For next Sunday’s Joint Evensong with St. Andrew’s Cathedral Choir, I wasn’t planning to do anything other than sit in the congregation and take a few photos. But then, on Monday Carl suggested to Cathedral Musician, John Renke, that perhaps I could be “persuaded” to play Bach’s “Aus tiefer Not” (Out of the depths have I called unto thee) as the postlude.
I must admit, this piece is one of my favorites of all time. I first heard it in graduate school when a fellow student was learning it for her master’s recital, but I don’t remember trying to learn it until after I moved to Hawaii. It’s Bach’s massive 6-voice setting of Psalm 130 and is part of a collection called “Clavierübung, Part III,” also known as the German Organ Mass.
Out of the depths I have cried to Thee, O Lord; Lord, hear my voice. Let thine ears be attentive to the voice of my supplication. If Thou, O Lord, shalt observe iniquities; Lord, who shall endure it? For with Thee there is merciful forgiveness: and by reason of Thy law, I have waited for Thee, O Lord. My soul hath relied on His word; my soul hath hoped in the Lord. From the morning watch even until night, let Israel hope in the Lord. Because with the Lord there is mercy, and with Him plentiful redemption. And He shall redeem Israel from all her iniquities.
“Aus tiefer Not” is in a chorale motet style, with each phrase of the chorale treated imitatively. Four of the voices are played on the manuals, and two voices are played in the pedal. On the repeat of the first section, I will ornament the melody — something I learned from listening to Anthony Newman’s recording. I guess the most fun thing about playing the piece is the double pedal played in canon, one with the right foot and the other with the left. On the repeat where the melody is ornamented, I’ll even be trilling in the pedal, with one foot no less! (This was something I learned from organist McNeil Robinson).
Carl and I presented the entire Clavierübung in concert in 1979, interspersed with the 4-part chorales. That was the inauguration concert for “The Bach Chamber Choir,” a select choral group which met for only one rehearsal before the concert, and sang all the chorales on which the preludes are based. Carl played half the chorale preludes and I played the other half. We have a program from this concert, but it didn’t specify who played which piece (and now we can’t remember!)
Thirty years after we presented this concert, one day out of the blue, we received a recording of it in the mail, much to our surprise. A friend, James Wallrabenstein, had secretly taped the concert (unknown to us), and sent us the recording thirty years later. We had considered trying to do a reprise of the concert, but then Carl’s announcement of his retirement led us to other projects, such as the Monteverdi Vespers and the Bach Mass in B-Minor.
I would describe this piece as “gripping,” and Bach brings the anguished text to life with this intense music. I love this piece so much that I would like to have it played at my funeral! In case there’s no one around to play it, they can use Jim Wallrabenstein’s recording of my 1979 performance which you can find on the LCH page for additional audio and video. Scroll down to “Aus tiefer Not.”
Or, you can come hear me play it in person this Sunday for the postlude, April 3rd, 5:30 pm at St. Andrew’s Cathedral. (I guess my arm got twisted!)