Bach’s Legacy Series: Knut Nystedt’s “Immortal Bach”

The following is part of a 6-part series of articles about ABS’s
“Bach’s Legacy” concerts coming up on April 25-28, 2014.

In celebrating the music and lasting impact of Johann Sebastian Bach in “Bach’s Legacy” (April 25-28), the outstanding American Bach Choir under the direction of Jeffrey Thomas will perform a selection of extraordinary and challenging choral works. The program will include motets from the pen of Bach and choral compositions by later composers that show his unmistakable influence. This artistic legacy became well-known and pervasive during the early nineteenth century following Felix Mendelssohn’s famous “rediscovery” of the St. Matthew Passion in 1829, but Bach’s music continues to inspire with undiminished potency. One composer to find inspiration in Bach’s creations in our era is the Norwegian composer Knut Nystedt.

Knut Nystedt (b. 1915)

Born in Kristiania (now Oslo) in 1915, Nystedt is one of Norway’s leading composers of orchestral and choral music. His compositions have been performed around the world and recorded by groups including Accentus, the Holst Singers, and Ensemble 96, whose 2006 GRAMMY-nominated album Immortal Nystedt featured solely works by the composer. His works are known for their beauty and challenging arrangements.

“Our Legacy program features not only works by composers who idolized Bach and incorporated what they learned from the Baroque master’s rhetoric into their own original compositions, but also two compositions (by Nystedt and Sandström) that are based on  actual works by Bach. Nystedt’s setting of the famous and beautiful sacred song, “Komm, süßer Tod,” utilizes multiple choirs of singers to create a spatially separated impression of music through time. The effect of overlaying harmonies and music moving slowly through space is awe-inspiring.”

– Jeffrey Thomas

The American Bach Choir are no strangers to innovative contemporary music. As recently as “An ABS Christmas” in December 2013 when they performed Eric Whitacre’s Alleluia (2011) and a David Conte’s arrangement of Silent Night (1989), Thomas and the Choir have earned rapturous acclaim in a broad range of styles and works. When they perform Nystedt’s Immortal Bach during “Bach’s Legacy” it will be an ABS premiere and the ensemble’s first performance of any of the Norwegian composer’s works.

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Click image to hear a performance of Knut Nystedt: Immortal Bach
(Komm, süßer Tod, komm selger Ruh) by the Monteverdi Choir

As the title suggests, Nystedt’s Immortal Bach honors the resonance of Bach’s creations through the ages. Utilizing both the melody and text of Bach’s “Komm, süßer Tod, komm, selge Ruh” (Come, sweet death, come, blessed rest) and employing multiple choirs that begin and end the text at different points and at different tempi, Nystedt reconceives the balance and simplicity of Bach’s original in a complex and extremely moving new setting.

“Bach’s Legacy” ~ April 25-28, 2014