Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Japanese Masters: Ifukube Akira (composer)

Ifukube Akira (1914-2006; 伊福部昭) was a Japanese composer of classical music who is perhaps best known among the general public for his filmscores for the Godzilla movies.

Ifukube was born in a small village in northeastern Hokkaido, on the fringe of Japan, where his father was mayor. The population was half Japanese, half Ainu. Ifukube studied both violin and shamisen, and was impressed by the improvisational music of the aboriginal Ainu population. The violin would remain his favorite instrument. Later, when he went to secondary school in Sapporo, he had a deeper encounter with Western classical music and especially fell in love with Stravinsky and De Falla (he never felt close to classical composers as Mozart and Beethoven, whom he considered as too different culturally). It was Le Sacre du Printemps that motivated him to deepen his knowledge of European music. In 1932, Ifukube also befriended Hayasaka Fumio, a self-taught composer who was of the same age, and their talks about European classical music must have been very stimulating.


Ifukube studied forestry at Hokkaido University and taught himself composition in his free time. His first composition - at the age of 19 - was the Piano Suite of 1933 (later orchestrated as "Japan Suite" in 1991; also a version for 20-stringed Koto exists; the Suite was dedicated to the American pianist George Copland). Ifukube was the first composer to use Japanese folk music in compositions based on European techniques. In this first work there is an extensive use of ostinati (short motives repeated over and over again), a technique that would characterize all Ifukube's work. Ifukube used a scale that was basically pentatonic, to which he would add one or two notes not used by the melody. To create a harmonic texture he would often use double musical lines, simple counterpoint or canonic sections.

In 1935 followed the Japanese Rhapsody for orchestra which won first prize in an international contest for young composers organized by Alexander Tcherepnin. It consists of two parts, Nocturne and Fete, and was performed in Boston in 1935, conducted by Fabien Sevitzky. Tcherepnin was so fascinated by Ifukube's style, that during his Japan visit he went especially to Hokkaido to meet him. There is an interesting contrast between the graceful folk tunes and the "Aboriginal" quality called up by the ostinati, the doubling of the melody and the use of open fifths in the harmony. The music is very rhythmic, with a prominent place for the percussion section.

After graduation, Ifukube worked as a forestry officer and lumber processor. One frequently played work from this time is Triptyque aborigene for chamber orchestra (1937). This piece was inspired by Akkeshi Forest where Ifukube worked as a ranger. There are three movements: Payses (the hard-working women of the countryside); Timbe (the name of a lonely cliff); Pakkai (an Ainu drinking song). The work is written in a naive style and combines the energy of folk music with the structural and instrumental patterns of European music.

During the war years, Ifukube composed two more interesting works, the Symphony Concertante for piano and orchestra (1941), considered lost but in 1997 found back in the NHK archives, and the Ballata sinfonica (1943). The Ballata is in two parts, an Allegro Capriccioso in fast dance rhythm and an Andante Rapsodico resembling a dirge.

After the war, Ifukube moved to Tokyo where he started teaching  music at the precursor of the present Tokyo Geijutsu Daigaku in Ueno. Works from the immediate postwar years include the ballet Salome (1948), based on Oscar Wilde's play of the same name, the Rhapsodia Concertante per Violino et Orchestra (Violin Concerto No. 1; 1948) and Drumming of Japan (1951).

At this time, he also composed his first film score – over the next 50 years, 250 more would follow. Most famous is the music he wrote for various Godzilla and other Toho monster movies, starting with the original Godzilla in 1954. Ifukube was introduced to Toho by his friend and colleague Hayasaka Fumio. Ifukube also created Godzilla's typical roar (a leather glove striking the loosened strings of a double bass) as well as its threatening footsteps (by striking an amplifier box). In 1971 Ifukube stopped writing film music, but he was lured back in the nineties to do more scores for the new Godzilla films then being made. The music of his kaiju scores found a concert home in three Symphonic Fantasies, composed in 1954 and 1983. Especially the first Fantasy is very effective. Film tunes also return in the Ronde in Burlesque for wind orchestra (1972).

Also in 1954, Ifukube wrote the Sinfonia Tapkaara in three movements, an homage to the wide land of Hokkaido. In 1961 followed Ritmica Ostinata for piano and orchestra. Two further works were written for his favorite instrument, the violin: in 1978, a second violin concerto, and in 1985 a violin sonata.

One of Ifukube's most ambitious works was Gotama the Buddha for mixed chorus and orchestra (Shaka, 1989). The songs are in Pali, the ancient Indian language in which the oldest Buddhist texts were written. This was a difficult work to write, because of its extended form - Ifukube had to find his own solution for the construction of such a longer work, as he never employed the "European" sonata form.

Ifukube also wrote for traditional Japanese instruments, in the first place the twenty-stringed Koto. A good example is the Eclogue Symphonique pour Koto a vingt cordes et Orchestra (1982). Also short works Ifukube wrote for the lute or the guitar were transposed for the Koto.

In 1975, Ifukube became President of the Tokyo College of Music. In 1987 he retired to become president of the College's ethnomusicology department. He trained younger composers as Mayuzumi Toshito and Akutagawa Yasushi and also published extensively on music theory.

Ifukube's own favorites among his compositions are: Japanese Rhapsody, Sinfonia Tapkaara and Gotama the Buddha.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

A Month in the Country, by J.L. Carr

A Month in the Country by J.L. Carr (1912-1994) is a wonderful pastoral novella, which in the compass of just a hundred pages does as much as other books that are five times as thick. Although the novel also deals with "romantic regret," and despite the elegiac undertone, the overall impression is one of happiness, a rare commodity in literature.


[The parish church of St Materiana's in Tintagel, Cornwall. Construction of the church may have been started in the 11th or early 12th century.
This is not the church in the story, which is set in Yorkshire, but the grave outside the churchyard wall in the novella was suggested by Tintagel where a number of early graves were encountered at Trecarne Lands and excavated]


The story takes place in the gorgeous summer of 1920 when art historian Tom Birkin comes to the sleepy village of Oxgodby to restore a medieval church mural that is hidden under a coat of plaster. Birkin himself is just as much in need of restoration, for he has crawled shell-shocked out of the trenches of the First World War, and also his marriage is in shambles. He has come to the countryside, in this wonderful summer, to be healed.

Coincidentally, another war veteran, John Moon, is doing an archaeological survey in the field next to the church. He has been hired to find and dig up the remains of a church forebear. The two men become acquaintances in a very British way, a quiet fellowship of tea and smokes. In the end, their jobs are shown to be closely connected: on the Last Judgment painting Birkin is restoring to the light of day, there is a man falling down into Hell, and Moon discovers the forebears' grave in the field outside the church walls, the place where infidels were buried. The slow revelation of this mystery at the crossroads of art and archaeology deepens the interest of the novel.

Birkin also meets people from the village. Curious to see the stranger who has come from London to this out of the way place, Kathie Ellerbeck, the 15-year-old daughter of the stationmaster comes time and again bouncing into the church and forces Birkin to join the Sunday dinners at her home, and also various community activities such as hay-making and church picnics. In this way, Birkin is gradually pulled out of himself. He looses his facial twitch, makes friends, returns to society.


[Poster of the film]

But the largest role here has Alice Keath, the wife of the unsympathetic vicar, a sensitive woman who seems buried in an incompatible marriage. She often comes to talk to Birkin and watch him work. Their discussions develop more and more layers of affinity and implication. In the end, both are in love with the other but unable to confess it. It is only shown in the blushes flaming Alice’s cheeks. Towards the end of the story, before Birkin’s departure, there is a moving scene up in the church tower where Birkin has been lodging, in which they nearly kiss. “Then everything would have been different. My life, hers.” But nothing happens. The next day Birkin returns to London and they never meet again.

The beautiful summer is over. Birkin leaves with resignation but also with happy memories. Memories that are insignificant to others, but doubly precious to the person who experienced the events that gave rise to them. Memories that are just as fleeting as life, because they die with us. But until then, they can be  a valuable source of contentment - that is what J.L. Carr seems to want to tell us in this delicate novella.


Filmed
in 1987 by Pat O'Connor, with Colin Firth as Birkin and Natasha Richardson as Alice. The excellent (but also almost unknown) film follows the book closely and deftly brings out the inner landscapes.

Photo of Tintagel church:
Herbythyme, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Monday, February 27, 2012

Japanese Masters: Kawashima Yuzo (film director)

Kawashima Yuzo (1918-1963;川島雄三) came from Mutsu in Aomori and was educated at Meiji university in Tokyo. He entered the Shochiku Studios in 1938 and became an assistant to the great classical director Kinoshita Keisuke. Kawashima made his first own film in 1944, and continued after the war at Shochiku with a number of comedies. These were second features (the second and least important film on a bill of two) and not very well received.

In order to improve his opportunities, in 1955 Kawashima moved to Nikkatsu, where he received better treatment and indeed made his best films, such as Bakumatsu Taiyoden (1957), which was voted the "fifth best Japanese film of all time" in an influential poll of the film magazine Kinema Junpo. In the early 1960s, he also worked for other studios and made some literary adaptations. He worked hard - before his sudden death in 1963 (Kawashima suffered from ALS), he made 51 films (during a career of only 19 years). Kawashima was the mentor of Imamura Shohei who worked under him as assistant director.

Kawashima is perhaps the greatest unknown in the West of all Japanese film directors I can think of, and one who least deserves it. His films are quirky, original, satirical, iconoclastic - and great fun. Kawashima's films are about people trying to survive in a world without morals. Kawashima was a forerunner of the Japanese New Wave and the connection between the classical directors of the fifties and the angry young men of the sixties. In fact, one of his last films, Beautiful Beast, which has been filmed from interesting angles in a claustrophobic environment, is very close to the New Wave.

In Japan, if only for the everlasting fame of Bakumatsu Taiyoden (that never made it to the West, yet), Kawashima is an established name and my local DVD rental shop even has a "Kawashima section." There is still a lot to discover, but that, after all, is one of the pleasures of Japanese film.


Selection of films:
  • Burden of Love (Ai no onimotsu, 1955)
    Burlesque social satire about a government minister who advocates birth control (we are in the baby boom years here), even as all women in his family become pregnant one after the other. Kawashima's first success after his move to Nikkatsu.
  • Our Town (Waga machi, 1956)
    An account of an Osaka suburb from the Meiji-period to the 1930s. Adept handling of a large number of characters in this comedy.
  • Suzaki Paradise: Red Signal (Suzaki paradaisu: Akashingo, 1956)
    Satire set in Tokyo's seamy milieu of bars and brothels. A young couple has fled to Tokyo to marry. Looking for income and a roof above their head, they end up in the Suzaki brothel area - the woman only works in a bar at the entrance to the district, but even that makes her man madly jealous.
  • The Shinagawa Path (Bakumatsu Taiyoden, 1957)
    Witty account of events in a brothel where reformers gather around the time of the Meiji restoration. Typically, they are interested in money and other things, rather than politics. A hustler (Frankie Sakai) who can't serve his debt is taken into custody by the owner of the establishment and has to work his debt off. Title also translated as "Sun Legend of the Last Days of the Shogunate." Script by Imamura Shohei and Kawashima Yuzo.
  • Room to Let (Kashima ari, 1959)
  • Hilarious portrait of Osaka low life. 
  • Shadow of a Flower (Kaei, 1961)
    Touching study of the unhappy lives of bar hostesses, notable for the sympathy for their pain.
  • Women Are Born Twice (Onna wa Nido Umareru, 1961) 
    Sensitive look at the condition of women after WWII, seen through the eyes of the geisha of a downtown area of Tokyo. Subtle delineation of character.
  • The Temple of the Wild Geese (Gan no tera, 1962) 
    Film version of the novelistic masterwork of Mizukami Tsutomu about the destructive love triangle between a lecherous priest, an ex-geisha and a novice. Set in a Kyoto temple and full of atmosphere.
  • Elegant Beast (Shitoyakana kedamono, 1962)
    Parents with two grown-up children make a living as fraudsters, turning to crime out of fear that the former years of utter poverty will return. Deceit, lies and surveillance determine the film. In Kawashima's hands the family becomes a symbol for Japan itself. Completely filmed inside the apartment of the parents, with many interesting camera angles (like Rear Window). Modernist style. With Wakao Ayako. The script was written by Shindo Kaneto.
Also see A Critical Handbook of Japanese Film Directors by Alexander Jacoby (Stone Bridge Press, 2008) - an important resource.
I would recommend Elegant Beast, Temple of the Wild Geese, Women are Born Twice, Suzaki Paradise and The Shinagawa Path as the best of Kawashima's movies - with the exception of Temple of the Wild Geese, these are also the films that Imamura Shohei recommended for a retrospective at the Rotterdam Film Festival. 

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Classic Film: "Trouble in Paradise" (1932) by Lubitsch

Trouble in Paradise (1932) by Ernst Lubitsch is such a wonderful, charming film that it is difficult to do it justice in this short review. The film starts in Venice, with a shot of the famous canals, although we don't see tourists gliding through the city, but a boat collecting garbage. Gaston Monescu (Herbert Marshall), a suave gentleman thief, and Lily Vautier (Miriam Hopkins), a lady pickpocket, happen to meet here in a luxury hotel and steal each other's heart (plus some other stuff - Gaston has managed to remove Lily's garter from her thigh, which he doesn't return).

They decide to join hearts and techniques and a year later can be  found in Paris. Gaston has stolen the bejeweled bag of a beautiful  perfume company owner, Mme. Mariette Colet (Kay Francis), but when he sees an advertisement promising a finder's fee higher than the value of the bag, he returns it as the "honest finder." Already at the first meeting with the dark Mme. Colet, sparks are flying between them. Take the following conversation:
"If I were your father, which fortunately I am not,'' Gaston says, "and you made any attempt to handle your own business affairs, I would give you a good spanking - in a business way, of course.''
"What would you do if you were my secretary?''
"The same thing.''
"You're hired.''
In this way, Gaston is hired as Mme Colet's confidential secretary (under the alias of "Monsieur Laval") and he brings in Lily as his assistant. They are planning to rob the safe of Mme Colet and Gaston takes care that it is well stocked. But there is one hitch: Gaston and Mme. Colet have fallen in love. This is of course not to the taste of Gaston's soul mate in crime, Lily. Neither is it to the taste of popular Mme Colet's band of other suitors. Jealous, they start various rumors about "M. Laval" and of them now even remembers having met him in Venice, when he posed as a doctor. While his false identity is in danger, Gaston must choose between marriage with Mme. Colet and a getaway with the loot and Lily - although he rather would like to have it both ways...

The film is beautifully shot, the art-deco sets and costumes are incredible, the script is full of witty and racy dialogues, and everybody gives a wonderful performance. Unbelievable that this gracious movie was withdrawn from circulation between 1935 to 1968 because of Hollywood censorship (the infamous Hays code, which turned the U.S. film world into a sort of Kindergarten). It is not possible to come closer to perfection than in this intoxicating comedy...






Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Torrents of Spring (1872) by Turgenev

Torrents of Spring (or "Spring Torrents;" 1872) was written by the Russian author Ivan Turgenev (1818-1883). Turgenev was born into a wealthy landowning family. He was the most cosmopolitan among Russian literati, studied in Germany and from the mid-fifties on, lived mainly in Europe. He was a pure artist who did not approve of moral or religious propaganda in literature and he was closer to Flaubert than to his countrymen Dostoevsky and Tolstoy.


[1989 film version]

Torrents of Spring is a novella on the theme of "romantic regret." Turgenev wrote it in his fifties and that is also the age of his protagonist, Dimitry Sanin, at the beginning of the story, when he finds a little cross in a drawer and is reminded of the great love of his youth. The story is then told in retrospect.

Sanin, a wealthy landowner in his early twenties, is returning to Russia from a tour in Italy. When he breaks his journey in the German city of Frankfurt, he has a chance encounter with the beautiful Gemma Roselli, who works in her family's patisserie. Dimitry falls hopelessly and deliriously in love with the pure, young woman.
Her nose was rather large, but handsome, aquiline-shaped; her upper lip was shaded by a light down; but then the colour of her face, smooth, uniform, like ivory or very pale milky amber, the wavering shimmer of her hair, like that of the Judith of Allorio in the Palazzo-Pitti; and above all, her eyes, dark-grey, with a black ring round the pupils, splendid, triumphant eyes. [...] Even in Italy he had never met anything like her!
He is warmly accepted into the small family (mother, daughter, son and an elderly manservant) because he has saved the life of Gemma's brother Emilio. In fact, Gemma is already engaged to Herr Kluber, a very stiff and strict young German with good prospects, but she is not averse to the attention Dimitry pays her. Dimitry wins the day when he defends Gemma's honor in a duel with a German soldier who has insulted her - the fiance is too cowardly to react, so exit Mr Kluber. Only the mother, Signora Roselli is not immediately convinced, as she worries about the financial future of her daughter. But she is won over when Dimitry promises to begin a new life in Frankfurt, and sell his Russian estates to get the necessary money. Having received assurances of Gemma's love, Dimitry feels himself at the highest pinnacle of human happiness. But here ends the fairy-tale.

Dimitry has a chance encounter with an old acquaintance, the weird Polozov, who is somewhat famous for the marriage he has made, with a rich and gorgeous woman who seems ill-matched to the pig-like husband. After Dimitry tells him about his circumstances, including his marriage plans, Polozov hints that his wife might be interested in Sannin's estates and invites him for a few days to Wiesbaden to clinch the deal. Maria Nikolaevna Polozov is vamp-like and intriguing personality, with an overwhelming femininity, a total contrast to the pure and almost childish Gemma (with whom Dimitry has never shared more than a simple kiss). What Dimitry doesn't know is that she has an understanding with her husband that she is free to take lovers. Husband and wife even bet on the success of the wife to seduce the naive Dimitry - the point of interest is the great love for Gemma of which Dimitry has been bragging: will Polozova be able to destroy that?

As it turns out, Dimitry is a relatively easy prey for the experienced seductress. She keeps putting off the final business talk to keep him longer in Wiesbaden - he has to attend on her at dinner, the theater, etc. - and then, during a ride in the forest (as in Madame Bovary), he falls for her, and becomes prey to a dark and destructive infatuation. He feels too ashamed to contact Gemma and tell her what has happened, so he silently sneaks out of her life. He even forgets her, for now he is the slave of Polozova:
'I am going where you will be, and will be with you till you drive me away,' he answered with despair and pressed close to him the hands of his sovereign. She freed her hands, laid them on his head, and clutched at his hair with her fingers. She slowly turned over and twisted the unresisting hair, drew herself up, her lips curled with triumph, while her eyes, wide and clear, almost white, expressed nothing but the ruthlessness and glutted joy of conquest. The hawk, as it clutches a captured bird, has eyes like that.
And then, thirty years later, Dimitry who has wasted his whole life running after Maria Nikolaevna Polozov, following her to various European cities, until he is freed by her death, finds the small cross Gemma gave him at their parting. He is consumed by remorse and regret...


[Pauline Viardot, Turgenev's great love]

P.S. There is an interesting parallel between the story and Turgenev's own life. Turgenev had a lifelong affair with the celebrated opera singer Pauline Viardot. He followed her throughout Europe and never married.

P.S. 2 Torrents of Spring was filmed in 1989 Jerzy Skolimowski (starring Timothy Hutton, Nastassja Kinski and Valeria Golino). The film competed for the Golden Palm Award at the 1989 Cannes Film Festival.

Available as a Penguin and also free at Gutenberg.

See also:
Stories of Ivan Turgenev (1): Early Stories
Stories of Ivan Turgenev (2): Lyrical Stories
Stories of Ivan Turgenev (3): Late Stories


Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Japanese Masters: Mizukami Tsutomu (novelist)

Mizukami Tsutomu (1919 - 2004; 水上勉) was a literary author of fiction who often straddled the border of pure literature and more popular genres. More than ten of his novels were made into films, a sure sign of his popularity in his own country (strangely enough, these films mostly remained outside the Western "Japan canon"). When I lived as researcher in Kyoto in the early 1980s, I often saw his books in bookshops and on shelves of friends. In the West, he is almost unknown - it was only in 2008 that, coincidentally, translations appeared in both English and German of his masterwork, The Temple of the Wild Geese, and in English also of his novel Bamboo Dolls of Echizen. This neglect is strange, for Mizukami's greatest work has a certain obsessiveness in common with Tanizaki and Kawabata, and gives atmospheric depictions of the world of priests and geisha in Kyoto, as well as the poor countryside of the Wakasa area. It has also strong folkloristic elements.

By the way, the author's name can also be read as Minakami - that was in fact the pseudonym he used as a writer, but as he himself was not strict about it and "Mizukami" is the  pronunciation now usually used in Japan, we will keep to Mizukami.

Mizukami was born as the son of a shrine carpenter in the Wakasa region of Fukui Prefecture, on the Japan Sea coast above Kyoto. In his early teens, he became a novice in a Kyoto temple (a subtemple of Shokokuji), taking his vows in 1930. But the young Mizukami had a difficult time in the Zen establishment, moving from temple to temple. In 1932 he entered the Tojiin and went to nearby Hanazono Middle School, but had quite a turbulent relationship with the head priest whom he considered as corrupt. He left in 1936, after graduation.

Mizukami then entered Ritsumeikan University in Kyoto to study Japanese literature, but dropped out due to financial problems. It took a long time to get on his feet - he had thirty-six different jobs in this period, from vagrant peddler to clerk in a geta shop and manager of a mahjong parlor (which of course gave him the  life experience useful for a writer). Study with the author Uno Koji (1891-1961), known for his naturalistic novels in a personal style, led to his first autobiographical novel (The Song of the Frying Pan, 1948), but Mizukami was unable to support himself by writing for at least another decade. His breakthrough came in 1959 when he published an extremely popular mystery, Mist and Shadow. It was detective fiction with a social theme, a genre initiated by Matsumoto Seicho (Ten to Sen). In 1961 Mizukami wrote The Fangs of the Sea in the same vein, a mystery novel about the Minamata Disease, caused by environmental pollution, that won him the Mystery Writers' Club Prize. His most enduring popular work in this genre was Straits of Hunger from 1963.

Mizukami used the financial security provided by these mystery novels to step back into pure literature. The Temple of the Geese (1962) was based on his own temple experiences and won him the prestigious Naoki Prize - it has been filmed by Kawashima Yuzo and is generally considered as his masterwork. The years of literary and social apprenticeship now paid off.

In The Yugiri Brothel at Gobancho (1962) Mizukami wrote about a young girl from a poor family who is sold to become a geisha (Gobancho was a geisha district in Nishijin, Kyoto). In the same novel, he treats the burning of the Golden Pavilion from a different point of view than Mishima Yukio had done. Local color is very strong in The Bamboo Dolls of Echizen  ("Echizen" is the traditional name for Fukui Prefecture where Minakami was born), which won very high praise from Tanizaki in 1963. Minakami also excelled in the genre of the literary biography. His biography of his literary mentor Uno Koji won the Kikuchi Kan Prize in 1971, and his study of the 15th c. eccentric Zen-master Ikkyu was awarded the Tanizaki Prize in 1975.

Mizukami started only in his early forties as a full-time writer, but his output was tremendous: he wrote between 5 and 10 books a year, in the 1960s even 15. Already in 1968 his Selected Works were published by Shinchosha in six volumes. In 1976-78 followed his Collected Works in 26 volumes (Chuo Koronsha), and again in 16 volumes in 1995-97. Besides fiction (both high-brow and middle-brow, and often a mix of both), he also wrote travel essays, autobiographical reminiscences and popular books about Buddhism. Kyoto and its temples were a favorite subject. His travel essays were collected in 1982-83 by Heibonsha in eight volumes. Mizukami wrote in a beautiful literary style, but in his dialogues he also used dialect elements.

Here are some of his major works:
  • The Temple of the Wild Geese (Gan no Tera, 1961). 
    Mizukami used thriller techniques in this semi-autobiographical novel, set in a Kyoto temple called "the Temple of the Wild Geese" because a famous painter has decorated the sliding doors with these birds. The story centers on Jinen, a thirteen-year old novice with a mysterious background. The orphaned son of a beggar, he has a grotesquely formed head and is generally unhappy and ashamed of his past. The priest of the temple, Jikai, has taken an ex-geisha from Gion, Satoko, into the temple.  In modern Japan, priests are allowed to marry, but playing around with geisha is of course a sign of lewdness in a priest. On top of that, Jikai is a notorious tippler. The lonely Jinen develops a crush on Satoko, and she does not completely discourage his youthful fancy. The unlikely love triangle leads to a brutal climax - Jikai disappears. Has he really departed on a walking tour of penance, as Jinen says? A story with great psychological depth and written in a beautiful style.

    The English translation was made by Dennis Washburn and published by Dalkey Archive Press in 2008 (also includes Bamboo Dolls of Echizen);  the German translation was made by Eduard Klopfenstein, also in 2008.

    The Temple of the Wild Geese was filmed in 1962 by Kawashima Yuzo (another Unknown Master) in vibrant black-and-white. Wakao Ayako plays the role of Satoko. Jinen is older than in the book, he is in Middle School and looks about eighteen - this makes the love triangle more probable.

  • The Yugiri Brothel at Gobancho (Gobancho Yugiriro, 1963)
    A young woman from a poor family in Fukui is sold to the Yugiri geisha house in Nishijin, Kyoto. A rich merchant wants to be her lover, but she is already in love with a local boy who has become a novice in the Temple of the Golden Pavilion. Out of frustration he in the end sets fire to the priceless structure...

    The Yugiri Brothel at Gobancho was filmed in 1963 by Tasaka Tomitaka (another Unknown Master).

  • Bamboo Dolls of Echizen (Echizen Takeningyo, 1963)
    A young bamboo craftsman, Kisuke, takes his father's prostitute Tamae as a wife and insists on treating her as a mother - the two never become lovers. The story has weird Freudian overtones. Cared for by Tamae, Kisuke becomes a renowned craftsman, a maker of the bamboo dolls the region is famous for. Part folk tale and part social realism, set in the isolated rural scenery of Fukui Prefecture. Lots of local color, often of a primitive and ghostly nature.

    Bamboo Dolls of Echizen was translated by Dennis Washburn and published by Dalkey Archive Press in 2008 in the same volume as The Temple of the Wild Geese.

    Bamboo Dolls of Echizen was filmed in 1963 by Yoshimura Kozaburo (yes, another Unknown Master!) as a stylish melodrama. 
Anthologies of Japanese literature in English contain two further short stories by Mizukami: The Showa Anthology (2) contains "Mulberry Child" in the translation by Anthony H. Chambers, and Autumn Wind contains "Bamboo Flowers" in the translation by Lane Dunlop.

Films other than those mentioned above based on novels by Mizukami Tsutomu include: Mist and Shadows (Kiri to Kage) was filmed in 1961 by Isshi Teruo; The Story of Echigo (Echigo tsutsuishi oya shirazu) was filmed in 1964 by Imai Tadashi, and stars Mikuni Rentaro; Straits of Hunger (Kiga kaikyo, also titled "A Fugitive from the Past" in English) was filmed in 1965 by Uchida Tomu - a study of the dark underbelly of postwar society; Shadow of the Waves (Namikage) was filmed in 1965 by Toyoda Shiro; Clouds at Sunset (Akenegumo) in 1967 by Shinoda Masahiro; the same director also filmed Ballad of Orin (Hanare goze Orin) in 1977 - protagonist in both films was Iwashita Shima; and Father and Child (Chichi to Ko) by Hosaka Nobuhiko in 1983; in the same year followed The Legend of the White Snake (Hakujasho), another and more erotic take on the love triangle between a lustful priest - second wife - and novice, here with Koyanagi Rumiko.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Bach Cantates (15): Quinquagesima

Quinquagesima is the name of the Sunday before Ash Wednesday. It was also called Estomihi, or Shrove Sunday. The name Quinquagesima originates from Latin "quinquagesimus"  (fiftieth), referring to the fifty days before Easter Day using inclusive counting which counts both Sundays. The name "Estomihi" is derived from the beginning of the Introit for this Sunday, "Esto mihi in Deum protectorem" (Psalm 31:3).

The reading for this Sunday concentrates on Luke 18:31-34, "Jesus took the twelve aside and said, 'Lo, we go to Jerusalem, and everything written by the prophets about the Son of Man shall be fulfilled.' The disciples, however, understood none of this." This passage presages the themes of Lent and Holy Week.

Readings:
1 Corinthians 13:1–13, Praise of love
Luke 18:31–43, Healing the blind near Jericho

Cantata Studies:
Bach Cantatas Website | Simon Crouch | Emmanuel Music | Julian Mincham | Wikipedia | Eduard van Hengel (in Dutch) | Bach Companion (Oxford U.P.) | Bach: The Learned Musician (Wolff) | Music in the Castle of Heaven (Gardiner)



[Nicolas Colombel - Christ Healing the Blind]



Cantatas:
  • Jesus nahm zu sich die Zwölfe, BWV 22, 7 February 1723

    (Arioso) e (Coro): "Jesus nahm zu sich die Zwölfe" for choir, tenor and bass soloists, and orchestral tutti.
    Aria: "Mein Jesu, ziehe mich nach dir" for altus, oboe, and continuo.
    Recitativo: "Mein Jesu, ziehe mich, so werd ich laufen" for bass, strings, and continuo.
    Aria: "Mein alles in allem, mein ewiges Gut" for tenor, strings, and continuo.
    Choral: "Ertöt uns durch dein Güte" for choir, oboe, strings, and continuo.


    "Jesus Gathered the Twelve and Said"
    Text & translation

    One of two cantatas written for the audition for the Cantorate of St. Thomas in Leipzig. In other words, music with which Bach wanted to impress, but as he didn't know the abilities of the local musicians yet, he keeps on the safe side with only strings and oboe, also leaving out the soprano solo. The text of the cantata closely follows the Gospel story of Jesus and the disciples about to enter Jerusalem. There are five movements: two arias followed by a recitative, an aria and a closing chorale. The central part of the first section is the bass arioso as the Vox Christi "Sehet, wir gehn hinauf gen Jerusalem, und es wird alles vollendet werden" - accompanied by a plaintive oboe figure, the voice moves up at "hinauf gehn." The halting chorus describes the disciples' lack of understanding. The lilting alto aria "My Jesus, draw me after You" is a personalization of the voyage to Jerusalem, spoken in the voice of the congregation of Bach's time. In the bass recitative the rush to Golgotha is referred to, followed by a tenor aria illustrating joy in salvation - the failings of humanity that allowed the disciples to miss the meaning of Jesus' words have made place for joyful optimism. The aria has been set in a typical "walking rhythm" (a dansante minuet). The beautiful chorale with oboe and string festoons reminds one of "Jesu Joy of Man's Desiring."

    Rating: A
    Video: Netherlands Bach Society / Bach-Stiftung / Ghielmi




  • Du wahrer Gott und Davids Sohn, BWV 23, 7 February 1723

    Aria (Duetto): "Du wahrer Gott und Davids Sohn" for soprano & altus, oboes, and continuo.
    Recitativo: "Ach! gehe nicht vorüber" for tenor, oboes, violins, and continuo.
    (Coro): "Aller Augen warten, Herr" for choir, oboes, strings and continuo.
    Chorale: "Christe, du Lamm Gottes" for choir, cornetto col Soprano, trombone I coll'Alto, trombone II col Tenore, trombone III col Basso, oboes, strings, and continuo.


    "You True God and David's Son"
    Text & translation

    This is the second half of Bach's St. Thomas audition, a cantata based around the parable of the blind man from Luke 18.42. On the way to Jerusalem Jesus is accosted by a blind beggar. Jesus restores his sight with the words: "your faith has been your salvation." In other words, this cantata is about faith and its rewards. In the opening duet the duality of Christ's human and divine identity is symbolized by two oboes d'amore (playing an addictive motive) and the two high voices. The text itself is a plea for mercy, full of sadness. After a tenor recitative with the instrumental chorale tune  "Christe du Lamm Gottes" laid on top (to broaden the plea "Ach! gehe nicht vorüber" of the two blind men to the whole world), we have a wonderful chorus "Aller Augen warten," alternating with a tenor and bass duet. The dance-like music also seems to lift up its eyes to heaven. The cantata ends with a profound choral fantasy, a setting of the German Agnus Dei.

    Rating: A
    Video: Netherlands Bach Society / Bach-Stiftung



  • Herr Jesu Christ, wahr’ Mensch und Gott, BWV 127, 11 February 1725

    Choral: Herr Jesu Christ, wahr’ Mensch und Gott
    Rezitativ Tenor: Wenn alles sich zur letzten Zeit entsetzet
    Arie Soprano: Die Seele ruht in Jesu Händen
    Rezitativ und Arie Bass: Wenn einstens die Posaunen schallen
    Choral: Ach, Herr, vergib all unsre Schuld


    "Lord Jesus Christ, True Human and God"
    Text & translation

    Chorale cantata, i.e. a chorale forms the melodic and textual basis of this cantata. That is "Herr Jesu Christ, wahr’ Mensch und Gott," and this is accompanied in the orchestra by two other choral melodies, "Christe, du Lamm Gottes" and "O Haupt, voll Blut und Wunden." The reading for this day of the saving of the blind persons, is extended to Jesus' acting as savior at the moment of death, and assisting the faithful at the Heavenly judgement. The secco tenor recitative sings about "cold death sweat," "stiff limbs" and the heart which finally breaks, but Bach keeps his music cool. The deeply tragic soprano aria has an expressive oboe melody and sings about the soul resting securely in Jesus' hands, with some word painting on "death-knell." Bass recitative and aria next vividly describe the Day of Judgement and its trumpets. Typically, the singer remains steadfast amid the orchestral chaos. This is followed by a final chorale, a simple prayer.

    Rating: B+
    Video: Bach-Stiftung



  • Sehet, wir gehn hinauf gen Jerusalem, BWV 159, 27 February 1729

    1. Arioso e recitativo (bass, alto): Sehet, wir gehn hinauf gen Jerusalem – Komm, schaue doch, mein Sinn
    2. Aria e chorale (alto, soprano, oboe): Ich folge dir nach – Ich will hier bei dir stehen
    3. Recitativo (tenor): Nun will ich mich, mein Jesu
    4. Aria (bass, oboe): Es ist vollbracht
    5. Chorale: Jesu, deine Passion ist mir lauter Freude


    "Come Do Look My Senses"
    Text & translation

    The story of the way of the cross told from the point of view of the soul, a cantata written at the same time as the St. Matthew Passion. The text puts the announcement of Jesus' suffering in central position, and this is regarded as terrible (1), as an example to follow (2), as a reason to say farewell to earthly pleasures (3), and finally as a reason to give thanks (4, 5). In the first arioso/recitative, the alto is the hesitant soul, while the bass represents the steadfast Jesus. "Wir gehn hinauf" here again inspires a familiar walking rhythm. Next follows an aria/chorale in which the alto sings long lines around the chorale "O Haupt voll Blut und Wunden." The bass aria "Es ist vollbracht" is gently plaintive with oboe accompaniment, about the crucifixion that is to come, after which the cantate ends with a calm chorale setting.

    Rating: B+
    Video: Netherlands Bach Society / Bach-Stiftung / Ghielmi


Bach Cantata Index

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Japanese Masters: Ueki Hitoshi (actor, singer, comedian)

Humor doesn't travel very well, it is often said, and you would certainly think so when looking at the Japanese film scene. While Kurosawa and Ozu have become worldwide household words and many samurai and yakuza genre films have been brought out with English subtitles, comedies seem to have a hard time breaking through the cultural barrrier. The only exceptions are the long series It's Hard Being a Man with Atsumi Kiyoshi as Tora-san (1969-1995), or a few films by Itami Juzo. But there seem to be no comedies from the 1960s that have been graced with subtitles and favored with a release outside of Japan. That is all the more regrettable because such films can tell you a lot about daily life in Japan, both at home and in the office. The Toho company was very actice in the humorous film genre, with as iconic actors Ueki Hitoshi and Morishige Hisaya. Here, we will look at the films made by Ueki Hitoshi.

Ueki Hitoshi (1926-2007) was a comedian, actor and singer representative of the Japanese post-war miracle. Born in a family of priests in Mie Prefecture, immediately after the war he started his career as a singer and guitarist in Tokyo. He first became famous as a member of the Crazy Cats, a comic jazz band, with Hana Hajime and Tani Kei. Their act was full of crazy gags a la Marx Brothers. Ueki and The Crazy Cats became a big hit on TV as well. One of Ueki's most famous songs was Suudara bushi, from 1962, with the nonsense text "I know it, but I can't stop."

Ueki made his film debut in Masamura Yasuzo’s remake of The Woman Who Touched the Legs (1960), but his breakthrough came with his own feature, the classic comedy The Age of Irresponsibility in Japan (Nippon Musekinin Jidai, 1962). We of course also find his fellow-cats, Hana Hajime and Tani Kei, here (as well as in most other Ueki Hitoshi films). This film, in which Ueki played a wayward salaryman, exactly suited the spirit of the times. Thanks to the hard work of its people, Japan was back to prosperity. The 1960s were the time of consumerism, of TVs, cars and "my homes." It was just before the Tokyo Olympics and the nation felt confident about the future. It was even possible to work a bit less hard and enjoy life.

That is exactly what Ueki's salaryman-type does. He is "genki," optimistic and energetic. While his colleagues sit yawning at their desks, he storms into the office, cries "Work, work," and starts working the phones to make a sales appointment with a big voice and smile - his toothy grin became his trademark. He is the archetype of the ideal salaryman. But he also has an "irresponsible" side: he doesn't care for small rules and procedures, sets his own time, jumps the hierarchy and uses very unusual methods to be successful. He brazenly says what he thinks. Any real-life salaryman who would have tried to act like Ueki, would have been out on the streets in seconds. But it sure gave satisfaction to see one guy on film break all the office rules! It gave the real salarymen of Japan the motivation to continue their grinding work.

The Age of Irresponsibility in Japan was so popular that more films were made with Ueki at high speed. There was another  "irresponsibility" film, Nippon Musekinin Yaro, the Irresponsible Guy of Japan (also 1962). Another group Ueki films was created round the title "Nippon Ichi no XX Otoko," "the Best XX Man of Japan," starting with Nippon Ichi no Iro Otoko, The Most Sexy Man of Japan, and followed by Nippon Ichi no Gomasuri Otoko, The Greatest Flatterer of Japan (1965) and Nippon Ichi no Gorigan Otoko, The Greatest Pusher of Japan (1966). In total ten of these films were made, until 1971. In all these films Ueki plays basically the same type of salaryman, and that was also true for a third series of films with the word "Crazy" in it. While all above-mentioned Ueki films contained musical numbers (Ueki suddenly singing and dancing in the streets, a la Bollywood), in the "Crazy Series" the Crazy Cats band comes on stage and the music is more elaborate.  A good example is Honkon Kureeji Sakusen, Hong Kong Crazy Strategy (here, 14 films were made until 1971).

Finally, there is a fourth series, in which the salaryman character of Ueki is transported to the past and runs around as a crazy salaryman-samurai. A good example is Horafuki Taikoki, The Bluffing Hideyoshi. In total, four films were made. Besides these series, in the same period, Ueki also appeared in a number of other comedies. So the 60s can rightfully be called the crazy, irresponsible Ueki Hitoshi age!

Director of many of these films was Toho comic genre director Furusawa Kengo (and to a lesser degree Furosawa's colleague Tsuboshima Takashi). A popular female counterpart (or “madonna” as the Japanese say) was Hama Mie, know in the West because of her role in James Bond's You Only Live Twice (1967).

In the 1970s, the tide turned and Ueki Hitoshi lost his comic appeal. He had some quiet years as far as cinema was concerned, but in the 1980s again appeared in many films, often in very different roles from the comedies of the 60s. He played for example a very serious supporting role as General Fujimaki in Akira Kurosawa’s Ran (1985). In the 90s his popularity was back, now mixed with nostalgia as his films started to appear on DVD. Like the ideal grandpa, still always smiling, Ueki was a frequent guest in TV shows and also was asked for almost countless TV commercials. He also continued making films, almost until his death in 2007 - the last film in which he appeared was Maiko Haaan, in which he played an elderly company owner from the Nishijin weaving district.

Ueki Hitoshi's comedies are symbolic of Japan’s postwar white collar age and form great time capsules of Japanese homes and offices in the 1960s. They are the ideal films about salaryman life. Why are they not better known outside Japan?

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Su

Su

Rice vinegar

酢、米酢


Worldwide, the production of vinegar is linked to that of alcoholic beverages. In France, the term "vinaigre" literally means vin aigre or "sour wine." In Japan, vinegar is made from fermented rice, just like sake. Also the lees of rice (sakekasu) pressed out of the sake after fermentation is completed, can be used for making vinegar. In both cases, acetic acid bacteria are added for a further fermentation process where ethanol is turned into acetic acid, which is the main component of vinegar. This takes one to two months after which the vinegar is filtered and pasteurized. Acidity is only just over 4% and the taste is mild. Rice vinegar also contains amino acids as well as citric acid, malic acid, lactic acid and succinic acid. Another type of rice vinegar with an even deeper taste is made from brown rice and popularly called kurozu, "black vinegar."

Rice vinegar is mixed with other ingredients to create condiments for specific purposes (the general name for these is awasezu, seasoned rice vinegar):
  • sushizu, or sushi vinegar used to make vinegared rice for sushi, by adding sugar, salt and (sometimes) mirin;
  • amazu, sweet vinegar, by adding sugar
  • nihaizu, by mixing vinegar and soy sauce in the proportion of 3:2
  • sanbaizu, by mixing vinegar, mirin (or sugar) and soy sauce in the proportion of 3:2:1
Vinegar is used to make sunomono, a popular side dish consisting of cut cucumber, seaweed and sometimes pieces of octopus; it is also used in simmered dishes (nimono) and to make one type of pickles (tsukemono). It also serves to mitigate the strong odors of fish and meats and is added to dipping sauces for sashimi, grilled fish and one pot dishes (nabemono).

Japanese Masters: Masumura Yasuzo (film director)

Masumura Yasuzo (1924-1986, 増村保造) first attracted my attention thanks to the several films he made based on novels by Tanizaki and Kawabata. He was an older contemporary of Oshima Nagisa, and is seen as an iconoclastic precursor of the New Wave in Japan.

Born in Kofu, Masumura was from an early age interested in film. As a high-school student he three times went to see Kurosawa's Sugata Sanshiro. He studied law at Tokyo University, but dropped out to become an assistant director at the Daiei studio's because he needed money - he would return to college and graduate in philosophy in 1949. Next, he won a scholarship to a famous film school in Rome (the Centro sperimentale di cinematografia), and after graduating, worked on the Italian-Japanese co-production of Madame Butterfly. He returned to Japan in 1953.

From 1955, Masumura started working at Daiei for Mizoguchi Kenji (assisting wih the last three films of this great director) and after that, on three films for Ichikawa Kon. Although Masumura later was critical of Ichikawa's films, his work displays a considerable debt to the older director - if only in the frequent choice of literary sources. Masumura made his first film, Kisses, in 1957. He stayed with Daiei until the demise of the company, and made about three films a year, to a total output of 58 films.

Masumura's films are characterized by visual inventiveness and dark satire, they often are a strong indictment of social injustice, and an unsentimental look at what it means to be human. You could say that his films, usually by borrowing the vocabulary of the genre film, show the cruel beauty of life. Social realism of the type he learned in Italy, was not suitable for Japan with its regimented society and lack of individual freedom, he says - that is why he opted for exaggeration and over-the-top depiction. If I would have to characterize his work in one word, I would choose "obsession." The fact that he often used literary sources, from Saikaku and Chikamatsu to Tanizaki and Kawabata reveals a classical streak that links him to his "teacher," Ichikawa Kon.


Some of his major films are:
  • Kisses (Kuchizuke, 1957)
    Known for its handheld, fluid camerawork, this first film is a cruel story of youth as Oshima would also make a few years later. A boy and girl meet in prison where they happen to visit their respective fathers. They decide to spend the day together and, after successfully gambling on a bicycle race, head for the beach.
  • Giants and Toys (Kyojin to Gangu, 1958)
    A critique of the Economic Miracle and more vicious than the "Company President" films made around the same time by Morishige Hisaya. Still, there is no lack of humor in the endeavor of a sweets company to make an unknown girl with bad teeth into the star of their new commercial campaign. After a story by Kaiko Takeshi.
  • Afraid to Die (Karakkaze-yaro, 1960)
    A mean yakuza film in the first place remarkable for having author Mishima Yukio in the main role. He plays a yakuza who has wounded the boss of another gang, and whatever he does, can't escape revenge. As befitting for Mishima, the death scene is the highlight of the film.
  • Passion (Manji, 1964)
    This is a famous story by Tanizaki Junichiro, translated into English as "Quicksand." A bored middle-aged housewife (Kishida Kyoko of The Woman in the Dunes) falls obsessively in love with a young model (Wakao Ayako). When her husband and the fiance of the model also join the fray, we have the four arms of the Buddhist swastika and an emotional quicksand. By far the best among various films based on Manji.
  • The Hoodlum Soldier (Heitai Yakuza, 1965)
    A cynical look at life in the barracks of the Japanese army in Manchuria as a miniature version of Japan itself with its suffocating hierarchies. The cruelty that characterized certain divisions of the Imperial Army leaps off the screen in the continual beatings that small-time sergeants enforce on their inferiors. The hoodlum soldier of the title is played by Katsu Shintaro, his good-willing mentor Akira by Tamura Takahiro. In the end, when told they will be sent to the killing fields of Leyte, they desert by stealing a train. Review on Midnight Eye.
  • The Red Angel (Akai Tenshi, 1966)
    A young angelic nurse played by Wakao Ayako serves in China during the war years. She is raped by her patients and when she complains, sent to the front lines. It is like a gruesome version of MASH. Amid the carnage, she falls in love with a morphine-addicted surgeon (Ashida Shinsuke). She also provides comfort to a soldier whose arms have both been amputated. A strange, but very human and engrossing film, perhaps Masumura's masterwork.
  • The Wife of Seishu Hanaoka (Hanaoka Seishu no Tsuma, 1967). Based on a novel by Ariyoshi Sawako ("The Doctor's Wife"), this is a period film about the first doctor (played by Ichikawa Raizo) who performs surgery using general anesthesia. His loving but neglected wife (Wakao Ayako) offers herself as a guinea pig for his experiments. Another study in obsession.
  • Blind Beast (Moju, 1969)
    A blind sculptor kidnaps a young fashion model and keeps her in his Dali-esque warehouse filled with huge sculptures of female body parts. His dream is to sculpt the perfect female form. Visually inventive, this is another tale of madness and obsession, after an original story by Edogawa Ranpo. Review on Midnight Eye.
  • Love Suicides at Sonezaki (Sonezaki Shinju, 1978)
    Based on the classic Joruri play by Chikamatsu, with Kaji Meiko ("Lady Snowblood") in the main role. A period piece that is lurid, bloody and gorgeous at the same time.
Other interesting films are The Precipice (Hyoheki, 1958) with Yamamoto Fujiko and based on a novel by Inoue Yasushi; The Woman who Touched the Legs (Ashi ni Sawatta Onna, 1960), a comedy about a female pickocket (Kyo Machiko) and a remake of a film by Ichikawa Kon; A False Student (Nise Daigakusei,  1960) based on a story by Oe Kenzaburo; The Life of an Amorous Man (Koshoku Ichidai Otoko, 1961) based on a novel by Edo-period master Iharu Saikaku; A Wife Confesses (Tsuma wa Kokuhaku suru, 1961), an existential film with Wakao Ayako; Tattoo (Irezumi, 1966) based on the well-known short story by Tanizaki, and again with Wakao Ayako; Love for an Idiot (Chijin no Ai, 1967), again an obsessive film based on a Tanizaki novel, translated into English as "Naomi"; Thousand Cranes (Senbazuru, 1969), based on the eponymous novel by Kawabata Yasunari, and with Wakao Ayako and Kyo Machiko.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Classic Fiction: "The Sea, the Sea" (1978) by Iris Murdoch

Booker Prize winning The Sea, The Sea is a story of obsession. It is also a story about the unattainability of perfection in the human world.


Charles Arrowby has had a successful career in the London theater, as actor, playwright and director, but suddenly, at middle age, he decides to retire and become a recluse. He buys a remote house "Shruff End" on the rocks by the sea, a somewhat creepy place without electricity and other amenities, outside a small village. Seeking for peace and starting to write his reminiscences, fate has a new drama in store for him when he unexpectedly bumps into his childhood sweetheart, Hartley. She is now a plain housewife with a worn-out face, but the spark of love is rekindled in him. Not in her, by the way, as she was the one who left him in the past.

Hartley is married but seems not entirely happy with her simple husband Ben and Charles begins stalking her and sets his heart on destroying her marriage. His obsession grows to such ludicrous heights that he even kidnaps her and keeps her for several days prisoner in a small, windowless room in his rickety house. Hartley, however, makes perfectly clear that she is not interested, she has her own life, and her marriage may not be perfect, but it is her choice. At the heart of the novel lies Charles's inability to recognize the selfishness and egotism that propel him to these romantic shenanigans - also in the real world  he behaves like a theater director who thinks he can "stage" the lives of the people around him. He projects his own thoughts on others and does not realize that they may have a will of their own.

In the meantime, Charles' eccentric London friends have also started arriving, one after the other, to keep him company. He has never married, but there are a few ex-lovers who make their appearance again. Two such women are the actresses Lizzie and Rosina, who are still obsessed with Charles. In the past, Charles has broken up the marriage between Rosina and another actor, Peregrine, and then cruelly dropped her - showing how destructively the one-sided love of Charles works out on his relations. Peregrine also appears (and happens to find an opportunity for revenge), and another friend, Gilbert, who for a while acts as Charles' "house slave."

Washing up in Charles house is also the adopted son of Hartley, Titus, whom Charles tries to use as a tool to get closer to the woman of the dreams of his youth. But Titus proves to be a person with a strong mind of his own. Finally, there is Charles nephew James, with whom he has always felt some kind of competition. James is a sort of guru (we are in the 1970s after all) with vague Eastern / Buddhist leanings. But he is a crucial figure as he not only literally saves Charles' life, but also sets him on the path to realizing his follies.

Charles is not a wholly pleasant person. He is obstinate (we already see this in the way he writes about his ridiculous recipes in the beginning of the book), egoistic and dictatorial. A mitigating factor is that he has romantic ideals, but unfortunately these are directed in the wrong way. Charles tells the story, but the reader has to be careful for he is - as all narrators in modern literature in fact are - not very reliable. With the character traits outlined above, he is constantly whitewashing his actions and his own thoughts and preferences seem to constitute the whole universe.

Happily there is also a more pleasant protagonist in the book: the sea of the title. It is always present with its various moods, mysterious (Charles once imagines he sees a dragon) but also a practical place for exercise, and in the end both life-taking and life-giving.  The Sea, the Sea is a rich tapestry with interesting characters and deep philosophical connotations. Some reviewers have called the central story of Charles' obsession difficult to believe, but love is obsession, isn't it?

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Bach Cantatas (14): Sexagesima Sunday

Sexagesima is the name for the 2nd Sunday before Ash Wednesday.

Readings: 
Epistle: 2 Corinthians 11:19 - 12:9, God's power is mighty in the week,
Luke 8:4–15, Parable of the Sower

Cantata Studies:
Bach Cantatas Website | Simon Crouch | Emmanuel Music | Julian Mincham | Wikipedia | Eduard van Hengel (in Dutch) | Bach Companion (Oxford U.P.) | Bach: The Learned Musician (Wolff) | Music in the Castle of Heaven (Gardiner)


[Pieter Bruegel the Elder, Parable of the Sower, 1557]


Cantatas:
  1. Gleich wie der Regen und Schnee vom Himmel fällt, BWV 18, 1714

    Sinfonia
    Recitativo (Bass): Gleichwie der Regen und Schnee vom Himmel fällt
    Recitativo & Chorale (Litany) (Soprano, Tenor, Bass, Chorus): Mein Gott, hier wird mein Herze sein
    Aria (Soprano): Mein Seelenschatz ist Gottes Wort
    Chorale: Ich bitt, o Herr, aus Herzens Grund


    "Just as the Rain and Snow Fall from Heaven"
    Text & translation

    The cantata opens with a sinfonia in Italian concerto form played only by violas and continuo (like in the 6th Brandenburg Concerto). The jumping melody shows the falling rain and snow, nourishing the earth and the seeds sown there. The dark color of the instruments also symbolizes the stormy weather. The short bass recitative is characterized by word painting on the same theme. The following recitative with interpolated litany by a rather fierce soprano forms the spiritual heart of the cantata and is a very intense movement. The text is a paraphrase from the parable of the sower; the four parts stand for the four different types of soil in the Biblical story. Bach is quite experimental here, take for example the convoluted melisma on the word "Verfolgung." The pretty Italianate soprano aria is again only accompanied by violas, and is a personal reflection; the undulating soundscape imitates the "webs woven by the world and Satan." As conclusion follows the usual chorale.

    Rating: A
    Video: Netherlands Bach Society / Bach-Stiftung




  2. Leichtgesinnte Flattergeister, BWV 181, 1724)

    Arie Bass: Leichtgesinnte Flattergeister
    Rezitativ Alto: O unglückselger Stand verkehrter Seelen
    Arie Tenor: Der schädlichen Dornen unendliche Zahl
    Rezitativ Soprano: Von diesen wird die Kraft erstickt
    Chor: Laß, Höchster, uns zu allen Zeiten


    "Scatterbrained, Frivolous People"
    Text & translation

    A short cantata on the parable of the sower. In the bass aria the "light-minded, frivolous spirits" are symbolized by a bouncy vocal line that seems to go nowhere, and is a good illustration of empty self-satisfaction. In the alto recitative, a theological explanation is given. The music for the obbligato instrument of the central tenor aria has unfortunately been lost. The music imitates the "harmful thorns" and "fire of hellish torment" by fast repetitions. In the soprano recitative the seed finally finds good earth. The most beautiful movement comes at the end: a joyful chorus (not a chorale!) that is probably borrowed from a festival cantata, as we also hear a trumpet. Embedded in the chorus is a duet for soprano and alto.

    Rating: B+
    Video: Bach-Stiftung



  3. Erhalt uns, Herr, bei deinem Wort, BWV 126, 1725)

    1. Coro: Erhalt uns, Herr, bei deinem Wort
    2. Aria (tenor): Sende deine Macht von oben
    3. Recitativo e chorale (alto, tenor): Der Menschen Gunst und Macht wird wenig nützen – Gott Heiliger Geist, du Tröster wert
    4. Aria (bass): Stürze zu Boden, schwülstige Stolze!
    5. Recitativo (tenor): So wird dein Wort und Wahrheit offenbar
    6. Chorale: Verleih uns Frieden gnädiglich


    "Preserve Us, Lord, with Your Word"
    Text & translation

    A rather aggressive and militant cantata, calling for protection from the then-enemies, Papists and Turks (rivalry with the Ottoman Empire culminated just before Bach's birth, in 1683, in the Battle of Vienna). The music has pandemonium-like qualities. The cantata starts with a tempestuous chorus with martial trumpets ("Thwart the murderous rage of the Pope and the Turk"). The tenor aria is a prayer to arms, full of warlike fervor. The third part is again a chorale, interspersed with tormented recitatives by the alto and tenor. The bloodthirsty bass aria is accompanied by roaring arpeggios on the strings ("Hurl to the ground the pompous proud"). The final chorale is a plea for peace.

    Rating: B+
    Video: Bach-Stiftung


Bach Cantata Index

    Thursday, February 9, 2012

    "Madame Bovary" (1857) by Flaubert (Book Review)

    Madame Bovary probably is the most beautifully written novel ever. Gustave Flaubert weighed his words on a gold scale, as if writing poetry and not prose. He sought the best words for the situation, wanting them to be unchangeable, and made so many revisions that he only advanced one or two pages a week. That style is the opposite of romantic - it is clinically realistic. Flaubert offers a painstaking description of bourgeois life in mid-19th c. France and along the way he transforms his sordid materials about adultery and suicide into something poetic.

    The story is simple. Charles Bovary is a plodding, dull country doctor, practicing medicine in the environs of Rouen in Normandy (coincidentally, the city where Jeanne d'Arc was held captive and burned at the stake in 1431). He marries a farmer's daughter, the beautiful and very young Emma, who has been brought up in a convent and has received all her knowledge of the world from romantic tales.

    But Charles is no prince on a white horse but a simple and practical man and after the birth of a little daughter, out of necessity Emma settles down to a life of boredom. Flaubert makes us acutely feel the meaninglessness and emptiness of her existence. Madame Bovary is in fact the greatest study in alienation and boredom in world literature. It is often thought of as an immoral novel about adultery like Lady Chatterley's Lover, but nothing could be farther from the truth. There was a process after the magazine publication, but Flaubert won and the novel has never been forbidden in its country of origin.

    The bourgeois types that surround Emma Bovary in the village are not encouraging. They are all selfish and self-serving. Flaubert demonstrates how hypocritical moral standards are, concocted to support the status quo. The merchant and moneylender Lheureux purposefully lends Emma so much money and allows her to buy so many luxury goods on credit, that in the end he can claim Dr. Bovary's assets. Homais, the pompous apothecary, thinks he is a great scientist and pushes Dr. Bovary to operate on the clubfoot of the servant of a local inn, with disastrous results. And the notary tries to take sexual advantage of Emma's problems.

    But Emma keeps dreaming and seeking a life of ecstasy, ignoring her adoring husband who leaves her unsatisfied. She becomes attached to a young clerk, Leon, who shares her romantic ideals, but Leon leaves the village before their relationship can develop. Then she meets Rodolphe, a wealthy bachelor who owns a nearby estate. He is a cynical womanizer, and Emma falls in his traps - they go horseback riding and make love in the forest. After that, they have frequent trysts, often in the garden of the Bovary house while the dear husband is already asleep. Emma even dreams of running away with Rodolphe - but by now, he has enough of her and sends her a cold note that the affair is over.

    Emma almost dies from the shock, but she recovers and then boredom sets in again. She has bought expensive presents for Rodolphe and now is heavily in debt, a matter which she keeps hidden from her husband. Shopping, after all, is a way to find relief from boredom, consumption is an outlet for anxiety. Emma has fallen in the clutches of the merchant Lheureux, who cynically destroys the finances of the Bovary family.

    By chance, she meets Leon again, in Rouen. She is now ready for him and the first consummation of their love takes place in a hired, closed carriage - they ask the coachman to they keep driving aimlessly through the city for hours one end. This is the erotic climax of the novel, but it is presented as a hiatus, for we are not allowed to see inside the carriage. After that, the pair has frequent trysts in a hotel in Rouen - Emma tells her husband the lie that she has to go into town once a week for a music lesson.

    But in the end also Leon tires of his mistress - he has to think of his career - and just when their relation is breaking down, Emma is served with a bill for 8,000 francs from Lheureux, to be paid immediately. She panics, nobody will help her, she pleads in vain with both Rodolphe and Leon, and finally, at her wit's end, she eats a fistful of arsenic, stolen from Homais.

    She dies a terrible death, described with clinical precision by Flaubert, whose father had been a medical doctor in Rouen. It is only after her death that Charles finds her love letters and learns about her adultery. He looses all interest in life and dies of a broken heart. The affairs of Homais, in the meantime, are  flourishing, he even manages to keep out a new doctor and claim the whole medical business in the area for himself.

    Emma Bovary is of course a rather vain and silly woman, she is caught in the web of her own actions without the possibility of being saved. Still, we do care for her, because she is the only character in the novel who dreams of higher things and tries to flee from the sordidness around her. Emma is not an immoral woman - what her case demonstrates is that the culture around her itself has no values.

    Texts: original French (Gutenberg); English (Gutenberg - the first English translation made by Eleanor Marx Aveling in 1898).
    Madame Bovary has been filmed many times over. I am particularly fond of the 1991 version by Claude Chabrol, with Isabelle Huppert as Emma Bovary. Chabrol faithfully follows the novel, accelerating and braking where necessary. Huppert gives an excellent performance, with suitable detachment. That stance has been criticized in some reviews as "cold," but this is not a romantic tale a la Hollywood and I felt the film truthfully reflected the realistic (and therefore also detached) stance of the novel itself. The period atmosphere is also excellent.

    Sunday, February 5, 2012

    Bach Cantatas (13): Septuagesima Sunday

    Septuagesima is the name given to the third Sunday before Lent in the Lutheran Church. The next two Sundays are labelled Sexagesima and Quinquagesima, the latter sometimes also called Shrove Sunday. The earliest date on which Septuagesima Sunday can occur is January 18 (Easter falling on March 22 in a nonleap year) and the latest is February 22 (Easter falling on April 25 in a leap year).

    Readings:
    1 Corinthians 9:24–10:5, race for victory
    Matthew 20:1–16, the parable of the Workers in the Vineyard: be content with your lot - the first will be the last.

    Cantata Studies:
    Bach Cantatas Website | Simon Crouch | Emmanuel Music | Julian Mincham | Wikipedia | Eduard van Hengel (in Dutch) | Bach Companion (Oxford U.P.) | Bach: The Learned Musician (Wolff) | Music in the Castle of Heaven (Gardiner)



    [Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard, by Rembrandt (1637)]


    Cantatas:
    1. Nimm, was dein ist, und gehe hin, BWV 144, 6 February 1724

      Coro: Nimm, was dein ist, und gehe hin
      Aria (alto): Murre nicht, lieber Christ
      Chorale: Was Gott tut, das ist wohlgetan
      Recitativo (tenor): Wo die Genügsamkeit regiert
      Aria (soprano, oboe d'amore): Genügsamkeit ist ein Schatz in diesem Leben
      Chorale: Was mein Gott will, das g'scheh allzeit


      "Take what is yours and go"
      Text and translation

      One of the shortest of Bach's cantatas, and one which was particularly well known after his death. The theme is contentment. The archaic opening chorus in strict fugal style (“take what is yours and depart”) is based on the reading for this Sunday - we should accept what we have and be satisfied, as in the famous Zen saying carved on a stone basin at the Ryoanji Temple in Kyoto: "Ware tada taru wo shiru," or "I am content with what I have." The alto aria "grumble not when things do not go your way" is an expressive minuet, rather dark in tone. The grumbling is in fact heard in the accompaniment. In the soprano aria, the word "Genügsamkeit" (contentedness) is repeated in an almost obsessive way. The final chorale restates the theme of the cantata: What God does is well done.

      Rating: A+
      Video: Netherlands Bach Society / Bach-Stiftung / Johannsen


    2. Ich hab in Gottes Herz und Sinn, BWV 92, 28 January 1725

      Choral: Ich habe in Gottes Herz und Sinn
      Chor und Rezitativ Bass: Es kann mir fehlen nimmermehr!
      Arie Tenor: Seht, seht! wie reißt, wie bricht, wie fällt
      Choral Alto: Zudem ist Weisheit und Verstand
      Rezitativ Tenor: Wir wollen uns nicht länger zagen
      Arie Bass: Das Brausen von den rauhen Winden
      Choral und Rezitativ: Ei nun, mein Gott, so fall ich dir
      Arie Soprano: Meinem Hirten bleib ich treu
      Choral: Soll ich den auch des Todes Weg


      "I have unto God’s heart and mind"
      Text and translation

      This cantata is only loosely related to the readings for this Sunday, as it in general exhorts the congregation to put their trust in God through good and ill. There are 9 parts of which 5 are chorals. The extensive first choral exudes a feeling of joyful trust. It is accompanied by a pair of oboes. The second part is a bass recitative interpolated by a chorale and lots of word-painting in the accompaniment. In the fast tenor aria aggressive ascending lines of the strings suggest the breaking and toppling of waves, and the raging and thundering of Satan of which the text sings. The next chorale calmly proclaims God's wisdom. After a recitative follows a bass aria which is also quite agitated ("The roaring of rough winds") and only accompanied by the continuo group. Next follows another recitative with interpolated chorale, now as an alto cantus firmus. The soprano aria "I remain faithful to my Shepherd" is based on a delightful dance-like melody and accompanied by oboe d'amore and pizzicato strings. The work concludes with a chorale in plain four-part harmonization.

      Rating: B+
      Video: Bach-Stiftung



    3. Ich bin vergnügt mit meinem Glücke, BWV 84, 9 February 1727

      Arie Soprano: Ich bin vergnügt mit meinem Glücke
      Rezitativ Soprano: Gott ist mir ja nichts schuldig
      Arie Soprano: Ich esse mit Freuden mein weniges Brot
      Rezitativ Soprano: Im Schweiße meines Angesichts
      Choral: Ich leb indes in dir vergnüget


      "I delight in my good fortune"
      Text and translation

      Cantata for solo soprano (one of three Bach wrote). The theme is again contentment. It starts with a soprano aria "I am content with the fortune that my dear God bestows on me", accompanied by an oboe playing delightful trills. The aria is full of delicacy and elegance, a magical world beyond human greed. The second aria "I eat my little bit of bread with joy" continues in this vein and is also very playful, with a nice accompaniment by the violin and oboe, almost like a trio sonata. It all speaks of a childish faith (especially when you hear this in the Harnoncourt version, where the soprano voice is sung by a boy soprano).

      Rating: A
      Video: Netherlands Bach Society / Bach-Stiftung



    Bach Cantata Index

    Friday, February 3, 2012

    Japanese Customs: Setsubun

    Setsubun literally means "seasonal division" and used to refer to the day prior to the first day of spring (risshun), summer (rikka)  autumn (risshu) and winter (ritto) in the lunar calendar. Today, however, it is only used for the festival held on the day prior to risshun, because this is the most important as it marks a new start. In that respect, it is comparable to New Year's Eve - as a kind of "Spring's Eve." It falls on either February 2, 3 or 4 in the solar calendar (this year Feb. 3).

    Rituals on Setsubun have to do with chasing out evil influences as a sort of spiritual or ritual house cleaning before the start of Spring.  These are the rituals:
    • Tsuina or oni-yarai. Originally held on New Year's Eve and introduced from Tang-China, this is an exorcism rite. Participants hold bows and clubs made from peach wood and symbolically chase away figures wearing demon masks.
    • Mame-maki. Bean-scattering ceremony. The scattering of roasted soy beans to expel evil spirits began in the 15-16th centuries and in popular folklore became linked with the above Tsuina ceremony. Participants shout "Oni wa soto! Fuku wa uchi!" ("Out with the demons and in with good luck"). The bean scattering is done by a toshi otoko, a male family member born in the same Zodiac year (nowadays, happily, toshi onna also can take part). 
    • Yaikagashi. Heads of sardines are struck on holly branches and hung over doorways to drive out the demons. 
    • A modern custom is to eat Ehomaki, "Lucky Direction Sushi Rolls."

    Many shrines and temples hold Setsubun events. Often famous persons from TV, show business or sports (sumo!) will take part, and in Kyoto there are bean-throwing maiko. Here are the major ones:
    • In Tokyo: Asakusa Kannon, Kanda Myojin and Hie Jinja. 
    • In Kyoto: Mibudera (Setsubun Kyogen performances), Rokuharamitsuji (demon chase and bean throwing), Yasaka Jinja (bean throwing by maiko), Yoshida Jinja (demon chase and fire festival), Shogoin (mamemaki and demons) and Rozanji (a very theatrical demon chase with a thousand-year history).   
    • In Nara: Horyuji (Shuni-e ceremony in the Saiendo, red, black and blue oni are driven away by Taishakuten), Gangoji Gokurakubo (firewalking), Kofukuji (Bishamonten chasing demons at Tokondo).
    [Check all dates and times in advance, as Setsubun dates vary per year. Some events are in the evening]

    Ehomaki

    Ehomaki:

    ”Lucky Direction Roll." Thick uncut sushi roll eaten as seasonal food at Setsubun (Febr. 3). 恵方巻.

    Other name is kaburizushi, ”Sushi where you bite off pieces" かぶり寿司 , (kaburu = kajiru, to bite off, gnaw, set your teeth into), pointing at the fact that these thick sushi rolls are uncut.

    Ehomaki are traditionally from Osaka and people would take a bite off them while facing in the lucky direction of the year (i.e. the direction of the Zodiac animal) and making a silent wish.

    [Ehomaki]

    The reason the rolls are not cut is in Japanese 「縁を切らない」- not to cut off good luck. And the reason it has to be a sushi roll (maki) is 「福を巻き込む」- to catch good fortune.

    The ingredients of an Ehomaki are free as long as the whole is colorful; they also may include some things not normally used in sushi. Sometimes seven different colors are used to remind one of the Seven Deities of Good Fortune.

    Ehomaki are today popular nationwide, but this has not always been the case. It is in fact a quite recent phenomenon, brought about by... convenience stores. Seven Eleven and other convenience stores started selling and promoting Ehomaki from the mid-nineties on and they were so successful that now everyone knows them and more than half of all Japanese set their teeth in Ehomaki at Setsubun (or even several weeks before that date). Seven Eleven alone sold 5.2 million rolls in 2011.

    Thursday, February 2, 2012

    Bach Cantatas for Feasts on Fixed Days (57): Feast of Purification of Mary (Feb. 2)

    The Feast of the Presentation of Jesus at the Temple celebrates an early episode in the life of Jesus, and falls always on 2 February. It is also known as the Feast of Purification of Mary (Mariae Reinigung). A woman who had born a child was regarded as unclean for 40 days; after that, she had to go to the temple for a purification rite and also to introduce her first-born son to the priests. According to the Gospel story, at that occasion an old man, Simeon, recognizes the little Jesus as the Christ. In fact, Simeon had been promised by God that he would not die before he had seen Christ. He now expresses his joy of meeting with Christ in a hymn (Canticum Simeonis, "Nunc Dimittis"), which has often been scored for music - and then he dies. The Lutheran Mariae Reinigung festival is therefore always set in the sign of the acceptance of death.

    The feast of Purification is also called Candlemas(s) and traditionally forms the conclusion of the Christmas–Epiphany season. While it is customary that in some countries Christmas decorations are removed on Twelfth Night (Epiphany Eve), in other countries they are removed at Candlemas. On this day also a blessing of candles takes place, both those of the church and private ones, for use during the rest of the year - the blessed candles serve as a symbol of the Light of the World.

    Readings:
    Epistle:  Malachi 3:1–4, the Lord will come to his temple
    Gospel: Luke 2:22–32, the purification of Mary and the presentation of Jesus in the temple, followed by Simeon's prophesy of Christ

    Cantata Studies:
    Bach Cantatas Website | Simon Crouch | Emmanuel Music | Julian Mincham | Wikipedia | Eduard van Hengel (in Dutch) | Bachipedia (Bach-Stiftung) | All of Bach (Netherlands Bach Society) | Companion (Oxford U.P.) | Bach: The Learned Musician (Wolff) | Music in the Castle of Heaven (Gardiner)

    [Simeon's Song of Praise, by Aert de Gelder (1700–1710)]


    Cantatas:

    1. Erfreute Zeit im neuen Bunde, BWV 83, 2 February 1724

      Aria (alto): Erfreute Zeit im neuen Bunde
      Aria (Chorale e recitativo, bass): Herr, nun lässest du deinen Diener in Friede fahren, wie du gesaget hast - Was uns als Menschen schrecklich scheint
      Aria (tenor): Eile, Herz, voll Freudigkeit
      Recitativo (alto): Ja, merkt dein Glaube noch viel Finsternis
      Chorale: Es ist das Heil und selig Licht


      "Joyful time in the new covenant"
      Text & translation

      The brilliant and energetic opening aria ("Joyful time in the new covenant") somewhat resembles the First Brandenburg Concerto with its prominent horn parts. This is an expression of joy at the purification of Mary. The recitative and plainsong intonation turns towards Simeon ("Lord, now let Your servant depart in peace, as You have spoken"), reflecting on his situation. The tenor aria ("Hurry, heart, full of joy to step before the throne of grace") with solo violin is interesting because of the rhythmical stepping gait, indeed, "hurrying full of joy." A harmonization of the traditional Luther chorale "Mit Fried und Freud" ends the work.

      Rating: A
      Video: Netherlands Bach Society / Bach-Stiftung




    2. Mit Fried und Freud ich fahr dahin, BWV 125, 2 February 1725

      Chor: Mit Fried und Freud ich fahr dahin
      Arie (Alto): Ich will auch mit gebrochnen Augen
      Recitativ und Choral (Bass): O Wunder, daß ein Herz
      Arie - Duett (tenor, Bass): Ein unbegreiflich Licht erfüllt den ganzen Kreis der Erden
      Rezitativ (Alto): O unerschöpfter Schatz der Güte
      Choral: Er ist das Heil und selig Licht


      "With peace and joy I go from here"
      Text & translation

      Chorale cantata. The impressive opening chorus starts with an introduction in 12/8 time, like pastoral siciliano music, and is based on Luther's rendering of the Nunc Dimittis. The long and slow alto aria is accompanied by a flute and an oboe d'amore (without strings). This is rather dissonant music. Note the broken melody caused by the words "broken eyes" and the full stop on the word "sterben" - Bach was a great rhetoric! A recitative with interpolation of quiet phrases of the Luther chorale follows. The duet between tenor and bass is lively and tuneful, as the light in the darkness of which it sings. A recitative leads into the final chorale setting.

      Rating: A
      Video: Bach-Stiftung




    3. Ich habe genug, BWV 82, 2 February 1727

      Aria: "Ich habe genug"
      Recitative: "Ich habe genug"
      Aria: "Schlummert ein, ihr matten Augen" ("Fall asleep, you weary eyes")
      Recitative: "Mein Gott! wenn kömmt das schöne: Nun!" ("My God, when will the lovely word come: 'Now!'")
      Aria: "Ich freue mich auf meinen Tod" ("I look forward to my death")


      "I have enough"
      Text & translation

      One of the most beautiful solo-voice cantatas Bach wrote and one of his most popular. There is no chorus or chorale, the cantata only consists of three arias and two recitatives, all for bass voice. Meant for performance at Candlemass, it is about the story of Simeon. The first aria ("I have enough, I have taken the Savior, the hope of the righteous, into my eager arms") is a poignantly beautiful movement that treats the end of Simeon's long life with a mixture of melancholy and resignation. The second aria ("Fall asleep, you weary eyes, close softly and pleasantly") is the emotional highlight of the cantata: a lullaby both for the death of Simeon and for the sleeping Christ child. It is one of the most beautiful pieces of music ever written. The final aria is joyful and even life affirming, although the text is about something quite different: "I delight in my death, ah, if it were only present already..."

      Rating: A++
      Video: Netherlands Bach Society / Bach-Stiftung / Damien Guillon / Christian Gerhaher (modern)




    4. Ich lasse du nicht, du segnest mich denn, BWV 157 (Leipzig, 1727)

      Arie (Duett Tenor & Bass): Ich lasse dich nicht, du segnest mich denn!
      Arie (Tenor): Ich halte meinen Jesum feste
      Rezitativ (Tenor): Mein lieber Jesu du
      Arie, Rezitativ und Arioso (Bass): Ja, ja, ich halte Jesum feste
      Choral: Meinen Jesum laß ich nicht


      "I am not letting you go, unless you bless me first!"
      Text & translation

      This cantata is a reworking of the first part of a funeral cantata for Johann von Ponickau, a privy councillor and chamberlain at the Saxon court. Although small in scale - it calls for only six instruments - the work is of great density. It opens with a fine duet ("I will not let You go, therefore bless me"), a canon for tenor and bass with flute, oboe, and violin. The tenor aria ("I hold my Jesus tightly") has a beautiful oboe d'amore accompaniment. The "holding" of Jesus is illustrated with typical long notes. The bass aria has an integrated recitative and a lovely part for flute. An intimate  harmonization of the chorale "Meinem Jesum lass ich nicht" ends the cantata.

      Rating: A
      Video: Bach-Stiftung




    5. Der Friede Sei mit Dir, BWV 158 (Weimar years 1713-1717)

      Rezitativ (Bass): Der Friede sei mit dir
      Arie (Bass und Choral Soprano): Welt, ade, ich bin dein müde
      Rezitativ und Arioso (Bass): Nun, Herr, regiere meinen Sinn
      Choral: Hier ist das rechte Osterlamm


      "Peace be with you"
      Text & translation

      This seems a mixture of fragmentary movements from two originally different cantatas: the most substantial parts, 2 and 3, are clearly for the Purification of Mary as they point at the story of Simeon. But the first and last movements refer to Easter, so this cantata may also have been used at the third day of Easter. It is possible that these are parts from different cantatas which Bach or someone else later put together for an unknown occasion. Only four singers are needed for the final chorale, otherwise the score only requires a bass and a soprano. The cantata is ultra-short and the instrumentation is sober. Central to all parts is the contrast between heavenly peace and the turmoil on earth. The individual movements are all excellent, especially the bass aria ("World, farewell, I am tired of you") which is woven around a chorale sung by the soprano and accompanied by a solo violin in the high register. The work finishes with the fifth part of Luther's hymn Christ lag in Todesbanden.

      Rating: A
      Video: Netherlands Bach Society / Bach-Stiftung