Listening to Jonathan Battishill’s anthem O Lord, look down from heaven
, one could easily be forgiven for mistaking it as an anthem from the Elizabethan period. Battishill was, in fact, born in London in 1738, where he lived, it seems, for all of his life. He died in 1801. He was a chorister at St Paul’s Cathedral, and was a student of the organ; his ability to improvise and his general facility at the keyboard impressed Boyce, who asked him to deputize at the Chapel Royal. Battishill had a fine tenor voice and appeared regularly as a soloist in London and was appointed conductor at Covent Garden in the mid 1750s. In 1764 he was appointed organist at the joint parish of St Clement Eastcheap and St Martin, Ongar, before moving to Christ Church, Newgate, in 1767. Battishill had an over-zealous attraction to alcohol which came to the fore after his wife eloped with an actor to Dublin. This almost certainly resulted in him not becoming organist of St Paul’s Cathedral in 1796. He maintained a close affection for St Paul’s, and, on his own wishes, was buried there near William Boyce.
It seems probable that Battishill wrote O Lord, look down from heaven with the vast space of St Paul’s in mind, something particularly evident at the words ‘thy mercies towards me, are they restrained?’ As Dearnley has observed, ‘a composer for the theatre would naturally think of his audience’. Battishill seems to have been quite adept at writing in the ‘old style’, particularly when using many vocal parts. Here the harmonic suspensions in the nine-part concluding section are handled quite superbly.
from notes by William McVicker © 1991