This week my favourite bars are 49, 50 & 51 of “His Yoke Is Easy, And His Burthen Is Light”.
Now, they don’t look particularly fancy…just a fairly straightforward resolution to everybody’s favourite, B flat major…so what is it about these bars that is so amazing? Well, Handel took a lot of care to connect the words and music, and as the content of this is all about lightness and easiness, there is lot of high altitude dancing and skipping throughout the chorus. However, it ends here with a slow and deliberate downward movement, which would appear to contradict the essence of the rest of the piece. BUT – this is actually where the power lies! To end on a frivolous upwards leap would be to turn the whole thing into some kind of circus trick, rather than the powerful magic that it is. Returning to the lyrics – he’s not just making it look easy and light – it IS easy…it IS light! …Completely different, fundamental, unfathomable. Perhaps it looks like this:
Felt Corner (installation) – Josef Beuys 1963
Converging mysterious forces place you firmly, but gently, on that exhilarating point that is at once both laughing and crying.
And so, as our Messiah concert is next weekend, I hope you will come along and hear many more bars. This will be my last Handel bar for now, but in the New Year I’ll be looking at some Bach and Haydn.
So, this week my favourite bars are 4, 5 and 6 of “Since By Man Came Death”.
Looking at the lyrics, you may be forgiven for thinking that this is a bit on the gloomy side, but wait! Let’s look at the notes….. Bar 4 sees the beginning of a melody that tiptoes ever so slowly…ever so softly upward out of the darkness, through some strange harmonies, until bar 6 where it reaches a melancholy A minor….BUT then the Altos and Tenors provide a slow and elegant pirouette, transforming everything into the most gentle E major chord. It might look something like this:
Dance of the Moth – Paul Klee 1923
Apprehension of a moment of change – loss and longing, then tender new life. All in 3 tiny bars! Why not give them a listen and see if you agree with me? And if you come along on the 2nd January, you’ll get to hear what happens next, too!
…Ah I know, it’s a terrible pun, but absolutely unavoidable! And so, now that our Christmas concert is over (did anyone spot the bar from my last post?), it’s time to look at some Handel, in advance of our Messiah concert in the early New Year.
There are a lot of bars to choose from here – by my arithmetic, 1,273 in the choruses alone! – but sensibly, I’m only going to look at a small selection. This week – bar 43 from the chorus “He Trusted In God”.
At a glance, it doesn’t look like much. I mean, the Sopranos aren’t even singing at all at this point! BUT…there is something strangely luminous about the Tenor line here, particularly at the word “delight”, that not only sparkles within itself, but makes all the subsequent bars of this chorus (including the Sopranos, when they find their voices again) shining and clear. Perhaps it looks like this….
No. 8 by Mark Rothko 1952
It’s like unexpectedly finding something that you thought you had lost a long time ago….and that’s a pretty good feeling. Are you familiar with this bar at all? I’d be interested to compare notes! And, as ever, if you’ve never heard it before, you are most welcome to come along to Glasgow Cathedral on the 2nd January to give it a listen! 🙂