The monarch’s birthday was traditionally an occasion for court festivities and one of the main tasks of the Master of the Queen’s Musick was to compose a suitably joyful Ode. John Eccles held this post during the early years of the century, and the papers of the Lord Chamberlain’s office record payments to him for several such compositions. There is no record of the first performance of Handel’s Ode Eternal Source of Light Divine
but it was obviously intended for the Queen’s birthday on February 6, most probably in 1713. The author of the Ode, praising the Queen’s virtues as peacemaker, was Ambrose Philips who provided an inspired text (a relatively rare event for what were usually thoroughly obsequious poems) likely to bring out the best in Handel. In its nine movements the work contains much variety, from the gentle pastoral duet ‘Kind health descends’ to the splendidly rumbustious bass solo ‘Let envy then conceal her head’ and the lively alto and bass duet ‘Let rolling streams’. Handel later used this movement’s ground bass, characterised by leaping octaves, in his second Concerto ‘a due cori’. The chorus too has a surprising amount of variety in the repeated refrain ‘The day that gave great Anna birth’ and is also given the opportunity for an echo chorus during the final movement. But it was in the opening movement (one that owes much to the influence of Purcell) that Handel produced his most inspired writing: the famous alto Richard Elford and an obviously fine court trumpeter, supported by sustaining string chords, were provided with ravishing music of quite melting beauty.
from notes by Robert King © 1989