To explain why becomes a nebulous weaving of humanity and divinity. Bach humanized the Lutheran theology of his time, making it approachable. He captured everything there is to be human – betrayal, conflict, friendship, despair, joy.
Albert Einstein famously uttered: “This is what I have to say about Bach – listen, play, love, revere – and keep your trap shut.”
The New Mexico Bach Society will perform its annual spring Bach concerts in both Albuquerque and Santa Fe next weekend.
The Albuquerque performance will be at St. Michael & All Angels Episcopal Church on Saturday and will feature the New Mexico Bach Chorale with pianists Jacquelyn Helin and Deborah Wagner.
The Santa Fe concert will pair the New Mexico Bach Chorale and Chamber Orchestra at the Immaculate Heart of Mary Chapel on Sunday, April 7.
Both programs feature selections from the St. Matthew and St. John Passions, the Mass in B minor and a complete performance of the Cantata BWV 78. Metropolitan Opera conductor emeritus and New Mexico Performing Arts Society artistic director Franz Vote will lead the musicians.
Bach wrote four passions based on the four gospels, but just two survived, flutist and Bach Society Executive Director Linda Marianiello said.
“We’re doing the greatest hits from these two pieces,” she said.
Both are sacred oratorios.
The St. Matthew sets Chapters 26 and 27 of the gospel to music with interspersed chorales and arias. Scholars regard it as one of the masterpieces of classical music. Bach wrote the more unbridled St. John Passion during his first year as director of church music in Leipzig.
The pianist Helin will open the Albuquerque concert with two preludes and fugues from Book 1 of Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier.
“Bach was living in a period of time when equal temperament was introduced,” a system of tuning in which composers divided the octave into equal half-steps, Marianiello said.
Bach responded by writing two volumes of preludes and fugues in every key.
“He did something that had never been done before,” Marianiello said. “Few people wrote more than four sharps and flats because they were so unpleasant to hear; it was grating on the nerves. Instruments had to change to accommodate this.”
Santa Fe listeners will hear Helin, violinist David Felberg and Marianiello play the Brandenburg Concerto No. 5.
“It features these instruments in a very virtuosic way,” Marianiello said. “The thing about Bach that is extraordinary is he never wrote a piece that was bad. Even Mozart wrote some pieces not as great as his greatest writing.”
“He had this most fruitful imagination,” Marianiello said. “Bach grew up in a family of musicians, so there were generations of this musical background. He kind of breathed, ate and drank music from the time he was born.”