What do two Bach cantatas have to do with a plate of grapes? This Tuesday at noon, for the inaugural performance of the Blanton’s Midday Music Series, we will be taking some time to look—and to listen—at this unusual pairing. This month, musicians from the Butler School of Music will be performing two Bach Cantatas, BWV 114 and BWV 47, and will discuss the connection between Bach’s music and a Dutch still life by Abraham van Beyeren.
Van Beyeren’s A Roemer with Grapes, a Pewter Plate and a Roll is a prime example of seventeenth-century Dutch still life painting from the Blanton’ collection. In it, we see a banquet table, with a large goblet of wine, a knife with a mother-of-pearl handle, and a billowing mound of grapes. Together, this sumptuous display reads as a warning against excess and luxury. The message is that material things are fleeting, and the eternal life is much longer.
Even though Johannes Sebastian Bach wrote his cantatas hundreds of miles away and several generations later, many of his works echo the same theme. The two cantatas for this concert reflect the same moralizing message of van Beyeren’s painting. First performed in 1724 his cantata Ach, lieben Christen, seid getrost, BWV 114 has a line in the alto aria that says, “One day, indeed, one must die.” By providing a clear reminder of death, the text urges the listener to concern themselves with their salvation.
As many of you know, this isn’t the first time that the Blanton and the Butler School of Music have collaborated. For the past several years, we have partnered on the Bach Cantata Project, a monthly series of performances of Bach by Butler School musicians. Tuesday’s performance, however, will kick off a new collaboration— the Midday Music Series—offering a broader range of musical genres and integrating an exploration of the relationship between music and visual art. Why not take advantage of the rich opportunity to examine art in relation to the music? After all, we are already in a museum!
The Midday Music Series offers an expanded variety of concerts, all performed by Butler School of Music faculty and students. In addition to Bach cantatas, this series will include a large scope of styles to highlight other student and faculty musicians at the Butler School. On the docket next month is the incredible classical guitar studio of Adam Holzman, followed in November by freshly-written works by the Jazz Composition department.
Throughout the series, Natalie Zeldin, the Blanton’s Kress Interpretive Fellow, will moderate discussions with the musicians to help tease out some of the relationships between the music and artwork. There are a lot of synergies—especially in places you might not expect. This concert series will connect to the museum’s collection or exhibitions and provide challenging ways to think about art by forging surprising connections between what we see and hear.
Concerts will be held at noon on the last Tuesday of each month in the Blanton’s Rapoport atrium.
—Natalie Zeldin, Kress Interpretive Fellow at the Blanton Museum of Art