Applause Greets Bach Society Season Opener

By Henry C. Mayer

Are you aware of all of Louisville's musical sources of joy and pride? I refer to one which is achieving considerable national and international recognition —our Bach Society. It offers four top-flight concerts yearly. Recently I heard these talented artists for the first time. Then followed an informative conversation with its personable and gifted music director, Melvin Dickinson, who also teaches at our U of L School of Music.

Mr. Dickinson is a native Kentuckian via Todd County and UK. He is ably assisted by a modest but competent staff, notably his wife, Margaret, who is an artist on the organ in her own right. When I conveyed to him my intuition about the deep pleasure he took in his work, he smiled as only he can and replied, "It's so much work that I better enjoy it." He is one of those persons who puts that extra something in all he does. He is not only the Society's music director but, with his wife and a few associates, its founder.

The Society is dedicated to offering us concerts which can let us develop and expand our appreciation of the works of this master composer. But it does not stop there.

While the bulk of their presentations are made up of Sacred music, they have also offered secular numbers such as the love songs of Johannes Brahms (1834-1898). Brahms was a talented and painstaking composer of immortal melodies.

Mr. Dickinson says there are three was to enjoy the Society's music-making "You can simply come and revel in the beautiful music without paying attention to the texts. You can only concentrate on the texsts; in pieces such as Handel's Messiah and/or any Mass by one of the masters, the texts can have its own message for people today. Or you enjoy the words and music together and seek to find the mind of the composer. I would emphasize that the potential of the texts and music to ennoble our inmost selves is NOT confined to members of the denominations for whom the composer wrote." The use of the adjective "sacred" simply says that the piece was written first and last for the honor of God.

Mr. Dickinson met his wife when there were both Fulbright scholars early during the early 1960s in Germany. "I am especially grateful that it was my privilege to study under Helmut Walcha. He was one of the all-time great interpreters of Bach. The idea of a Bach Society was the brainchild of Margaret and myself while still students. I find Bach especially inspiring because he weds genius of expression with exquisite musical technique — he is truly a creative genius. Our Society has performed the Louisville premieres of Bach's B Minor Mass, His St. John's and St. Matthew's Passion, Beethoven's Solemn Mass and 115 of Bach's Cantatas.

Mr. Dickinson welcomes persons who would like to audition: "A person should be a solid musician and able to be a team player. Our Society's number is 502-585-BACH."

This concert featured soloists Marilyn Taylor, Antoinette Hardin, Steven Spears and Alexander Redden, assisted by the orchestra of 36 players, many of whom belong to our gifted Louisville Orchestra. Thought the singers in the chorus sing gratis, the bill for the orchestra is a major item in the Society's budget. This concert presented Mozart's Mass in C Minor (Mr. Dickinson considers it the most beautiful Mass written by that composer) and the highly difficult but even more beautiful Mass in F Minor by Anton Bruckner (1824-1896). Dr. John Hall gave us a usefu prelimary introduction.

Despite the identity of words in the text, each Mass is a unique inspiration and composition. Bruckner, for most of his life, was a church organist in Linz, Austria. By contrast, the Mozart pieces, as might be supposed, includes musical influences of opera and concert hall; these were the primary audiences for whom Mozart wrote. Bruckner seems to have been primarily intent on the praise of God and the gratitude to Him. Some of the gratitude must include Bruckner's recovery from a nervous breakdown since he sketched some of this work during hospitalization with a rather primitive treatment.

For a Catholic, or maybe only a believer, there is a discernible contrast between Bruckner and other Mass composers; it can be found in the varying ways they sought to communicate the mysteries and beliefs. A brief example: Bruckner expresses the belief in the divine and human natures of Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit without any hesitation about their truth. Beethoven and, to some extent, Mozart and others also rejoice in expressing the first belief but appear to be somewhat more restrained in expressing the second one. And if one can underscore another contrast, in Verdi's Requiem (which will be presented locally this season), the "Dies Irae" (Day of Wrath)'s musical portrayal includes musical expressions which seem to underscore the anxiety about the Last Judgment rather than indicating a degree of serenity about the Second Coming of Jesus Christ. The differences may indicate the various composer's Faith life which certainly took place in highly diverse circumstances in persons with varied temperaments.