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Hyperion Records

CDA66606 - Croft: William Croft at St Paul's

Recording details: May 1992
St Paul's Cathedral, London, United Kingdom
Produced by Mark Brown
Engineered by Antony Howell
Release date: January 1993
Total duration: 70 minutes 35 seconds

'This is choral singing of the highest quality' (Choir & Organ)

'The Pauline acoustics are captured to great effect. The notes are helpful and texts are printed. With little competition this will fill a Croft slot on the shelf very satisfactorily' (Fanfare, USA)

William Croft at St Paul's
Symphony  [1'00]
Introduction  EnglishFrançaisDeutsch
William Croft was born on 30 December 1678 at Nether Ettington in Warwickshire into a prosperous family distantly related to the Crofts of Croft Castle in Herefordshire. William probably owed his place in the Chapel Royal to a member of this branch of the family, Herbert Croft, Dean of the Chapel Royal (1668–70) and later Bishop of Hereford. He studied with John Blow, and became a Gentleman Extraordinary of the Chapel in 1704; he succeeded Jeremiah Clarke as one of the three Chapel Organists in 1707, and Blow as Master of the Children in 1708; he also succeeded his teacher as organist of Westminster Abbey. Thus, Croft reached the top of his profession by the age of thirty and spent the rest of his career in an uneventful round of Chapel and Abbey, broken only by occasional visits to provincial cathedrals. He died in Bath, where he had gone to take the waters, on 14 August 1727.

Although Croft was largely a church musician he did not confine himself to the composition of church music. In his youth he wrote a good deal of secular vocal and instrumental music, including four suites of incidental music written for plays performed at Drury Lane between 1700 and 1704. But, like other English composers, he was deprived of a career in the theatre by the establishment of an Italian opera company in London in 1705, which destroyed the market for English theatre music. Handel’s arrival ln London in 1710 only made the situation worse, especially when the German started writing for the Chapel Royal, though Croft, as the senior Chapel composer, continued to write major works for special occasions such as the Peace of Utrecht in 1713, the funeral of Queen Anne in 1714, and the coronation of George I in 1714.

William Croft was not formally associated with St Paul’s Cathedral, but some of his occasional pieces were written for it and a good deal of his music was performed there in his lifetime; some has remained in the repertory ever since. The great Te Deum and Jubilate in D major seems to have been written for a thanksgiving service held in the Chapel Royal on 17 February 1709 for Marlborough’s victory over the French at the Battle of Malplaquet. It was subsequently revised (the version recorded here), and was performed in later years in the Chapel and at St Paul’s; it was first heard in the Cathedral on 20 January 1715. Despite the continuing popularity of Purcell’s Te Deum and Jubilate of 1694, as well as competition from Handel’s ‘Utrecht’ Te Deum and Jubilate of 1713, the work was still being performed in the Chapel after Croft’s death, and was heard at some of the early Three Choirs Festivals.

The Te Deum and Jubilate is laid out on a large scale, with a variety of soloists (including a remarkable quartet for four alto/tenor voices), choir, and an orchestra of trumpets, oboes, strings and continuo. Croft could not help being influenced by Purcell’s famous orchestral setting of the same text, also written in D major with a pair of trumpets. He divides the text up into solos and choruses in almost the same way, and some of the choral sections are similar in outline. But his setting is much more extended, and his solos tend to be independent, fully rounded movements rather than short fragments in a patchwork design. Thus Croft avoids a weakness of the Purcell, its lack of continuity, and has room for a movement such as ‘Vouchsafe, O Lord’, a rich and impassioned free ground bass for alto, two violins and continuo running to more than a hundred bars of slow triple time, or ‘O Lord, save thy people’, a movement for alto, oboe and continuo in the style of an Italian opera aria. The first movement of the Jubilate is of particular interest since it seems to have influenced the movement ‘The day that gave great Anna birth’ in Handel’s 1714 Ode for Queen Anne’s birthday, Eternal source of light divine: they are both laid out for soloists, chorus and orchestra, and are constructed over energetic ground basses, using almost the same sequence of harmonies.

It is not known when Croft wrote his setting of The Burial Service, though it was published in 1724 in his handsome two-volume anthology of church music, Musica sacra. In the Prayer Book the text is divided into two parts, to be sung or said respectively ‘meeting the Corpse at the entrance of the Church-yard’ and ‘when they are come to the grave’. But Croft’s setting has a continuo part throughout, and is thus presumably intended to be performed indoors within earshot of the organ. It includes Purcell’s famous setting of Thou knowest, Lord, the secrets of our hearts, composed for Queen Mary’s funeral on 5 March 1695, and used for the composer’s own funeral later in the same year. Croft wrote in the preface that ‘the Reason why I did not compose that Verse a-new (so as to render the whole Service entirely of mine own Composition), is obvious to every Artist’, and added: ‘in the rest of that Service composed by me, I have endeavoured, as near as possible I could, to imitate that great Master.’ He succeeded to a remarkable degree. I am grateful to Dr Donald Burrowes and Lucy Roe for advising me about William Croft’s church music; Lucy Roe kindly allowed us to use her unpublished edition of the Jubilate.

The anthem Rejoice in the Lord, O ye righteous was also published in Musica sacra, but had been written four years earlier for a service in the Chapel Royal on 13 November 1720. It is a fine and remarkably sophisticated work in five distinct movements, opening with a grave prelude for oboe and strings, its cadences decorated by an expressive arching phrase with a false relation at the top; it becomes the germ of an important motif in the contrapuntal first chorus, and can be heard again in the fifth movement, the duet ‘For the word of the Lord is true’. The second movement, ‘Praise the Lord with harp’, is a fine ground-bass movement, scored for alto, oboe, two violins and continuo. Its busy machine-like patterns recall Purcell’s air ‘Wondrous machine’ from the 1692 St Cecilia Ode, Hail, bright Cecilia, with the evocation of the organ turned into an evocation of the harp, lute, and an unnamed ‘instrument of ten strings’.

Peter Holman © 1992

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