Many images of the great composers show them as mature, even elderly, if they lived that long. But they were once very young, they were once students. And some of them were also young geniuses.
The Bakersfield College choirs will finish their school year presenting the work of two great composers in their brilliant youth on May 2 at St. John's Lutheran Church.
BC singers will present the Cantata No. 150 "Nach dir, Herr, verlanget mich" ("To you, Lord, I lift up my soul") by Johann Sebastian Bach, and the Mass in G Major, by Franz Schubert in their final concert of the year. Dr. Ron Kean, who directs the choirs, said both works are examples of early genius.
"They were both a couple of college-aged prodigies," said Kean, who noted there's a lesson for his students in performing the works of these young masters.
"I have some amazingly talented students this year," Kean said. "I just wanted them to know it was possible, although not everyone is a genius."
Music scholars think Bach probably wrote this cantata around 1706, making the composer about 21 at the time, and just establishing his reputation as an organist and composer. The cantata we associate with Bach is known as a sacred cantata, written for the Lutheran church and used as part of the worship liturgy.
Bach's sacred cantatas are multi-movement works for choir, soloists and orchestral instruments. Kean said this cantata, which will be sung by the BC Chamber Singers, places an enormous amount of responsibility on the choir.
"Bach requires virtuosic ability from the choir," Kean said. "You can't read this score; you have to learn it."
Although Bach was still developing his craft at the time he wrote the cantata, he nevertheless was already including those musical elements that have made his works timeless.
"He starts out with the sighing motive and then goes into a little fugue," Kean said. "And the beautiful word-painting. The final movement is a chaconne."
A chaconne is a form of theme and variation, where a musical idea is composed over a short, repeating harmonic, or chord, progression, and then elaborated or altered in varied ways. It is highly unusual to ask a choir to sing such a composition.
The BC Choir will sing the Schubert Mass. Written when Schubert was only 17, it is part of the Viennese composer's first outburst of extraordinary musical composition, which also included several art songs, his famous Octet, a cantata and his first symphony.
The choirs started the year singing works by Morton Lauridsen and Benjamin Britten. A concert earlier this spring featured folk music from Great Britain, France and South America. Kean said he is finishing the year with these classics to ensure his singers learn a well-rounded repertoire, part of the goal of a choral program.
"The goal is to present a varied repertoire of musical styles, historically, and for me, world music styles as well, to represent our cultural heritage," Kean said. "Not only the historical heritage, but also for the students in front of me."
Kean said the varied repertoire challengers the singers to broaden their skills.
"After singing folk music, to throw them into Bach is an entirely different animal," Kean said.
Kean said singing the Schubert Mass with a Latin text challenges the students the techniques of well-supported, classical singing.