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2.110302 - MUSICAL JOURNEY (A) - SWITZERLAND: A Musical Visit to the Abbey of Einsiedeln (NTSC)

A Musical Visit to Switzerland: The Abbey of Einsiedeln
With music by JS Bach and Vivaldi



Monastery, Church and Landscape

The Benedictine Monastery of Einsiedeln was founded in the 10th century, its name derived from the word ‘Einsiedler’, a hermit, after the first monk to settle there, St Meinrad, who was killed by robbers. It later became a centre of pilgrimage, with particular devotion to the black statue of the Blessed Virgin, the original figure reputedly entrusted by an abbess to St Meinrad. Set among mountain scenery, seen first covered with snow, the imposing two towers of the church façade date from rebuilding that took place in the early 18th century. The interior of the church is in marked contrast to the relative simplicity of the exterior. The interior is highly decorated with rococo ornamentation and figures of angels and putti, many holding or playing musical instruments.

Music JS Bach: Suite No 3 in D major, BWV 1068 – I. Ouverture

From 1717 until 1723, when he moved to Leipzig, Johann Sebastian Bach was director of music to the court of the young Prince Leopold of Anhalt-Cöthen. It was a period, socially the height of Bach’s career, when he was able to devote himself to secular music, as the Pietist religious inclinations of the court made elaborate church music unnecessary. It was here that he probably wrote the first and fourth of his four Ouvertures or Orchestral Suites. It seems that the second and third Suites were written during Bach’s final period of 27 years as Cantor in Leipzig, where, from 1730, he took charge of the University Collegium Musicum, for which he provided secular music. Suite No 3 in D major is scored for three trumpets, timpani and oboes, with the usual strings and keyboard continuo. The work opens with a French Overture, its solemn introduction duly followed by a fugue.



At the heart of the Abbey is the chapel and statue of the Black Virgin, a 15th century figure replacing the statue brought there by St Meinrad, the first hermit on the site. There have been various changes in the buildings over the years, but the chapel housing the statue is a black marble structure, standing inside the church and erected in the early 19th century. The domed ceilings contain frescos by Cosmas Damian Asam of the Nativity, among other scenes.

Music JS Bach: Suite No 3 in D major, BWV 1068 – II. Air

The second movement of Suite No 3 is probably the best known of all. Scored for strings, the melody is heard over the steady pace of the solemn accompanying bass line. The movement is often known inaccurately as Air on the G string, from an arrangement by the violinist August Wilhelmj.


The Last Supper

A relief of the Last Supper by the 18th century artist Domenico Pozzi decorates the high altar and a fresco offers another representation of the same scene. The full glory of the main body of the church is seen, observed, seemingly, by trompe l’oeil figures looking down from the dome above.

Music JS Bach: Suite No 3 in D major, BWV 1068 – III. Gavotte I and II

The strings and keyboard are joined by the trumpets, timpani and oboes for the Gavotte, the first repeated to frame the contrasting second Gavotte.


The Assumption

A fresco above the high altar by the 18th century painter Franz Anton Kraus shows the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin.

Music JS Bach: Suite No 3 in D major, BWV 1068 – IV. Bourrée

The fourth movement is another French dance, a Bourrée.


The Organ

The upper choir has a baroque organ by Viktor Bossart. Further elaborate organ casing is probably by Johann Babel, dating from the 18th century.

Music JS Bach: Suite No 3 in D major, BWV 1068 – V. Gigue

A Gigue, the usual final dance in a French suite, ends the Suite No 3 in D.


Stations of the Cross

Stone tablets, carved in low relief and dating from 1941, show the Stations of the Cross in the abbey grounds, in winter covered in snow. The scene continues with views of the patterns made by the snow and ends with an altar painting of Christ on the Cross by Franz Anton Kraus.

Music JS Bach: Suite No 4 in D major, BWV 1069 – I. Ouverture

Bach’s Suite No 4 in D major, probably written at Cöthen at some period between 1717 and 1723, is scored for three trumpets, timpani, three oboes, bassoon, strings and continuo. It opens with the conventional French Overture, the stately dotted rhythms of the opening and concluding sections framing a faster fugal texture.



The snow-bound exterior of the building is seen, with views of the monastic cloisters and doors to the monks’ cells.

Music JS Bach: Suite No 4 in D major, BWV 1069 – II. Bourrée I and II

The second of the two Bourrées, framed by a repetition of the first, is scored without trumpets and timpani.



Exterior views of the monastic buildings and its school are seen, as the light begins to fade.

Music JS Bach: Suite No 4 in D major, BWV 1069 – III. Gavotte

The Gavotte included in Suite No 4 presents the French dance without any alternating counterdance.


Music and the Library

A harpsichord and positive organ are reminders of other monastic preoccupations, as is the great library, reflecting the Benedictine motto Laborare est orare, to work is to pray.

Music JS Bach: Suite No 4 in D major, BWV 1069 – IV. Menuet I and II

The first Menuet is without trumpets and drums and is repeated after the second Menuet, scored only for strings and continuo.


The High Altar

From the exterior the camera moves again to the interior of the church, concentrating in particular on the elaborate high altar, with its carved figures.

Music JS Bach: Suite No 4 in D major, BWV 1069 – V. Réjouissance

The Suite ends in rejoicing with a movement under the title Réjouissance, in which all instruments join.


Statues in the Sun

The exterior of the monastery building, with its statuary, is seen in the bright afternoon sunshine.

Music Antonio Vivaldi: Concerto in B flat major for oboe, violin, strings and basso continuo, RV 548 – I. Allegro

Distinguished as a violinist and immensely prolific as a composer, Antonio Vivaldi left over a hundred concertos, many written for the Ospedale della Pietà, the institution in Venice for the education and training of indigent or illegitimate girls, where he taught and directed musical activities for much of his life. The combination of solo violin and solo oboe was one that was also used by JS Bach, who was influenced by Vivaldi’s contribution to the form of the instrumental concerto.


The Countryside

As mists gather, the surrounding countryside of the valley in which the monastery is set is seen, covered in snow.

Music Antonio Vivaldi: Concerto in B flat major for oboe, violin, strings and basso continuo, RV 548 – II. Largo

The slow movement, in the stately rhythm of a Siciliano, gives the two solo instruments prominence, over the basso continuo accompaniment.



As evening falls, the vast monastic complex is seen in its valley setting.

Music Antonio Vivaldi: Concerto in B flat major for oboe, violin, strings and basso continuo, RV 548 – III. Allegro

The concerto also exists in a version for two solo violins, K764. Here solo oboe and solo violin join in dialogue, in a final Allegro.

Keith Anderson



Bach Suites. Capella Istropolitana conducted by Jaroslav Dvořák [Naxos 8.550245]
Vivaldi Concerto. Capella Istropolitana conducted by Jaroslav Krček [Naxos 8.550384]

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