Cantata: "Blaues Gras" (Bluegrass Cantata), S. 6 String

For Tenor, Bass, Bluegrass Band, and Orchestra

P.D.Q. Bach

Edited by Prof. Peter Schickele
Rental
Publisher: Theodore Presser Company
Print Status: Rental

Quick Overview

Much has been written about the English, Scottish and Irish influences on the white folk music of the southeastern United States, but the recent discovery of the manuscript of P.D.Q. Bach’s cantata "Blaues Gras" should cause students of the subject to sit up and take notice (and about time, too) of the substantial debt owed by so-called “bluegrass” music to a certain late eighteenth century southern German composer. Most of the credit for establishing the characteristic sound of bluegrass music is usually given to William Monroe, known to his friends as “Bill”, but it will be immediately apparent to anyone hearing this cantata that omitting the name of P.D.Q. Bach is any future discussion of the origins of this “typically American” music will constitute a sin of omission on the part of the omitter, serious enough to warrant, at the very least, an academic slap on the wrist.

The importance of the cantata, however, goes beyond proto-chauvinistic considerations. A quarter of a century has passed since this writer made his first discovery of a P.D.Q. Bach composition, with literally dozens of other pieces having been found since then, but this is the first time the original manuscript, in the original German, of a vocal work has come to light. Most of our knowledge of P.D.Q. Bach’s vocal œuvre comes from the editions published after his death by the composer’s drinking companion Jonathan “Boozey” Hawkes; these editions were brought out after Hawkes’ return to his native Liverpool, and are all in English, with no identification of the original (presumably German, in most cases) librettists. Although even the autograph of the Bluegrass Cantata does not provide us with the name of its librettist, it at least affords us, at long last, the opportunity to hear P.D.Q. Bach speaking, as it were, in his native tongue.

By all accounts the most popular Black Forest string band during the 1790's was the group pictured on the cover of the Vanguard album. Tommy Mann and his Magic Mountain Boys. Both Tommy Manna and the outfit’s banjo player, Erl “Konig” Skruggsendorfer, came from Wein-am-Rhein and knew P.D.Q. Bach, so it is perhaps not surprising that before making their first American tour in 1806 they asked their hometown composer to write them a piece that would ingratiate them with audiences in the (still quite young and intensely patriotic) United States of America. That the resulting cantata was extremely successful is attested to by the fact that ever since the Magic Mountain Boys’ triumphant tour, Kentucky has been affectionately known as the Bluegrass State.

How often is an artist appreciated more abroad than at home? The manuscript of the cantata (now safely ensconced in the P.D.Q. Bach Museum at the University of Southern North Dakota at Hoople) was found not in Europe, but deep in a Kentucky cola mine, where it was being used to stuff up a hole leading (as this writer discovered in the nick of time) to a vein of methane gas.

As is usually the case with P.D.Q. Bach, some of the innovative aspects of the cantata can be tied to practical considerations. the use, for instance, of harmonicas to accompany the recitatives meant that no keyboard instrument was required – certainly a boon to any touring ensemble, but especially to one touring a country whose roads were often little more than game trails. The need for compactness I undoubtedly also the reason for asking the members of the orchestra to double as a chorus in singing the chorale Ich gehe am Krüpple Bach hinauf, which practice was followed on the present recording. And when a third voice is needed for harmony at the end of the duet Ich sehe, the conductor (presumably the concertmaster in Tommy Mann’s back-up group) steps in to fill the role.

Certain enigmas remain – the significance of the soldier who has but four words to speak, and the meaning of the last line of the entire text – but even with these small air pockets of unintelligibility, Blaues Gras stands as one of the most important additions to the increasingly impressive pantheon of P.D.Q. Bach pieces for the human voice.

Available on Rental

Additional Information

Duration 00:15:00
Editor Schickele, Prof. Peter
Orchestration Ten. Bar.; Bluegrass Band (Mand. Banjo, Gtr. Cb.); 2Fl. Str.

Details

1. Recitative and Aria: “Blaues Gras”
2. Recitative: “O”
Aria: “Du bist im Land”
3. Recitative: “O”
Duet: “Ich sehe”
4. Chorale: “Ich gehe”
Duet: “Sag’ mir”