The Glorious Revolution: Music from the English and French Courts of James II
Beati omnes qui timent Dominus Henry Purcell (1659–1695)
I was glad Purcell
Behold, O God our defender John Blow (1649–1708)
Let thy hand be strengthened Blow
O Lord, grant the King a long life William Child (1606–1697)
Sonata X Gottfried Finger (ca. 1660–1730)
Nunc dimittis Innocenzo Fede (1661?–1732)
Bellezze voi siete – Charles Blandy
Amor fiori – Shari Alise Wilson
Mio contento – Shannon Canavin and Charles Blandy
Vieni o caro – Charles Blandy
Ardo, sospiro – Shannon Canavin
La mia vita – Shari Alise Wilson and Charles Blandy
Septimnius and Acme Blow
Rejoice in the Lord alway Purcell
Shannon Canavin & Shari Alise Wilson, sopranos
Gerrod Pagenkopf, countertenor
Charles Blandy, tenor
Sumner Thompson, bass-baritone
Marika Holmqvist & Katharina Radlberger, violins
Emily Rideout, viola
Velleda Miragias, cello
Andrus Madsen, harpsichord
Tuesday, March 5, 2013 at 7:30pm
First Lutheran Church of Boston, 299 Berkeley Street, Boston
Notes on the Program
King James II, whose reign lasted just under four years, was arguably one of the most maligned and unfortunate monarchs in British history. His harshest critics have portrayed him as a tyrant, but his supporters have often claimed he was misunderstood. Nevertheless, the so-called “Glorious Revolution” of the winter of 1688 which forced James and his court to flee the country, enthroning the Protestant Stadtholder William of Orange and his wife Mary (James's eldest surviving daughter) as the joint sovereigns William III and Mary II, is held by most historians to be the defining moment in the history of British democracy, culminating in a Bill of Rights which limited the powers of the crown and redefined the powers of parliament.
From a cultural perspective, the year 1688 also marks a dividing line between the period of increasingly influential court Catholicism under the first four Stuart monarchs (James I, Charles I, Charles II, and James II—all married to Catholic Queens), and the reigns of the Protestant monarchs William, Mary, and Anne, who sought to stamp out all Catholic influences. James II, as Duke of York, had converted to Catholicism during the early 1670s, and in 1673 took the Catholic Mary of Modena as his second wife. Although James was Britain's last Catholic monarch, he swore to uphold and protect the rights of the Church of England, but as king he was determined to practice his faith in public, with all of the religious appurtenances appropriate to his status. Liturgical changes made to the standard Anglican rite for James's coronation in April 1685, allowing for his and his wife's Catholicism, were, for many observers, a sign of greater changes to come.
During the early months of his reign James attended Mass and Vespers at the Catholic chapel next to St James's Palace (formerly assigned to the consorts Henrietta Maria and Catherine of Braganza), whilst making plans for a new Royal Catholic chapel to be built at Whitehall Palace as part of an extensive refurbishment. It was completed in December 1686, and, in Simon Thurley's words, was “the most lavish ecclesiastical building built by an English monarch since the Reformation.” For two years this chapel was the venue for the performance of Catholic sacred music on a probable scale of opulence not seen since the reign of Mary I in the 1550s. For the diarist John Evelyn it was “a world of mysterious ceremony,” such that he “came away not believing [he] should ever have lived to see such things in the King of England's palace.” The Anglican Chapel Royal, despite being marginalised by the new Catholic chapel, continued to operate, but was of secondary importance under James.
This programme features examples of music from leading Anglican Chapel Royal composers working during the reign of James II, juxtaposed with recently rediscovered gems from archives containing music by composers associated with James's Catholic courts in England and France. Hints of the cultural richness of the Whitehall Catholic chapel demonstrate that although James's detractors (which include the actress Nell Gwyn, for whom he was “dismal Jimmy”) claimed he was dull and culturally-challenged, evidence suggests that his musical tastes were in line with modern continental developments. As might be expected from a Baroque Catholic king, music played a vital role in James's ceremonial, recreational and religious life.
We begin with Beati omnes qui timent Dominum (Psalm 127/128) by Henry Purcell, one of three Latin vocal works (the others being Jehovah quam multi sunt hostes and the incomplete Domine, non est exaltatum) which sit awkwardly amongst his many English anthems. It is unlikely that such items would have been tolerated in the Anglican Chapel Royal during a time of intense anti-Catholicism, so other venues need to be considered. On the basis of paper and handwriting studies, Beati omnes may date from around 1680, so it is possible that the Catholic chapel of Catherine of Braganza (based both at Somerset House and St James's in the early 1680s) may have been a candidate, though it could also have been composed for Mary of Modena, who used the St James's Catholic chapel from 1685-88. Interestingly, around 1681 Purcell married Frances Peters, daughter of the Catholic recusant John Baptist Peters. For a wedding which may have been an ecumenical compromise, the possible inclusion of a motet containing the text “thy wife shall be as the fruitful vine” should not be ruled out. Beati omnes demonstrates Purcell's effortless absorption of an Italianate liturgical style which was then anathema within the Anglican liturgy, and it has been argued that with his Latin works Purcell may have sought to emulate John Blow's extraordinary Latin motets, the origins of which are equally obscure. Perhaps Purcell contemplated employment in a Catholic chapel? His marriage to a Catholic girl must surely have been a reason why, exceptionally, he was compelled to take the Anglican sacrament in front of four witnesses in February 1683, despite penal laws against Catholics having been recently relaxed!
Purcell's prowess as an English Anthem composer comes fully to prominence with I was glad. With a text drawn from Psalm 122, it was composed specifically for the coronation of James II and sung (as Anthem I) immediately prior to the King and Queen entering Westminster Abbey. The rousing dotted rhythms of the opening strain set the mood for a day of rejoicing, but it is followed by a tender, more reflective passage at “O pray for the peace of Jerusalem.” The final contrapuntal “Glory be to the father etc.” is worthy of a composer at the height of his powers, under whose leadership the combined choirs of Westminster Abbey and Chapel Royal had evidently reached a very high standard.
One of the most comprehensive accounts of an English coronation, Francis Sandford's The History of the Coronation of the Most High Most Mighty and Most Excellent Monarch James II (London, 1687), provides a wealth of historical detail. From Sandford we know that when the royal cavalcade proceeded from Westminster Hall a choir sang the short anthem O Lord, Grant the King a Long life (Psalm 61) by William Child, probably composed for the Coronation of Charles II in 1661. A straightforward homophonic (block chord) setting, its simplicity probably reflects the sad state of the Chapel Royal choir immediately after the Civil War and Interregnum, but it was also ideal, in 1685, for outdoor performance in procession. A native of Bristol, Child had a long and illustrious career in the Chapel Royal, and was an influential figure in the lives of Purcell and Blow, who grew up studying and singing his works.
Watkins Shaw described John Blow as “the doyen of the school of English musicians of which Henry Purcell was the most brilliant.” Bruce Wood also comments that Blow was undoubtedly the most important of Purcell's contemporaries, and other scholars argue that he was even Purcell's equal. Blow's lively, dance-like anthem Let thy hand be strengthened (Psalm 89) was sung as Anthem II, immediately following a loud trumpet and drum fanfare in response to the acclamation “God Save King James!” After the king's Anointing came Anthem V, Blow's Behold, O God our Defender, (Psalm 84). A revised version was composed for the Coronation of William III in 1689 (performed here) which retained the opening line, ending with “the face of thine anointed,” but added a text declaiming the adversaries of a “thundering' God being 'broken to pieces” probably a reference to the glorious triumph of William III over his adversary James.
The Whitehall Catholic chapel of James II employed a diverse and cosmopolitan group of composers from far-flung European lands. Whilst some of the instrumentalists, notably string players, were native English musicians, the vast majority came from Italy, with at least one Frenchman and the Moravian-born Gottfried Finger. Finger's whereabouts between 1682 and 1686 are unknown, but having arrived in London in 1686 (either by appointment or accident) he was quickly absorbed into the personnel of Catholic chapel, probably from Christmas 1686. He is the only composer from the chapel who is known to have published examples of its repertory. Sonata X comes from his Sonatae XII pro Diversis Instrumentis, Opus 1 (London, 1688), dedicated to James II, comprising sonatas for a variety of stringed instrumental combinations, all, as the composer claimed, “haec musica Capellae Regiae” and ostensibly in the Italian style. As to function, these sonatas may have acted as liturgical substitutes (such as for the gradual or offertory) or could have been processional or incidental items performed separately from the formal rite. The crisp, energetic rhythms and echo effects in Sonata X certainly seem to suggest it may have been composed to accompany ceremonial movement.
The maestro di cappella and most important member of the Whitehall Catholic Chapel establishment was Innocenzo (or Innocentio) Fede. Born into a family of talented musicians, which included his father Antonio Maria (a singer in the Roman churches of San Luigi dei Francesi and Santa Maria Maggiore), and his brothers Giuseppe and Francesco Maria, both prominent and influential castratos in Rome. Innocenzo was probably born in Pistoia, but had similarly been drawn to Rome to further his career, eventually becoming maestro at San Giacomo degli Spagnuoli in 1684. In March 1686 financial problems caused the San Giacomo musical establishment to be disbanded, leaving Innocenzo unemployed from the following June. By Christmas of the same year he was in London directing the music in James II's Catholic chapel. Specific diplomatic negotiations (thus far untraced) must have played a part in Fede's appointment, and is it notable that San Giacomo stands less than 100 yards from the Palazza Pamphilij, the residence of the Catholic Embassy of Roger Palmer Earl of Castlemaine from Easter 1686. Palmer was surely aware of the retrenchment of the San Giacomo musicians, whose maestro came from an important Roman musical family, so he must have played some part in Fede's recruitment for service in London.
Only two sacred vocal works by Fede, a Vespers Psalm Laudate pueri Dominum and a Compline canticle, Nunc Dimittis, survive complete, the former having been known since the 1980s, the latter having been recently identified by the present writer in the library of the Royal College of Music. Both are laid out as polychoral works, in line with contemporary techniques used in many Roman churches. Although described by the old catalogue as having been of eighteenth-century provenance, the parts for the Nunc dimittis are copied onto the same late seventeenth-century paper as the Laudate (known as “Dutch Royall” and commonly used in England from around 1680–90) in an identical hand, possibly that of the composer. The two works are clearly related and were part of a much larger repertory, now lost. Although the Nunc is a double-choir work, a tiny overlap in the Amen can be adapted to enable successful performance by four singers. With its smooth, relatively uncomplicated part-writing in a lilting triple-time meter, it is an evocative relic of the liturgy of the Whitehall Catholic chapel, taking place in the heart of Protestant London.
By early 1689 James II and his court had settled at the large palace of Saint-Germain-en-laye, given to them by Louis XIV. Although funds at the exiled Stuart court were considerably less abundant than in England, evidence demonstrates that music continued to play a vital role in its daily life. Innocenzo Fede continued to serve James II, though confirmation of his official appointment as head of the household musical establishment seems not to have taken place until 1699, perhaps because James had been preoccupied with attempts to regain the throne until then.
Thus far, no sacred music is extant from the Saint-Germain Catholic chapel. However, at least three manuscript sources of secular instrumental and vocal music have survived, two of which are in the Bibliotheque Nationale de France and the Music Library of the University of California at Berkeley respectively. Both sources contain numerous small-scale vocal items in Italian, occasionally accompanied by obbligato instruments, composed by leading contemporary musicians predominantly from the Roman school (such as Bernardo Pasquini and Alessandro Scarlatti) and Italian emigrés such as Pietro Antonio Fioco, resident in Brussels from 1682–1714. The Paris manuscript was probably compiled between 1705 and 1718, whereas the Berkeley one dates from around 1699. Most of the items in these sources seem to have been copied from printed and manuscript sources available to musicians working at Saint-Germain. Scattered amongst them are almost all of the known secular vocal works attributed to Innocenzo Fede, none of which has yet been found in contemporary printed sources.
The commonest themes in Fede's surviving secular vocal works are pastoral, with texts mostly taken from popular mythological subjects suitable for light evening entertainment. Fede conjures up a variety of emotional contexts, ranging from the bucolic triple-time Belezze voi siete and equally ebullient ostinato aria Vieni o caro (unique to an early eighteenth-century London source), to the passionate rising and falling motifs in Ardo, sospiro depicting burning, sighing and tormented flames of love ignited by the sight of a beautiful face—concepts which had proliferated in Italian love poems since the time of Petrarca and Dante. Amor fiori portrays an exchange between Venus and Cupid, wherein the former chastises the latter for worrying about being stung by a bee, when this is nothing when compared to the pain inflicted by Cupid's arrows upon the hearts of lovers. The theme of the duet Mio contento is also love, albeit in a general context, but the more extended duet La mia vita, in three sections, is a compelling dialogue between Thyrsis (a shepherd in Virgil's Seventh Eclogue) and the nymph Choris who dwelt in the Elysian fields.
As its title suggests, Blow's Septimnius and Acme deals essentially with the love between the mythological characters Acme, a nymph, and Septimnius, and is set to Abraham Cowley's translation of the Roman poet Catullus's original pastoral verse. Opening with a fine Symphony in three sections, followed by verses for two voices and three-part choruses, this delightful work first appeared in The Theatre of Music (London, 1685) and, though often referred to as a dialogue, is set for two sopranos, bass, two violins, and basso continuo. A revised version appeared in Amphion Anglicus I (London, 1700) with the bass voice removed and reduced violin material, but performers generally consider the earlier version (performed here) to be more appealing.
Probably one of Purcell's most famous anthems is Rejoice in the Lord alway (Philippians iv.4-7). Known as the “Bell Anthem” (for the descending bass line “peal” in the opening symphony), it was probably composed around 1683–4, at the same time being transcribed by Purcell's into R.M.20.h.8, one of the most important Purcell autograph sources, held by the British Library. The manuscript itself is a testament to changing times, as Purcell did not transcribe any anthems into this source between 1685 and early 1688, reflecting the marginalised status of the Chapel Royal under James II. In common with many late Restoration anthems, the verse material is taken by solo countertenor, tenor and bass, with a treble line added at tuttis. The anthem is propelled by an energetic minuet-like “step-tripla” which, according to Roger North, Charles II particularly liked because he could beat time to it.
I am delighted that my draft editions of rare works by Innocenzo Fede are being performed here by such a talented group as Exsultemus. As far as I am aware, this is probably the first modern professional performance of Mio contento, La mia vita, and Vieni o caro.
Program notes by Dr. Peter Leech © 2013