The Knights are a young Brooklyn based orchestral collective that has recently combined a performance of Bach Brandenburg No. 3 with Paul Simon's "American Tune". More information below with a short description written by The Knights co-founder Colin Jacobsen and of course a link to the video filmed at Caramoor.
View the video HERE
Quote by Colin Jacobsen -
In the "age's most uncertain hour", the words of Paul Simon and the music of Bach come together to bring us a measure of comfort and hope. Bach's music, long celebrated for its balance of head, heart and spirit gives a sense that joy, suffering, life and death all have their place in the universe. It is these themes that may have drawn Paul Simon to borrow from Bach's setting of a Lutheran hymn, O Sacred Head, Now Wounded, for his meditation on the American experience. Simon's American Tune was written in 1973, in a deeply divided nation, in the midst of the tail end of the Vietnam War and the Nixon impeachment proceedings.
In Bach's Brandenburg Concerto No. 3, the outer movements, full of the joy of dance, of interlocking contrapuntal motifs played by a consort of strings that pile on to create the effect of one giant hyper-violin, are juxtaposed with two simple, questioning chords. These are usually taken to imply some sort of improvised cadenza, and people's interpretation of what that can be ranges from simple ornamentation of the chords to whole movements, sometimes substituting other pieces by Bach for this abbreviated movement. For The Knights' version of Bach's Brandenburg No. 3, I have arranged Paul Simon's American Tune for Knights violinist (and a singer/songwriter herself) Christina Courtin as the second movement. There are few who are so multi-talented and courageous as Courtin; in this performance, you'll see her holding down one of the virtuoso violin parts, and then calmly stepping forth to the front of the group and singing Simon's song before retreating back into the circle for the joyous conclusion of Bach's concerto. In the arrangement, I start with Bach's chords and slowly transition to the Simon song before returning to the Brandenburg.
Encoded in the song itself is a typical American story of inspiration, assimilation and transformation. Starting off its life as a medieval Latin hymn Salve mundi salutare (attributed to the poet Arnulf of Leuven who died in 1250), the words were translated into German in the 17th century by the Lutheran hymnist Paul Gerhardt to become the hymn "O Haupt voll Blut und Wunden." The melody was written by Hans Leo Hassler around 1600 for a secular love song, which was then used as the basis for Johann Cruger's setting of Gerhardt's text. Bach clearly fell in love with the melody, for he used it in a number of settings including his St. Matthew's Passion, the Christmas Oratorio and other cantatas. Simon sensed the power of the melody to console; its sense of resignation mixed with hope, and his lyrics reflect those themes.