only be accessible to the "knowledgeable" listener. Another example is Paul Hindemith's quotation, in 1936, of the chorale "Fur deinen Thron tret ich hiermit" in movement 4 of his "Trauermusik" for the death of King George V. Here Hindemith assigns the chorale to the string section in dialogue with the solo viola, as if from a vast distance. Admittedly he refrains from using Bach's best-known version of the melody, "Wenn wir in hochsten Noten sein" (see below), preferring instead the version handed down in his isolated chorale setting BWV 327. Hindemith quotes it with rhythmic exactitude but a harmonization all his own (it appears in the current Lutheran hymnal as "Lobt Gott, den Herrn der Herrlichkeit").
In these and similar harrowing moments, modern composers have turned to tradition and, as Hegel would say, "sublated" it in their music. The nineteenth century, in contrast, is separated from the twentieth by an historical gulf as great as the aversion that even an historicizing composer such as Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy would doubtless have felt toward such cryptic quotations. When Mendelssohn noisily quotes Martin Luther's chorale "Ein feste Burg ist unser Gott" in his D-Minor "Reformation Symphony" (op. 107), he does so to underscore a point in the work's program - boldly, self-evidently, and to universal acclaim. Giacomo Meyerbeer very effectively quotes the same chorale as a dramatic leitmotif in his opera "The Huguenots". A century earlier, however, in the age of Johann Sebastian Bach, the composer to whose influence Mendelssohn owed so much (and vice versa), this Protestant chorale was public property; and it was heard not only in congregational singing (where even today it survives after a fashion), but in art music, where the music of the church enjoyed pride of place.
Much has been said already about Bach's subtle and variegated practice of arranging chorales for the organ or interpolating them into his cantatas and Passion settings. The relation between these chorales and the words of the aria, biblical passage, or sermon has been thoroughly explored, as have the subtle verbal and non-verbal (i.e. numerological) references in the organ chorales. But even in his cantatas, Bach placed his trust in the melodic and theological burden of chorales and incorporated them in his intellectual and musical designs, just as Berg was to do two-hundred years later in his instrumental Requiem.
One bold masterpiece by the twenty-two-year-old Bach, the funeral cantata "Gottes Zeit ist die allerbeste Zeit" ("Actus tragicus", BWV 106), serves as an especially beautiful example in that it presents three different ways of quoting a chorale. First, there is the final chorale "Glorie, Lob, Ehr und Herrlichkeit", with its garlands of recorders. Before then, the unison altos in the chorus add the chorale stanza "Mit Fried und Freud ich fahr dahin" to the bass arioso, "Heute wirst du mit mir im Paradies sein". But even in the first vocal performance, after the opening sonatina, the two recorders (along with viols and continuo) weave the cantus firmus "Ich hab mein Sach Gott heimgestellt" into the choral fugue "Es ist der alte Bund" and the bright soprano interjection, "Ja, komm, Herr Jesu, komm". Alfred Durr points out in his commentary that the eighteen stanzas of the quoted hymn "stand in striking congruity with the train of thought expressed in our cantata text" and proceeds to demonstrate the point with a "Summary of the Most Important Examples".
If the members of the Muhlhausen congregation were capable of hearing a delicate chorale melody, Bach could be quite certain that they would, in their imagination, also hear the words, or at least those of the first stanza. The same can hardly be said of today's listeners. That may be one reason why Ton Koopman, in his complete recording of the Bach cantatas, has the choral soprano sing along with the instrumental chorale "Ich ruf zu dir, Herr Jesu Christ" in the opening duet of Bach's Weimar cantata "Barmherziges Herze der ewigen Liebe" BWV 185 Koopman thereby anticipates the words of the final chorale and dispenses with what Andreas Bomba, referring to the ornamented cantus firmus in the oboe (or trumpet in the Leipzig version), calls "one of Bach's famous theological guessing-games, even if listeners were able to read the words of the chorale in the printed libretto". In Koopman's recording of "Weinen, Klagen, Sorgen, Zagen" BWV 12, the oboe states, with exemplary clarity, the more familiar chorale "Jesu, meine Freude" during the tenor aria "Sei getreu, alle Pein wird doch nur ein Kleines sein". It is immediately followed by the final chorale "Was Gott tut, das ist wohlgetan", a melody also heard in other numbers of this cantata. These examples are further proof that Bach could often not draw deeply enough on his rich treasure-trove of knowledge, insight, and associations. Another association that can never be forgotten, once noticed, is the opening of the chorale "Aus tiefer Not schrei ich zu dir" as heard in the concluding bars of the C-Minor fugue of "The Well-Tempered Clavier II" BWV 871. Surprisingly, to be sure, it occurs here in the major mode, but it is perhaps already latent in the minor-mode fugue subject.
All the above examples are but stepping-stones to the breathtaking possibilities that the violin pedagogue Prof. Helga Thoene has unveiled in Bach's "Six Solos" ("Sei Solo" in the autograph manuscript) for unaccompanied violin (BWV 1001 -1006). Inspired by an invitation to deliver a lecture during the 1985 Bach tricentennial, Thoene delved into the idiosyncracies of Bach's rhythmic notation of these pieces and discovered that depending on whether he wrote, say, quarter-notes or dotted eighths, the rhythmic durations yielded certain patterns of numbers. As they stand, the "Six Solos" already appear in a logical sequence: Sonata no. 1 G Minor, Partita no. 1 B Minor, Sonata no. 2 A Minor, Partita no. 2 D Minor, Sonata no. 3 C Major, and Partita no. 3 E Major. But Thoene sees more in this sequence than just a key scheme; she sees in the three sonatas a theological progression leading from the Incarnation (Christmas) to the Passion/Easter and finally to Pentecost. She bolsters her argument with a large number of chorale quotations that can be assigned to the corresponding feasts in the liturgical calendar. Many more correspondences can be discovered by applying the principles of gematria, i.e. by assigning numbers to letters of the alphabet. (In this case the equation is extremely simple: A = 1, B = 2, etc., with I/J = 9, U/V=20, Z = 24.) By adding up the duration of the notes, the number of bars, and the "tonal letters" (pitches in German letter notation) in the sonatas, movements, bars, or groups of bars, Thoene arrives at, among other things, numerical values for the complete Latin Credo, the Magnificat, and, over and over again, the name "Johann Sebastian Bach" and other names. And these are only some of the techniques applied.
It had already been known that the first line of the Pentecostal hymn "Komm, heiliger Geist" is hidden in the fugue subject of the C-Major Sonata; now, however, it is possible to view this fact in a larger context. Thoene strengthens her interpretation of the three sonatas with an even more surprising discovery. She recalled an old Latin Trinity saying found on tombstones and correlated its numeric values to the architecture of the sonatas in a great many ways:
Ex Deo nascimur
In Christo morimur
Per Spiritum Sanctum reviviscimus
"We are born from God / We die in Christ /We are reborn through the Holy Spirit" - this Trinitarian formula is fascinating for its concise summary of central articles of Christian faith. Thoene has retraced its occurrences in the D-Minor Partita, particularly in the concluding Ciaccona. Using an original bar-by-bar summation, she construes the nine-note bass figure of the Ciaccona as the same gematric figure 756 that applies to the entire saying. She also advances the thesis that Bach wrote the Ciaccona as a tombeau or epitaph for his wife Maria Barbara after her unexpected death in 1720. Here Thoene bases her argument on the prevalence of the Easter hymn "Christ lag in Todesbanden" as well as a great many combinations of pitches, numbers, and words, not to mention other chorales. Christoph Poppen's present recording of the Ciaccona with members of the Hilliard Ensemble makes perceivable the ingenious interplay between the virtuoso and harmonically complex violin part and the lines of the chorales. This recording turns the piece into a work literally never heard before.
There can be little doubt that the baroque age took special delight in number games and riddles, especially those having to do with music, e.g. puzzle canons. Perhaps the most famous example is the sheet of manuscript paper that Bach holds in his hand in the portrait by Elias Gottlob Haussmann (1747), presenting it to the view of the observer. It is a "Canon triplex a 6 voci" on three staves. What is it supposed to sound like? Friedrich Smend subjected this canon to a thorough analysis and came up with a multitude of numerological and gematric interpretations in which the numbers 14 (for "Bach"), 41 ("J.S. Bach"), and 158 ("Johann Sebastian Bach") play a crucial role.
In the latter half of the twentieth century, Bach scholars both during and after Smend's lifetime collected so much evidence in this field that the only question remaining is the extent, or perhaps we should say the limits, of the encoded numeric messages in Bach's music. Some may find the limits too narrow, others too broad, but there is no gainsaying that imagination and logic, rationality and intuition are often inextricably intertwined in this music, and that instinct and speculation will provoke new evidence or objections depending on the previous assumptions of the analyst. Obviously, our present-day standards of knowledge will not apply to earlier ages. Yet one sentence from the obituary that Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach and Johann Friedrich Agricola wrote in 1754 for
Mizler's Musicalische Bibliothek in Leipzig should perhaps be read outside the narrow context of compositional technique: "If ever a musician has placed the most arcane secrets of harmony into the most ingenious outpourings of his art, it was surely our Bach." Perhaps this passage should best be read in terms of the music of the spheres, the harmonia mundi mathematica that supposedly governs the orbits of the planets no less than the foundations of music and the laws of architecture. Perhaps it refers to secrets that can be decoded with the aid of a numerical alphabet, but must nevertheless remain secret.
The musicologist Hans Heinrich Eggebrecht has exhaustively studied the BACH motif with which "The Art of Fugue" abruptly comes to an end. According to C. P. E. Bach, in his preface to the first edition (1751), this was meant to be "the final fugue, in which [Bach] introduces himself by name at the opening of the third section". Eggebrecht also takes into account the continuation of the BACH motif, reading it as "in reality a B-A-C-H-C#-D-C#-D theme" and interpreting its second, supporting limb as a forceful cadence on the pitch D. In this light, the theme is more than a mere "signature". It seems to be saying: "I, Bach, will and shall reach the tonic; I am connected with it, the reference tone of the entire work, the beginning and the final destination of its entire musical order."
Indeed, Eggebrecht goes one step further by relating this existential pronouncement "in the Christian way of thinking" to "the chorale that occupied Bach in the final moments on his deathbed, "Vor deinen Thron tret ich hiermit": 'I here appear before thy throne... Take my soul into thy hand... Son of God, thou hast redeemed me through thy blood from the fires of Hell.'" And this from Eggebrecht, a musicologist who naturally considers his explication to be "unprovable", reveals himself elsewhere to be an extreme sceptic and a champion of "scholarly rectitude", and who specifically warns against any attempt to interpret the symbolism in Bach's music! The original printed edition of Bach's "The Art of Fugue" ends with an organ chorale entitled "Wenn wir in hochsten Noten sein" BWV 668a in order to "compensate the friends of his muse for the work's incompleteness". In the so-called Leipzig Manuscript, however, Bach had the chorale inserted with a new title: "Vor deinen Thron tret ich hiermit" BWV 668. This new version, Eggebrecht points out (as had Smend before him), expands the original melody by increasing the number of notes in the first line to fourteen and those in the entire chorale to forty-one. In other words, Bach entered his own name in gematric encryption (see above), as if to say: "Bach, J. S. Bach, gird thy loins for thy final journey to appear before God's throne!"
Morimur, the middle line in the Trinitarian formula, refers to death as a passage into life. This basic Christian tenet is deeply rooted in the baroque age, and thus in Bach's consciousness. It is accompanied by the view that earthly music is but a figura, an anticipatory likeness, that prefigures the future sounds of heaven, which therefore exist in the world below in hidden form. The language of notes and the symbolism of numbers provide the necessary tools and resources to unveil the status of such encryptions and the secret nature of such prefigurations of the celestial harmony. This lends to death a paramount role that can easily be detected in Bach's music. Examples include the above-mentioned cantatas, the possibility that the D-Minor Ciaccona was written as an epitaph, the realignment of the BACH theme on the tonic (its "beginning and final destination"), and finally the altered melody and text of the chorale "Vor deinen Thron tret ich hiermit".
Paul Hindemith expressly referred to this point, although he introduced yet another disconcerting element by choosing a nonstandard melody for the chorale. We shall never know to what extent Alban Berg and Bernd Alois Zimmermann, composers of the secularly-minded twentieth century, consciously or unconsciously wished the earthly desperation depicted in their operas to be a negative metaphor for hope - a figura ex negativo - and thus an image of hope after all, albeit in encrypted form. Both works culminate in violent death: "Die Soldaten" ends with a highly moving quotation of the Latin Pater noster, "Wozzeck" with a childish "Hopp, hopp! Hopp, hopp! Hopp, hopp!"that is harmless only on the surface and otherwise deadly serious. Berg's Violin Concerto, in contrast, states the morimur with Bach's own music: "Es ist genug - It is enough."
- Herbert Glossner