June 2024

With cheerful notes

Handel – O praise the Lord with one consent
Wilbye – The Lady Oriana, Sweet honeysucking bees
Handel – Foundling Hospital Anthem

westminster school chapel

The German-born George Frideric Handel (1685–1759) became a British citizen in 1727.  He was one of the greatest vocal and instrumental composers of the baroque age and was a cosmopolitan and eclectic artist.  In the summer of 1717, he became resident composer to the Earl of Carnarvon (later the first Duke of Chandos), for whom he composed, amongst other works, eleven anthems.  Composed for the English equivalent of a small German court, they reflect both the urbane worldliness and the mixture of pomp and intimacy at Cannons, the Duke’s country seat. The text of O praise the Lord with one consent comes from the metrical New Version of the Psalms.  There is no independent overture.  The opening line of the first number is taken from the great hymn tune St Anne, whilst the second part of this movement is more fugal in character, with a lengthy, self-contained theme in one voice heard against countersubjects in imitation.  The St Anne hymn tune appears again in long note-values in the fifth movement, the choral ‘sing solemn hymns with praise’, whilst the final two choruses are a triumphal ‘exalt your maker’s fame’ and an affirmatory ‘Ye voices raise, ye cherubim and seraphin, to sing his praise, alleluia’.  The arias are brief and straightforward, with effective contrasts between them.

John Wilbye (1574-1638) is considered one of the greatest of English madrigalists. He spent much of his life employed as resident musician for a wealthy family of arts patrons in Suffolk; accordingly, most of his compositional output is madrigalian.  His style is characterized by delicate voice-writing, acute sensitivity to text and language, a seriousness of approach and a subtlety of musical ideas.  The Lady Oriana was his contribution to Morley’s madrigal collection The Triumphs of Oriana, an extravagant musical compliment to (it is supposed) Queen Elizabeth.  Sweet honey-sucking Bees and its second part, Yet sweet take heed display his skill in vocal orchestration: the full number of voices is not constant, with the composer writing for much of the time for ever-changing smaller groups within the ensemble.

The Foundling Hospital was a charitable institution founded in 1739 and was supported by many notable patrons from society and the arts.  Handel’s Foundling Hospital Anthem was written for the institution and first performed there as part of a benefit concert in 1749. There are two versions, an earlier one for choir only, which we are singing this evening, and a larger one with added solos.  It was compiled from material originating from other works by Handel: the first two movements are from the Funeral Music for Queen Caroline and the third a sombre chorus that had been edited out of the oratorio Susanna. The last movement is of course well known – maybe a theological connection between ‘the kingdom of this world’ and ‘the kingdom of our Lord’, or maybe just a rousing finale to encourage the benefactors?