HANDEL AND THE ROYALS CONCERTS
Ode for the Birthday of Queen Anne, “Eternal source of light divine,”
After an eight-month stay in London in 1710, Handel returned to the city in 1712 intending to stay longer—and according to his biographer Mainwaring, promised his employers in Hanover that he would “return within a reasonable time.” He quickly worked his way into the cultural fabric of London society, spending time at the homes of prominent arts patrons performing and composing a number of cantatas and operas, and in 1713, had his first opportunity to cross into the realm of English ceremonial and church music. Royal birthdays were a traditional occasion for court festivities, and Handel composed the ode “Eternal source of light divine” for Queen Anne’s birthday on February 6. Weeks later, the War of the Spanish Succession ended with the Treaty of Utrecht between Great Britain, France, and Spain. All military victories were commemorated with a State Service of Morning Prayer in St. Paul’s Cathedral, featuring Psalm 100 and the Te Deum as part of the liturgy, and Queen Anne asked Handel to compose settings for these large-scale choral works, which some contemporary reports suggest he may have already begun to write. Although an ill-timed attack of gout prevented her from coming to the service, the Jubilate and Utrecht Te Deum were extremely well-received, and Queen Anne consequently awarded Handel an annual pension of £200.
Featuring a text by Ambrose Philips, the Ode for the Birthday of Queen Anne offers considerable variety in its nine movements. The work opens with the remarkable “Eternal source of light divine,” in which gently virtuosic lines for alto and trumpet over sustained chords in the orchestra evoke the sunrise. Handel subsequently alternates music for solo voice with inventively varied settings of the refrain, “The day that gave great Anna birth.” As Handel so often did, he reused elements of the birthday ode in other compositions. Audience members may recognize the ground bass from the alto and bass duet “Let rolling streams,” used later in the Concerto a due cori No. 2 in F Major, which Music of the Baroque performed under Nicholas Kraemer’s baton last May.
Wedding Anthem for Prince Frederick and Princess Augusta, “Sing unto God,”
Unlike coronations or funerals, which were typically held in grand buildings like St. Paul’s Cathedral or Westminster Abbey and required large performing forces, royal weddings varied greatly according to the relative stature of the betrothed. When his former pupil Anne, the Princess Royal, married Prince William of Orange in 1734 in the French Chapel at St. James’s Palace, it was the first royal wedding celebrated in London in more than 50 years, and Handel responded to the occasion with a suitably grand composition. “This is the Day which the Lord hath made,” HWV 262, boasted scoring and choral writing that recalled the Coronation Anthems in scale (with more than 75 performers involved), and must have had a grand effect in the large chapel in which the wedding took place. Two years later, Frederick, Prince of Wales, married Augusta, Princess of Saxe-Gotha, in the smaller Chapel Royal, and Handel provided music that was suitably scaled down, with trumpets only in the opening and closing movements and relatively straightforward four-part chorus.
With a text compiled from Psalms 68, 106, and 128, the Wedding Anthem for Prince Frederick is a joyous combination of virtuosic solo writing and powerful choruses. Although the general mood remains the same throughout, Handel adds a surprising amount of dramatic contrast through different musical textures. The work opens with a jubilant dialogue for alto, chorus, and trumpet. This triumphant opening gives way to an intimate aria for solo soprano and strings over a walking bass, “Blessed are all they that fear the Lord,” which is balanced by a serious aria for bass and obbligato cello, “Thy wife shall be as the fruitful vine.” After the chorus reemerges in “Lo, thus shall the man be blessed,” a short recitative-like segment for tenor, “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel,” heralds the final virtuosic section for tenor, chorus, and trumpet, “And let all the people say Amen.”
Funeral Anthem for Queen Caroline, “The ways of Zion do Mourn,”
England lost a beloved monarch when Queen Caroline died, but Handel lost a longtime friend and intimate patron. The daughter of the Margrave of Brandenburg-Ansbach, Caroline was born in 1683 and grew up in the court of Sophie Charlotte and her mother, the electress Sophie, where she may have met Handel for the first time in 1698. She married Sophie’s grandson, the electoral prince Georg August (later George II) in 1705. Handel composed a set of Italian duets for her following his appointment to the post of Kapellmeister to the Elector in Hanover, and became music master to her daughters after her eventual arrival in London. After George II succeeded his father as king, Caroline enjoyed much greater popularity than her husband. She was widely regarded as an accomplished musician and intellectual, and her letters to her former tutor and friend Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz later instigated the Leibniz-Clarke correspondence, a famous debate touching on issues in theology, physics, and philosophy. After her death on November 20, 1737, Handel received a commission to compose her funeral anthem and a text compiled from the books of Lamentations and Job by Edward Willes, the sub-dean of Westminster Abbey. At the funeral, which took place on December 17, “…the great Bells of the Cathedral of St. Paul and of many Churches in London and Westminster were tolled. And the Tower Guns kept firing all the while, at a Minute’s Distance between each.” Handel’s funeral anthem received equally monumental treatment; as one contemporary wrote, it was performed by “near 80 vocal performers and 100 instrumental from His Majesty’s band, and from the Opera, etc.”
Although “The Ways of Zion do Mourn” was constructed from various biblical sources, it forms a cohesive narrative that describes the subjects’ sorrow, the queen’s virtues, and hope for the future. Handel responds to this narrative structure with equal complexity, incorporating a variety of emotions into his musical reading. Mourning and sorrow are the predominant feelings in the opening chorus, “The ways of Zion do mourn.” Handel’s gentle approach to the text is particularly noteworthy: while the words provide ample opportunity for vivid depiction, Handel carefully avoids melodrama by letting one or two phrases (e.g., “her people sigh”) inspire motives that subsequently pervade the entire section. A more reminiscent mood comes to the forefront with “When the ear heard her” and “She delivered the poor,” whose elegant melodies and upbeat tempos contrast strikingly with the powerful repeated interjections of “How are the mighty fall’n.” The chorus “Their bodies are buried in peace” simultaneously portrays the paradoxical states of eternal peace and life, while the people “shew forth their praise” in resolute counterpoint in the following “The people will tell of their wisdom.” Grief and adoration ultimately give way to faith in “The merciful goodness of the Lord,” in which the chorale-like musical texture takes the work to its close.
© Jennifer More Glagov, 2010