In music of the Baroque era, it was popular to use the medium of numbers for riddles and hidden messages. Research on the works of Johann Sebastian Bach has over the years unearthed numerous coded references, for instance to his name, and a veritable theology in numbers and notes has been deduced from his sacred music.
The unexpected insight that purely instrumental works, such as the Six Sonatas and Partitas for Solo Violin can also be read this way is the discovery of Professor Helga Thoene, of the University of Düsseldorf. Her interpretation of the Ciaccona from the Partita in D Minor BWV 1004 as an "epitaph in music" for Maria Barbara Bach is based upon the chorale quotations concealed in the piece as well as on the symbolism of the numerical patterns, interpreted by means of gematria: "Frequently we can identify two or even three lines of a chorale in interlocking counterpoint and discover that they define the harmonic progression of a phrase, or even of an entire movement. Often the secret chorale quotations are embellished in the contrapuntal texture with broken chords containing the notes of the melody, sometimes in alternating registers. The quotations are also highlighted by musico-rhetorical figures that reflect the unstated words or emotional contents of the chorale (...) The abstract figures in this wordless music speak a specific but clandestine language that can be made intelligible through decryption."
Professor Thoene published her findings on the Ciaconna in the Cöthener Bach-Hefte, an academic journal devoted to Bach studies, in 1994. Intrigued by the implications of this text, Christoph Poppen discussed with producer Manfred Eicher the possibility of a recording that would make the "hidden chorales" audible and a collaboration with the Hilliard Ensemble was proposed. Widely acclaimed for their adventurous reconstructions of early music (including Lassus, Guillaume de Machaut, and "Officium" with saxophonist Jan Garbarek) the Hilliard singers rise to the challenge of illuminating Bach's thought. "What we hear [on "Morimur"] is surely something of what went on inside Bach's head as he composed the pieces," says tenor John Potter. What words and musical notation present analytically becomes an audible reality in this recording.
The five movements of the Partita No. 2 are linked together by various chorales on "Morimur". (It is striking, too, to hear Bach chorales sung by a small ensemble). So: the Partita is played in its entirety.
The album's dramaturgy climaxes with a revelatory version of the Ciaconna for violin and voices, where the Hilliard singers intone the single verses in parallel with the solo instrument. Herbert Glossner, in the liner notes: "The present recording of the Ciaconna with members of the Hilliard Ensemble makes perceivable the ingenious interplay between the virtuoso and harmonically complex violin part and the lines of the chorales. This recording turns the piece into a work literally never heard before." Except perhaps in the composer's own mind.
Ex Deo nascimur/In Christo morimur/Per Spiritum Sanctum reviviscimus is a Trinitarian formula summing up the central articles of Christian faith. ("We are born of God, We die in Christ, We are reborn through the Holy Spirit") Amongst her many discoveries, Professor Thoene finds this saying embedded, encrypted, throughout the D Minor Partita and stressed particularly in the Cicaonna; the discovery adds weight to her thesis that the work was conceived originally as a tombeau for Bach's wife.
Christoph Poppen, perhaps best known as the dynamic conductor/artistic director of the Munich Chamber Orchestra, also has a long and distinguished history as a violin soloist and chamber musician.
Born in 1956 in Münster, at the age of 14 Poppen won first prize in the international Kocian competition in the former USSR. He studied with Kurt Schäffer at the Robert Schumann Institute in Düsseldorf and, subsequently, with Oskar Schumsky, Nathan Milstein, and Joseph Gingold. He has won many prizes in national and international competitions, including awards from the Kulturkreis in Bundesverband der Deutschen Industrie (1975), the International Vaclav Huml Violin Competition (1977), the Rudolf Lipizer Competition in Gorizia and the Carl Flesch Competition in London (both 1983) and performed with leading orchestras and conductors around the world.
In 1978, Poppen founded the Cherubini Quartet with whom he was first violinist, and in 1981 won the Premier Grand Prix at the international string quartet competition in Evian. In 1988 he became professor of violin and chamber music at the Academy of Music in Detmold, and took on the direction of the Detmold Chamber Orchestra the following year. In 1994 he was appointed professor of violin at the Hanns Eisler Academy of Music in Berlin; he was also Director of the Academy from 1996-2000. He became artistic director of the Munich Chamber Orchestra in 1995. The beginning of the association between Poppen, the Munich Chamber Orchestra and ECM was marked with the release of the CD "Funèbre", with works by Karl Amadeus Hartmann, in 2000. A recording of music of Sofia Gubaidulina, with Elsbeth Moser, Boris Pergamenschikow and the Munich Chamber Orchestra under the direction of Christoph Poppen will be released by ECM New Series in Autumn 2001.
The Hilliard Ensemble is one of the most outstanding vocal chamber groups in the world today, and its reputation in the fields of both early and new music is unsurpassed. The group has been associated with ECM since 1987, when they contributed to Arvo Pärt's "Arbos". Other recordings for the New Series include music of Victoria and Palestrina ("In Paradisum"), Gesualdo ("Tenebrae"), Lassus, Walter Frye, Thomas Tallis ("The Lamentations of Jeremiah"), "Codex Specialnik" (Josquin Desprez, Petrus de Grudencz, Johannes Touront, John Plummer etc.), "A Hilliard Songbook" (Barry Guy, Morton Feldman, Ivan Moody, James MacMillan, Veljo Tormis, Arvo Pärt, Joanne Metcalf etc.), as well as Pärt's "Passio", "Miserere" and "Litany". Their 1993 collaboration with improvising saxophonist Jan Garbarek, "Officium", proved to be enormously successful; the Garbarek/Hilliard combination issued a second record, "Mnemosyne" in 1999, and continues to tour widely.
On "Morimur", long time Hilliard Ensemble members David James, John Potter and Gordon Jones are joined by soprano singer Monica Mauch. Mauch is a specialist in early music, well-known for her work with the Taverner Consort, the Ricercar Consort, the Ensemble Daedalus of Geneva, and the Ravensburg medieval music ensemble Ordo Virtutum.
Christoph Poppen and the Hilliard Ensemble will tour North America and Europe in Spring 2002.
CD package in slipcase includes additional 80-page three-language booklet with notes by Helga Thoene on Bach's "Secret Language", musical examples, and an essay by Herbert Glossner