The church music of Handel as seen in the Chandos anthems
Davis, John A., Jr.
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George Frideric Handel, one of the greatest composers ever to live or work in England, was born a German. Most of his works which employ a text use English or Italian, neither his native tongue. In spite of an almost unparalleled genius for musical creativity, he often appropriated material by other composers and adapted it for his own uses. A long history of performances of a few works which have come to have religious associations has resulted in Handel's being thought of as a church composer. It is paradoxical that his reputation in this respect should rest on music not originally composed for the church, while works written for sacred services have been either ignored or forgotten. In view of the above, it seemed of interest to investigate this bone fide church music. The eleven Chandos Anthems represent the largest group of such music. In them is to be found almost every type and style of Handel's music, both orchestral and choral. Since they often draw upon earlier works, and are frequently used in later compositions, it may be readily seen that they present a rather comprehensive panorama of the composer's creative output. Handel wrote such a large amount of music, particularly in the field of opera and oratorio, that the church music has understandably been relegated to a minor place in most of the published works on the composer. This sparsity of data provided a furthur incentive for an investigation of this phase of Handel's music. A considerable amount of the investigation centered around the Duke of Chandos, Handel's employer for several years. James Brydges, Earl of Carnarvon and, ultimately, Duke of Chandos, was a remarkable man. He acquired a vast fortune while serving as paymaster-general in Marlborough's Wars, at the expense, it is to be feared, of the Queen's subjects. His wealth was increased further by speculations connected with the "South-Sea Bubble." This immense wealth enabled the Duke to indulge his passion for the arts. In 17i3 he had begun construction of a huge Italian style palace at Cannons. The increase in his personal fortunes permitted him to complete this magnificent establishment, and furnish it with every luxury, including many examples of fine paintings, frescoes, etc. The Duke maintained a private chapel at Camons. The chapel proper was not completed until 1720, and prior to its completion, services were held in St. Lawrence's, Whitchurch, which had been built by Lord Erydges in 1714. John Christopher Pepusch was in charge of the Duke's musical establishment, and contrary to the opinion held by many writers, he remained in that position during and after Handel's association with the Duke. Handel came to the ducal establishment as composer-in-residence, although he may also have served as a performer at various times. The Duke maintained a "Concert" of about thirty members. Included in this number were both singers and instrumentalists. A list of the personel exists in the ducal records, making possible a fairly accurate estimate of the resources available for performances or renditions of Handel's compositions. Since the list includes, for example, a violist, it is reasonable to assume that versions of the Chandos Anthems employing that instrument were not later revisions, but were written at Cannons, contrary to the opinion of some writers on the subject. There are eleven Chandos Anthems. Recent studies indicate that "O praise the Lord, ye angels of His," often considered as the twelfth anthem, actually belongs to a period, earlier or later than Handel's stay at Cannons, which occurred between 1717 and 1719. For that reason, it has not been considered in the present endeavor. The majority of the anthems employ three voice parts, soprano, tenor, and bass, although some include a part for alto, and, on oceasion, there are two tenor parts. A second version of the fifth anthem includes parts for solo quartet and ripieni alto, tenor, and bass. All of the anthems are based on Psalm texts. Handel was well acquainted with the scriptures, and probably selected the texts himself, as he did in other church anthems. These elaborately conceived works represent, as Bukofzer notes, the apex of Anglican church music. of the baroque. An understanding of the orchestral techniques employed is essential for an appreciation of the effect of the anthems. The accompaniments varied, from those with a solo violin or oboe and continuo, to fully orchestrated choruses, employing violins, violas, violoncello, counterbass, oboes, bassoons, clavier, and occasionally brasses. In general, Handel used either the continuo orchestration, (depending on strings as a vocal background, with solo oboe or violin used as a foil to individual voice lines) or a type of contrapuntal orchestration which reached its peak in the late baroque. In this latter type, used mainly in the chorus accompaniments, all voices uere considered of equal importance, and could be doubled or not, at the discretion of the composer. The continuo type orchestration, as might be expected, was generally used in conjunction with the solo arias or duets. In all of these anthems Handel followed the baroque principle of employing a basso continuo, or thorough-base accompaniment. The accompanying harmonies were undoubtedly realized on the organ, harpsichord, or a combination of the two, with the bass line being reinforced by a violon-cello or viola da gamba. Throughout the anthems, the instrumental accompaniment assists in giving dramatic impact, tonal support, and contrasts in texture, revealing Handel's superior skill at achieving contrasts in many ways, including reduction or expansion of orchestral forces at strategic spots in the music. The instruments were also used evocatively, as in the setting of "we are the people of His pasture and the sheep of His hand," occurring in the eighth anthem, where recorders are used to suggest a pastoral atmosphere. Both recitativo secco and recitativo accompagnato appear in the anthems, with Handel's ability in this respect matching that of Bach. Although Handel excelled in orchestration, the field of choral expression displays a mastery which is truly supreme. The Chandos Anthems with many exquisite, melodic airs, alternating with imposing choruses, fully reveal this aspect of the composers genius. An outstanding feature of his choral technique is the use of solo and chorus intermingled and in alternation. Another striking feature is the brilliant way in which Handel mixed polyphonic and chordal textures in a manner which affords marvelous contrast and effect. This resulted in a concerto style chorus, in which the choral lines approach the texture of the instruments concerto grosso. Handel's polyphony was written in a freer vein than that of Bach and it makes use of brief motives end short countersubjects, treated in double counterpoint, a form in which Handel loved to improvise. This freedom of texture, reflecting Handel's Italian experience, allowed him to readily transfer vocal fugues to the keyboard, with the reverse process also accomplished with equal facility. The fugue subjects were developed with such flexibility that they seemed tailored for whatever situation they were called upon to fit. The Handelian polyphony is remarkably clear and balanced, and this clarity, combined with massive homophonic effects, is responsible for much of the composer's secure reputation as a true giant of the baroque. Ample proof of this is to be found in these remarkable Candos Anthems. Written before the midpoint in the composer's life, and revealing aspects of both his youthful precocity and his mature genius.
Thesis (M.A.)--Boston University PLEASE NOTE: pages 85-97 of this file reflect gross misnumbering and a probable substantial edit by the author. The scanned document reflects the physical artifact.
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