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Te Deum in D major 'Dettingen', HWV283
begun on 17 July 1743, the day of thanksgiving for the George II's victory at the Battle of Dettingen (27 June); first performed at the Chapel Royal on Sunday 27 November
author of text
Book of Common Prayer

'Handel: Dettingen Te Deum' (CDA67678)
Handel: Dettingen Te Deum
Buy by post £10.50 CDA67678 
Movement 01: We praise thee, O God
Movement 02: All the earth doth worship thee
Movement 03: To thee all angels cry aloud
Movement 04: To thee Cherubin and Seraphin continually do cry
Movement 05: The glorious company of the Apostles praise thee
Movement 06: Thou art the King of Glory
Movement 07: When thou tookest upon thee to deliver man
Movement 08: When thou hadst overcome the sharpness of death
Movement 09: Thou sittest at the right hand of God
Movement 10: We believe that thou shalt come to be our judge
Movement 11: Sinfonia
Movement 12: We therefore pray thee, help thy servants
Movement 13: Make them to be numbered with thy saints in glory everlasting
Movement 14: Day by day we magnify thee
Movement 15: Vouchsafe, O Lord, to keep us this day without sin
Movement 16: O Lord, in thee have I trusted

Te Deum in D major 'Dettingen', HWV283
In the summer of 1743 news reached London that on 27 June George II had led an army to victory against the French at the Battle of Dettingen. An early conflict in the War of Austrian Succession, this was the last occasion on which a British monarch personally led an army and fought in battle. A thanksgiving prayer was issued to be read in all churches on Sunday 17 July 1743, and that same day Handel seized the initiative by commencing work on a large-scale Te Deum. Judging from its extended form, the spacious style of choral writing and opulent scoring (including three trumpets and drums), it seems the composer expected that a large-scale thanksgiving service would be held in St Paul’s Cathedral with his musical setting of the Te Deum at the heart of the occasion, as had been done in 1713 after the Peace of Utrecht.

If so, Handel miscalculated. Britain was not yet officially at war with France, and George II’s army was a makeshift force known as the ‘Pragmatic Army’, which combined British, Hanoverian and Hessian troops. Moreover, George had reputedly fought with a Hanoverian sash, not in British uniform. Most fundamentally, the battle at Dettingen was a peripheral skirmish, not one leading to an advantageous or desired peace treaty after a difficult prolonged war (that was not to come until October 1748, with the arguably unsatisfying Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle). Thus the Elector of Hanover’s victory was of little long-term value to Britain, notwithstanding the fact it had inflated the royal ego: George II had long yearned to be a military hero, and at last his wish had been fulfilled. But the scale and manner of the victory were unlikely to cause the British government to organize a public thanksgiving in the emblematic national cathedral, not least because it would have provoked outrage from opposition politicians eager to point out how Britain’s interests were often being relegated to those of the royal family’s German province.

The last page of Handel’s autograph manuscript, on which he would have signed and dated the work upon its completion, is now lost, but on 28 July 1743 his assistant John Christopher Smith wrote to the Earl of Shaftesbury: ‘[Handel] is now upon a new Grand Te Deum and Jubilate, to be performed at the King’s return from Germany (but He keeps this a great secret and I would not speak of it to any Body but to your Lordship) and by the Paper he had from me I can guess that it must be almost finished. This I think perfectly well Judg’d to appeace and oblige the Court and Town with such a grand Composition and Performance.’

In the event, Handel did not compose a companion ‘Jubilate’, but two days later he proceeded to compose the anthem ‘The King shall Rejoice’ (HWV265, a different work to the coronation anthem with the same title). The anthem was completed on 3 August, but any remaining notion that a public ceremony might be held in St Paul’s dwindled away as it became clear that George II was not anxious to return to his British throne whilst residing for the rest of summer at Hanover.

London newspapers reported that the King would not return to England until the middle of November, which further delayed the official premiere of Handel’s new composition. George II finally left Hanover on 9 November, on which date Handel rehearsed the new Te Deum at the Banqueting House Chapel in Whitehall. Mrs Delany, Handel’s loyal friend and supporter, attended the rehearsal and enthusiastically reported to her sister: ‘It is excessively fine, I was all rapture … everybody says it is the finest of his compositions; I am not well enough acquainted with it to pronounce that of it, but it is heavenly.’ However, Jemima, Marchioness Grey, found the music ‘vastly loud & I thought not agreable’.

Six days later the King eventually arrived at St James’s Palace. Now with the prospect of an actual performance on an appropriate occasion, Handel organized a full rehearsal at the Banqueting House on 18 November, and probably expected that his music would be performed on the first Sunday after the King’s return to London. However, there was yet another postponement because Sunday 20 November was the anniversary of Queen Caroline’s death. The performance for the King eventually took place at the Chapel Royal morning service on Sunday 27 November, five months to the day since the Battle of Dettingen. It must have been an odd experience for all participants: the modest Chapel Royal at St James’s was a tiny venue in comparison to the wide open spaces at St Paul’s, thus presumably making the large-scale music loud enough to shake the walls, and the Te Deum and anthem were in an utterly different style to the more intimate and compact anthems usually performed there. Instead of a short verse anthem with a small band of instruments, a large group of musicians proceeded to play grand ceremonial music for nearly an hour. Also, it is difficult to imagine that there was sufficient room in it for both the required performers and a congregation, although the next day’s Daily Advertiser confirmed that there was a congregation, and that it also ‘heard a Sermon preach’d by the Rev. Dr. Thomas’.

The vocal parts were performed by the singers of the Chapel Royal, and accompaniment was provided by His Majesty’s Band of Musicians, and several ‘extraordinary’ performers (i.e. external musicians hired in for the occasion). The soloists included the basses John Abbot and Bernard Gates, both of whom were named in Handel’s autograph. The solos were clearly written to cater for their particular voices: the splendid trumpet aria ‘Thou art the King of Glory’ was presumably tailor-made for Gates, whereas Abbot’s solos ‘When thou tookest upon thee’ and ‘Vouchsafe, O Lord’ suggest that he possessed a softer and more lyrical voice. The countertenor soloist was probably Anselm Bayly, but it seems that he was not fond of the piece. In his Practical Treatise on Singing and Playing, published a quarter of a century later, he criticized the opening movement as ‘too complex and noisy, once voice and instrument pursuing another as fast as they can … first down hill then climbing up the same back way; till at length arrived at the top again, with much ado and out of breath, all bawl out again’.

A modern listener might disagree that such energetic musical excitement is unattractive. The stark militaristic opening gambit is like a battle drum, which hops between just two notes and swaggers with self-assurance; the antiphonal skirmish between the woodwind and brass with strings conveys a wonderful sense of momentum. For this, and also some other passages in the score, Handel was influenced by a Latin setting of the Te Deum by Francesco Antonio Urio. He might have acquired a manuscript copy of Urio’s music during his early years in Rome from Cardinal Pietro Ottoboni, although it is odd that Handel—a compulsive borrower of musical material—did not use any ideas from Urio’s score until 1738 (in Saul and Israel in Egypt). He also recalled music from one of his own recent works, with the trumpet fanfare following ‘We believe that thou shalt come to be our judge’ clearly borrowed from ‘The trumpet shall sound’ (Messiah had received its controversial London premiere only eight months previously).

Some of the magnificent boldness in Handel’s Dettingen Te Deum might seem thrillingly bellicose (for example the excitable acceleration in energy from the trumpets and drums in the last few bars of ‘To thee Cherubin and Seraphin continually do cry’), but some highly cultivated writing shows his range of delicacy, expressive versatility and imagination. The triple-time alto solo ‘All the earth doth worship thee’ has gracefulness in the springy interplay between first and second violins in its introduction (and is reminiscent of a similar trick used for ‘The land brought forth frogs’ in Israel in Egypt). The heart of the work is the tender ‘Thou sittest at the right hand of God’, a sensuous Andante in B flat in which a mellifluous vocal theme is shared in turns between the altos, tenors and basses, and then all three sections of the choir combine in rapturous expanding harmonies. Most surprising of all is the final movement. Instead of the belligerent militarism encountered in the dramatic opening, ‘O Lord, in thee have I trusted’ is a triple-time Andante with a graceful Purcellian melody that suggests a mood of gratitude and warmth. Handel’s last setting of the Te Deum contains plenty of ceremonial choruses in D major and brilliant trumpets, but no two movements are exactly alike; this music is a roller-coaster that plunges the listener through meticulously crafted contrasts, and it bears the hallmark of the composer’s characteristic versatility.

from notes by David Vickers © 2008

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