Movement 1: Sonata: Largo – Allegro
Movement 2: O come, let us sing unto the Lord
Movement 3: O come, let us worship
Movement 4: Glory and worship are before him
Movement 5: Tell it out among the heathen that the Lord is King
Thomas Hobbs (tenor), Trinity College Choir Cambridge, Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, Stephen Layton (conductor)
Movement 6: O magnify the Lord
Movement 7: The Lord preserveth the souls of the saints
Movement 8: For look as high as the heaven is
Movement 9: There is sprung up a light for the righteous
The anthem draws its text from Psalms 95, 96, 97, 99 and 103 in their Prayer Book versions. It begins with the customary two-movement Sonata, in this case a slow movement featuring pairs of solo violins playing in thirds followed by a quicker three-voice fugue. The opening chorus begins with a figure in long notes reminiscent of a simple psalm tone. This is contrasted with syllabic statements of ‘let us heartily rejoice in the strength of our salvation’ in quaver motion by the four-voice chorus of soprano, two tenors and bass. The movement then continues with a fugal treatment of the text ‘Let us come before his presence with thanksgiving’, punctuated with exclamations of ‘glad’ from the text ‘and show ourselves glad in him with psalms’. The chorus ends with an early example of choral recitative, which later became a staple of Handel’s oratorio choruses.
The tenor solo ‘O come, let us worship’ is borrowed from an aria in Handel’s 1713 opera Silla, HWV10, complete with paired recorders and violins playing in thirds. It is assigned to ‘Mr Blackley’ in Handel’s autograph score. This was James Blackley, who was also assigned the first tenor part (and presumably the role of Acis) in Acis and Galatea. He was probably also the tenor soloist for Handel’s first eight Cannons Anthems.
The chorus ‘Glory and worship are before him’ almost cries out for trumpets, but had to wait forty years before Handel supplied them when he borrowed the music for the ‘Anthem on the Peace’ (How beautiful are the feet, HWV266) by way of the Chapel Royal Anthem I will magnify thee, O God, HWV250b. The lengthy chorus that follows, ‘Tell it out among the heathen that the Lord is King’, presents two thematic ideas in separate fugal expositions and then combines them. It also features the basses singing a series of repeated pitches to illustrate that God has ‘made the world so fast it cannot be moved’. This chorus, somewhat shortened, became part of the conclusion to the oratorio Belshazzar, HWV61, again via the Chapel Royal Anthem HWV250b.
This monumental chorus is followed by three arias. The first, ‘O magnify the Lord’ for soprano, features an accompaniment for two violins playing staccato notes; the bass instruments and the keyboard enter only when the voice is silent. The following aria, ‘The Lord preserveth the souls of the saints’, is designated by Handel to be sung by ‘Mr Rowe’—presumably Francis Rowe, for whom Handel seems to have written the role of Damon in Acis and Galatea and who later sang alto in the Chapel Royal. Although Handel writes for him in the tenor clef, his music lies consistently higher than that written for Blackley, making it more appropriate for a high countertenor with serviceable low notes. The final aria, ‘For look as high as the heaven is’, is the only one in the minor mode and was again written for Mr Blackley.
The closing chorus, ‘There is sprung up a light for the righteous’, provides a fitting conclusion to this largely celebratory anthem. Its subject and one of its counter-subjects are borrowed from a chorus in Handel’s Roman psalm Laudate pueri, HWV237. The principal counter-subject, which features repeated syllabic statements of the text ‘Rejoice in the Lord, ye righteous!’, is new and this material drives the expansion of the anthem chorus.
O come, let us sing unto the Lord is the only one of the Cannons Anthems that Handel is known to have heard performed again in his lifetime. Sometime in late summer or early autumn 1739 the composer visited his friend and patron James Harris in Salisbury where he was given a concert which included this work. Although the concert was given in Harris’s house, one suspects that the choruses were performed with multiple singers per part. Handel himself, when reusing material from the Cannons Anthems in larger works for the Chapel Royal or in oratorios, did not typically rewrite the vocal or instrumental parts, thus giving his tacit approval to performances of these works in their original anthem form by choirs and orchestras as well as by solo voices and small ensembles.
from notes by Graydon Beeks © 2013