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17 Jun '19

Concert V
17 Jun '19

Collegium Vocale Gent

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Johann Sebastian Bach spent the last part of his life in Leipzig, where he held between 1723 and 1750 the highly esteemed position of cantor at St Thomas' Church. This function chiefly required the composition of church music. Bach's production includes nearly 200 cantatas and the great Passion (St John, St Matthew) settings, as well as the Christmas Oratorio. In this musical context strongly influenced by the Evangelical Lutheran Church, the Mass holds a special position of its own. Throughout the history of Christianity, the Mass is the musical form that boasts the richest tradition. This "great Catholic Mass", as it named on the manuscript inherited by Carl Emanuel Bach, is Bach's only contribution for the Catholic mass. The composer considered his achievement as a contribution to interdenominational faith. Having reached the very end of his life, Bach endeavoured to sum up all his compositional mastery in this work. He wanted to leave a musical legacy for future generations, a kind of culmination of all his production. As well as composing new parts for this Mass, the musician also made use of previously composed music, which he reworked for the occasion. This was perfectly consistent with the practice of "parodies" in use at Bach's time. Despite the disparity of the musical material and the variety of forms and stylistic figures that are at once archaic, traditional or more modern for the time, Bach managed to create a vocal cycle of great expressive power. The many ornate choral fugues attest the work's great contrapuntal density. The instrumental parts also present an unusual design. The Mass in B minor is a "concertante Mass" in the sense that its musical value also shows in the orchestral part, unlike a capella works or those with a simple accompaniment, where the emphasis is on the vocal parts. Apart from their baroque splendour and highly developed writing, the instrumental parts of Bach's Mass in B minor also have their own expressive strength and contribute to the intention of this work that wholly responds to the Divine Order.

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Good to know

Collegium Vocale Gent was founded in 1970 on Philippe Herreweghe’s initiative by a group of friends studying at the University of Ghent. They were one of the first ensembles to use new ideas about baroque performance practice in vocal music. Their authentic, text-oriented and rhetorical approach gave the choir the transparent sound which led the musicians to acquire world fame and perform at the major concert venues and music festivals in Europe, the United States, Russia, South America, Japan, Hong Kong and Australia. Under Philippe Herreweghe’s direction, Collegium Vocale Gent has built up an impressive discography with more than 100 recordings, many of which have been rewarded. In recent years, Collegium Vocale Gent has grown organically into an extremely flexible ensemble whose broad repertoire encompasses a range of different stylistic periods. Its greatest strength is its ability to assemble the ideal performing forces for any project. Music from the Renaissance, for example, is performed by a small group of soloists, whereas a symphonic choir up to 80 singers sings the Romantic and modern oratorio repertoires. German Baroque music, in particular J.S. Bach’s vocal music, has long been a speciality of the ensemble. Since 1989, Collegium Vocale Gent regularly uses its own baroque orchestra. It also works with several historically informed instrumental ensembles, including the Orchestre des Champs-Elysées, the Freiburger Barockorchester and the Akademie für Alte Musik Berlin. It also works with prominent symphony orchestras, such as the Concertgebouw Orchestra in Amsterdam. Since 2017, the ensemble runs its own summer festival Collegium Vocale Crete Senesi in Tuscany, Italy.

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