J.S. Bach - A. Vivaldi - F. Mendelssohn

The Pretoria Bach Choir welcomes you!

When Jesus’ mother Mary went to visit her cousin Elizabeth during her pregnancy, Mary sang a prayer of thanks to God. Magnificat is the first word in the Latin version: Magnificat anima mea Dominum, or ‘My soul magnifies the Lord’.

This prayer has been a part of worship for many centuries and has been set to music by well over 220 composers, the earliest from the 15th Century. Today we perform thee versions of this prayer by Vivaldi, Bach and Mendelssohn:

Vivaldi composed several settings of the Magnificat, the first, possibly around 1715 for a single choir. He later adapted it for a double choir and even later added arias where there were sections for solo voices. Today you will hear the original version.

As far as we know Vivaldi and Bach never met, but they certainly knew about each other’s work. Bach appreciated Vivaldi’s vibrant approach and transcribed some of his concertos, adding his own ornamentation and counterpoint. Bach’s Magnificat was written shortly after Vivaldi’s in 1723, soon after being appointed as Thomaskantor in Leipzig.

Felix Mendelssohn came a century later, and although Bach’s music was still being played, Mendelssohn brought it into the limelight again. The Three Motets, of which we are singing only No. 3, were the last choral works he composed before his death in November 1847.

It is because of all these reasons that we have combined these works into one program – something which as far as we know has never been done in South Africa. These composers each in his turn influenced each other.

We hope that you will enjoy both the differences and the similarities of these works in their composer’s interpretation of Mary’s song from their own perspectives and environments.


 Part 1   Part 2
Deutches Magnificat
"Mein Herz erhebet Gott, den Herrn"
Felix Mendelssohn (1809-1847)
Op. 69 Nr. 3

We start today with Felix Mendelssohn's interpretation of the Magnificat prayer. He composed these three Motets less than 6 months after the death of his sister, Fanny, by which he was greatly affected. He was 38 years old.

No. 2 and 3, Psalm 100 and Magnificat, appear to be the only works he composed in the month following Fanny's death while he and the family were in Baden-Baden. They were originally written in English for the Anglican Evening service, and published in German by Breitkopf '& Hartel the following year. He wrote to his publishing company-"I also send two new pieces forming the whole of an Evening Service, which are perhaps a little longer and more developed than usual in your Cathedral style; yet I hope they might be used, and I found much pleasure in occupying myself with them"

These smaller works seem to have been influenced more by Palestrina, and, although he was baptized as a Reformed Christian, he also includes Jewish rhythms and melodies because of his Jewish background.

  Overture-Suite in D-Major
Georg Philipp Telemann (1681-1767)
TWV 55:D18

This Overture-Suite by Telemann serves as 'rest' in today's program. It is only a 'rest' though through it not being an interpretation of the Magnificat, as this piece stands alone in its own right.

"With its dramatic opening, it is immediately striking for its singular scoring and suggests something of a pompous courtly atmosphere. It is regrettable that research has not yet been able to establish the occasion and the personality for whom this distinctive work was written." - Peter Huth (trans. Charles Johnston)
Antonio Vivaldi (1678-1741)

Today we perform Vivaldi's original version of the Magnificat prayer. He later adapted it for a double choir, and even later added arias where there were sections for solo voices. Some of the changes may have been made for performances in the Ospedale de/la PiettJ in Venice, where he was violin teacher and later director of music, composing most of his major works while working there.

Listen how Vivaldi emphasizes the Lord's strength in Fecit potentiam by the use of a powerful bass line, and how in the following piece the exaltation of the humble (exaltavit humilies) is felt in the way the theme rises.
  Magnificat in D-Major
Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750)

Bach's Magnificat was written shortly after Vivaldi's, in 1723, soon after being appointed as Thomaskantor in Leipzig. He reworked it in 1733 for the Feast of the Visitation, commemorating Mary's visit to Elizabeth, changing it to the brighter key of D major to accommodate the trumpet parts and to better reflect the festive tone of the Feast.

He starts the work with just the orchestra, the trumpets playing ascending triads to add a sense of majesty. Pairs of voices are added, with the dotted rhythm echoing the regal feel until all voices are joined in worship.

Notice in the third movement that Bach leaves out the last two words from the Latin verse, in order to give prominence to All Generations (Omnes Generationes) in the fourth movement. Each of the five vocal parts repeats these words in an interweaving tapestry, perhaps to show multiple generations across multiple times and continents, until they come together in unison right at the end.


Gerben Grooten

Soloists  Orchestra
Soprano I Alna Smit Concert Master Camelia Onea
Soprano II
Esté Meerkotter
Violin I

Jacques Fourie

Counter Tenor Jonathan Watkins   Viara Markova
Chris Mostert
  Natali Schutte
Bass  Hendré van Zyl Violin II

Song Choi

      Carin Janse van Vuuren
 Accompanist  Susan Steenkamp-Swanepoel   Lize Schaap
      Mariette Malherbe
    Viola  Elmarie van den Vyfer
       Valerie Hohls
    Oboe I

Lesley Stansell

    Oboe II Clorinda Warrens
    Trumpet I

Philip Cox

    Trumpet II Braam van Tonder
    Trumpet III Walter Johannes
    Flute I Bobby van der Watt
    Flute II Anna-Maria Muller

John Reid-Coulter

    Cello Katia Sokolova
      Maren du Plessis
    Double Bass

Leanse Pottas


Gerhard Benade

    Organ Gerrit Jordaan
    Timpani Matthew Downey
Sopranos Altos Tenors Basses
Marijke Anderson Marike Brits Wim Bronkhorst Anton Arendse
Frideborg Bammel Henna Delen Ian Butler Hanno den Boer
Lynette Boerrigter Gerda du Toit Ruan Fraser-Vorstman Chris Hershensohn
Eleanor Burton Marianne Haag Werner Fraser-Vorstman Pieter Koelewyn
Tineke Coetzee Fernanda Jones Lammie Marx Barry Meijer
Annette Dreyer Dudu Nxele Edwin Mitas Estimé Mukandila
Thia du Plooy Vreda Pieterse Sphesihle Mthana Franck Muteba
Gretha-Marié Du Preez Adry Stolk Heinrich Schutte Ferdie Preller
Merilyn Golding Elsa Van der Watt Jacques Steenekamp Johan van de Wetering
Rosemary Gray Petro van Niekerk Corné Theron
Ronelle Grobler Dirk Theron
Petro Heyns-Nel Phillip Venter
Val Nolte
Riana Nöthling
Caren Potgieter
Malene Schulze
Chantelle Van der Merwe
Barbara Venter
Renate Weichelt
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