Welcome to our second series of Chamber Orchestra concerts, as we return to Westminster Presbyterian Church and Our Savior’s Lutheran Church. We have a very practical reason for using these venues for these concerts: we need organs! Two works on this program require the services of a pipe organ, one as the featured solo instrument and another for which the organ provides the indispensable heart of the work’s sound.
Organ concertos aren’t all that common in musical history. Churches had organs to enhance worship, not as concert fodder. George Frideric Handel intended his organ concertos to be intermission entertainment during performances of his oratorios performed at Covent Garden Theatre. Not surprisingly, they have a decidedly “unchurchlike” feel, leading to a descriptive title like “The Cuckoo and the Nightingale,” played by Joseph Schenck in his RSO debut.
But of course, the organ was first and foremost a church instrument, and was the center of Johann Sebastian Bach’s musical and religious career as Cantor of Thomaskirche in Leipzig. Besides the organ’s role in preludes, postludes, chorale accompaniment, and liturgical music, it also served as the harmonic and tonal core of orchestral church music, of which the weekly cantatas were a prime example. Bach himself led the performances, cuing with head nods and the occasional jab of the hands as he played the organ in the center of the choir loft. Of the approximately 224 Bach cantatas that still exist, the chorale melody from Cantata 147 we know as “Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring” is probably the best known and most beloved. We welcome members of the Mendelssohn Chorale to perform this beautiful work.
Nature has always been a source of inspiration for composers, and you needn’t look far to find musical works based on streams, rivers, oceans or lakes. “Water Music” works, both by 18th century German composers, bookend our program. Messiah may be Handel’s most famous work, but his Water Music of 1717 comes close. King George I wanted some festive music for a concert on the River Thames, and Handel obliged with about an hour of music played by 50 musicians from a barge that floated up and down the river with the tide. Telemann’s suite, written in 1723, is subtitled “Hamburg Ebb and Flow”. The city of Hamburg, though 110 miles from the North Sea, is (and was in Telemann’s day) one of Europe’s most important ports because it sits astride the Elbe River. Telemann builds each movement on conventional baroque dance forms like sarabande, bourée, and gigue, but also ingeniously uses the music to depict the tidal flows, the frolicking of mythological water gods, and the boisterous partying of boat people (some things never change).