Biber Vespers, December 20th

Upcoming: Imperial Splendor at Salzburg Cathedral in December

Salzburg Cathedral in the 1700s

Simon Carrington directs the Biber Vespers Friday, December 20th at 8 pm, First Lutheran Church

Simon Carrington reprises his acclaimed 2004 performance of the Biber Vesperae Longiores ac breviores with Canto Armonico in Boston, in a new setting for the season of Advent.

Evoking the baroque splendor of Salzburg Cathedral where Heinrich Biber spent much of his career, the music features elaborate and virtuosic solos for voices and strings by Biber and his contemporaries, including the talented Holy Roman Emperor Leopold I.

Listen to my new cantata “Words of Beginning”

Words of Beginning received its second performance at the Yale School of Music as part of the New Music New Have Series last week. I am particularly blessed to have friends who came and performed my piece from Boston together with two wonderful soloists from the Yale Opera, Jamilyn White, soprano and Brian Vu, baritone along with the Yale New Music New Haven orchestra on November 14. They did a wonderful job performing this difficult piece with only one rehearsal with the orchestra. The choir arrived at 5 p.m. on Thursday November 14, and we had only one hour to rehearse with the orchestra on the day of the concert. This was their second performance of the piece, however, (the first being the world premier at First Lutheran church of Boston on October 27) so the choir performed confidently. Bravo everyone and thanks. 

Program November 14, 2013

1. Opening chorus

In the beginning was the Word 
and the Word was with Him and in Him and Him
What story does the sun tell of the Holy
as lumen spilled from pen to page of day
words capturing each crest of wave
each crease of current, each ripple, each fragile break
of water upon water
upon water upon water
as wind formed crescents on the surface 
the day when light was made

What of the stars that day when day was shaped
what of their questions as they were molded like clay
by hands of words and words of light
what did they think as their glow moved away
into darkness that was beginning before it began
what did they see when seeing became sight?

2. Aria (soprano)

Before he followed the star 
the shepherd followed whiteness,
woolen backs entering fields 
of long grass filled with the long sun, 
the moist dew of dawn. 
With wind from the east each blade 
bowed as though giving themselves 
to the unseen. Soon he too will bow 
in the words of light, 
for the sight of wings 
feathers of a whiteness more than white, 
a brightness more than bright. 

3. Aria (baritone) and Chorus

Not knowing what to say he prayed
as the feather lay still on the page
his thoughts a ripple in the candle light
a silent sound like the first day within night
and then the voice took his hand
took the feather, took the thought, took the man
and ink filled the grain
just as glow filled beginning as beginning began
and the words spoke back to him

4. Chorale: Now Thank We All Our God (3 verses)

New Cantata for the 175th Anniversary of First Lutheran Church

October 27 is the world premier of my new cantata “Words of Beginning” based on an original text by Kai Hofmann-Krull. I am particularly excited about this work as it has been my first fruitful collaboration with a poet on a sacred text that is reflecting on Bach’s  Reformation Cantata BWV 79 which will also be performed on the same program. Kai’s text reflects the light and dark imagery found in the Bach cantata text and is expanded to a narrative on Genesis. It is a text of particular beauty and I am very excited to set it to beautiful music.

Full Cantata Text Words of Beginning-text


Bach composed Gott der Herr ist Sonn und Schild in Leipzig for a performance on Reformation Day in 1725. This cantata has a striking timpani part that suggests its common interpretation as the hammering of Luther’s ninety-five theses to the door of the Wittenberg cathedral. The text, written by an unknown poet, uses a powerful light-dark imagery that is perhaps a poetic allusion to the Lutheran distinction between Law(the commandments) and Gospel (God’s forgiveness through Jesus’s blood). This duality is echoed in clever compositional devices and in Bach’s colorful orchestration throughout the cantata. This includes the opposition of high, but dark-colored natural horn parts (replaced by trumpets in today’s performance) and the low, bright timpani rolls.

The text of the opening chorus (dictum) is a theological statement later referred to in the subsequent recitatives and arias. The words describing God’s protecting power, “God the Lord is our sun and Shield,” accompanied by brass and timpani, are followed by “The Lord gives mercy and honor” with a softer, more lyrical section accompanied by the strings. The opening chorus, with its light-dark imagery, its colorful instrumentation and opposing sections forecasts contrast as the main rhetorical device of the cantata.

The subsequent alto aria restates the words of the opening chorus and expands them emphasizing a militaristic overtone, evocative of Luther’s A Mighty Fortress is our God.In the third movement, the powerful music of the opening chorus accompanies the Chorale Now Thank We All our God in a rhetorical contrast between thanksgiving peace (chorale) and of God’s supreme, military power (orchestral accompaniment). The subsequent recitative prays for redeeming faith for the enemy, with a desire to share the message with all people, so that they also confess Jesus Christ as their savior. In the 5th movement, the soprano and bass, in their duet, confess our weakness without God’s help, using an unusually large gap between the two vocal ranges as if to emphasizes the opposition of light and darkness, or weakness and power. It is interesting that Jesus’s name is mentioned only at the very end of the final chorale. It is perhaps the climax of opposing forces that only intersect and reconcile in the name of Jesus Christ, the last word of the cantata.

Copyright by Bálint Karosi