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Hyperion Records

CDH55359 - Blow, Boyce & Handel: Music for St Paul's
St Paul's Cathedral from the terrace of Old Somerset House (detail) by William James (1730-1780)
Victoria & Albert Museum, London
(Originally issued on CDA67009)

Recording details: October 1997
St Paul's Cathedral, London, United Kingdom
Produced by Martin Compton
Engineered by Antony Howell & Julian Millard
Release date: July 2010
DISCID: 7211631A
Total duration: 73 minutes 44 seconds

'A disc well worthy of its subject' (Gramophone)

'Warmly recommended' (BBC Music Magazine)

'A very fine demonstration of the English choral tradition at its best' (Classic CD)

'Invigorating and uplifting, this is a disc to raise the lowest and most jaded of spirits' (Fanfare, USA)

'Highly recommendable for an excellent programme beautifully performed' (Organists' Review)

Blow, Boyce & Handel: Music for St Paul's

This recording was made to mark the tercentenary of the formal opening in 1697 of St Paul's, rebuilt by Sir Christopher Wren after the Great Fire of London. It consists of four notable pieces written for the cathedral between 1697 and 1755.

John Blow wrote a new anthem for the opening ceremony. I was glad when they said unto me is a setting of the text which Bishop Compton took for his sermon during the service. Handel's Te Deum and Jubilate, written for the Peace of Utrecht, was first heard in the Cathedral on 5 March 1713. William Boyce's anthem Lord, thou hast been our refuge was written in 1755 for the Festival of the Sons of the Clergy, the charity that raised (and still raises) funds for needy clergymen and their families. Like all the pieces recorded here, it is music that demands to be heard in the spacious acoustic of the building for which it was written.

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Introduction  EnglishFrançaisDeutsch
On Sunday 2 September 1666 the Great Fire of London broke out in a bakery in Pudding Lane. By the next day it had spread to the great medieval cathedral of St Paul’s. The diarist John Evelyn reported that scaffolding erected for repairing the stonework helped the flames to get a hold, and by the next day the stones were flying ‘like granados, the Lead melting down the streetes in a streame’. After the fire the King, Charles II, ordered the erection of a temporary choir which came into use just over a year later. Rebuilding the cathedral took much longer. The first stone was laid in 1675, but Christopher Wren’s great structure was not finished until 1694 and decorating it and furnishing it took several more years. The new organ by Bernard Smith was begun in 1694 and was still being worked on in the spring of 1699. It was not until 1711 that the building was finally declared complete, and Wren was paid off. By then the cathedral had long been in use: in 1697 the impending Peace of Ryswick gave the authorities the opportunity to combine an official thanksgiving service, held on 2 December, with the formal opening of the building. This recording marks the tercentenary of the event, and consists of four notable pieces written for St Paul’s between 1697 and 1755.

In day-to-day choral services in St Paul’s the choir was accompanied just by the organ, as it is today. However, in the opening service and at subsequent state occasions an orchestra was present to accompany at least one of the anthems and the Te Deum and Jubilate. The model for these works was the type of ‘symphony anthem’ with strings that Pelham Humfrey, John Blow and others had developed in Charles II’s Chapel Royal. The genre temporarily came to an end when William III, a Calvinist and a musical philistine, came to the throne in 1688. But orchestral anthems continued to be performed at coronations, and in 1694 Henry Purcell wrote his famous D major Te Deum and Jubilate with strings and trumpets. The work seems to have been first performed during the 1694 St Cecilia celebrations, but Thomas Tudway wrote that this ‘Noble Composition, the first of its kind in England’ had actually been composed ‘principally against the opening of St Pauls’. It was repeated in the 1697 service, by which time Purcell was dead, so it fell to his colleague John Blow to write a new anthem for the occasion. I was glad when they said unto me is a setting of the text Bishop Compton took for his sermon during the service, and is scored for the same orchestra as the Purcell. It also follows the Purcell in consisting of a patchwork of short, contrasted sections, though there are also two self-contained solos, the expressive duet ‘One thing have I desired’ and the florid solo with two trumpets ‘The king shall rejoice’.

In the years after its opening, St Paul’s was regularly used for the celebrations of Marlborough’s military victories over the French. Purcell’s Te Deum and Jubilate continued to be performed, but in 1709 William Croft wrote a more up-to-date setting for a thanksgiving service after the Battle of Malplaquet (recorded on Helios CDH55252), with an orchestra of two oboes, two trumpets and strings, and a larger, more expansive structure, with a greater emphasis on fully developed separate movements. Handel seems to have taken Croft’s work as the immediate model for the Te Deum and Jubilate he wrote for the Peace of Utrecht in 1713, though it is likely that he also knew the Purcell Te Deum. The Utrecht Te Deum and Jubilate was first heard at a public rehearsal in the cathedral on 5 March 1713, when a newspaper reported that ‘many Persons of Quality of both Sexes’ attended, and that the music was ‘much commended by all that have heard the same, and are competent Judges therein’. The peace negotiations dragged on, and the thanksgiving eventually took place on 7 July.

The Utrecht Te Deum and Jubilate was a turning point in Handel’s career, as it was for English church music. It was the first major piece of religious music Handel wrote to English words, and it is the earliest choral work by him that remained in the repertory: it was performed in St Paul’s during the annual Festival of the Sons of the Clergy every other year (alternating with the Purcell Te Deum) until 1743, when it was replaced by Handel’s Dettingen Te Deum. Although it needs only one more instrument than the Croft setting—a solo flute—it is more spacious in its conception and more varied in its material. Indeed, it is particularly attractive because it is so varied: it ranges through F sharp minor, A minor, F major, D minor, C major and G minor as well as the expected ceremonial D major, and a surprising amount of it explores introspective areas of feeling. The Jubilate is a much shorter text than the Te Deum, so it allowed Handel to expand the size of his movements, and to demand more virtuosity from his vocal and instrumental soloists. He reworked the Jubilate in about 1717/18 for the much smaller forces available in the Duke of Chandos’s chapel at Cannons near Edgware in Middlesex.

William Boyce’s anthem Lord, thou hast been our refuge was written in 1755 for the Festival of the Sons of the Clergy, the charity that raised (and still raises) funds for needy clergymen and their families. With Boyce’s Blessed is he that considereth the poor, written for the same occasion, it seems to have been the last music specially composed for the Sons of the Clergy for about a century; it was performed every Festival between 1775 and (probably) 1843 together with Handel’s Esther overture, the Dettingen Te Deum, the Hallelujah Chorus from Messiah and Zadok the Priest. This probably explains why it was published in full score in 1802, at a time when Boyce’s choral music had almost entirely been supplanted by Handel. The text is appropriate for a charity, and drew from Boyce some fine, varied music, ranging from the brilliance of the opening and closing choruses to the pathos of ‘Yea, like as a father pitieth his own children’ and ‘Remember, O Lord, what is come upon us’, a remarkable trio for three boys doubled by oboes. Like all the pieces recorded here, this is music that demands to be heard in the spacious acoustic of the building for which it was written.

Peter Holman © 1998

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