by Jayme Lowe
Dr. Jefferey Blersch performed eight pieces composed by Johann Sebastian Bach on Sunday, Nov. 13 as part of a “Bach-athon” for Concordia’s 500th Reformation Celebration.
Bach was one of the great composers of the 1700s and a devoted Lutheran. He managed music for several Lutheran churches in his life and said that his music was for glorifying God and benefiting the people of the church. The performance was a chance for Blersch to celebrate Bach’s music as well as showcase his own talents.
“I thought that the recital was very impressive,” sophomore attendee Paige Stadler said. “It’s really awesome to see that our professors not only teach, but also still get chances to perform. It really makes me feel blessed to be a student under someone with that kind of talent.”
The opening piece of the recital was “Prelude and Fugue in C Major.” It was light and welcoming in the beginning but soon built in complexity and energy.
Blersch then performed “Chorale Prelude: Schmücke dich, o liebe Seele,” which translates to “adorn yourself, o dear soul.” This piece was based off of the hymn by the same name. Bach took the basic hymn melody and ornamented it, adding more layers and sometimes nearly obscuring the original melody with ornamentation.
The third piece performed was “Trio Sonata III in D Minor.” Here, Bach transformed the traditional trio of the era, usually two treble instruments like violins with support from bass instruments, into something that could be played just using the organ. The two treble parts were played using two of the keyboards, and the pedals supplied the bass parts. In the end, it created a light and simple piece that really gave the illusion of different instruments.
Next came “Fantasy and Fugue in G Minor.”
“(This was) Bach at his most dramatic,” Blersch said. “It will leave your heart racing.” This piece was reminiscent of the over-the-top organ themes in old horror movies, with pounding chords and high energy. It switched quickly and often between loud and effusive sections and quieter, more contemplative sections.
“Schübler Chorale Prelude: Wer nur den lieben Gott läßt walten,” or “who only lets dear God rule” was Blersch’s next piece. This prelude and five others were requested in Bach’s time by the publisher Schübler and are among the only examples of Bach’s compositions that were published in Schübler lifetime. Thus, the preludes were named after the publisher. This piece was light and simple, letting the original melodies of the hymn shine through.
Blersch then performed “Concerto in A Minor, I. Allegro.” This is the only piece he performed that was actually not composed by Bach. Instead, this piece was written by Antonio Vivaldi, a famous Italian contemporary of Bach’s. Bach was interested in the Italian style and arranged his own version of Vivaldi’s concerto. It was originally for violins and an accompanying orchestra, and the concept still remains, only on the organ.
The penultimate piece of the recital was “Arioso, from Cantata 156, Ich steh mit einem Fuß im Grabe.” The German text translates to “I am standing with one foot in the grave.”
“I believe this is one of the most beautiful melodies (Bach) ever composed,” Blersch said. Blersch described the piece as “introspective.” It was the only piece not arranged by Bach. Instead, it was an arrangement by Virgil Fox.
Blersch’s final celebration of Bach was “Fugue in E-flat Major, ‘St. Anne.’” It was called “St. Anne” because it is based on St. Anne’s hymn—also known as “O God Our Help in Ages Past,” a hymn many are familiar with today. The opening notes of the song echoed throughout the piece. This composition was also unique in that it had three distinct parts, which some scholars say represent the Trinity—the Father, with the strong and dynamic first section; the Son, with the more mysterious middle section; and the Holy Spirit in the boisterous final section that calls to mind the joy of Pentecost.
For more information on other Reformation Celebration events, visit reformation.cune.edu.