Handel and the English Chapel Royal/The Italian solo concerto, 1700-1760: rhetorical strategies and style history
Beyond the baroque Handel and the English Chapel Royal Donald Burrows Oxford Studies in British Church Music Oxford University Press (Oxford, 2005); xxiv, 651pp; £85. ISBN O 19 816228 6.
The Italian solo concerto, 1700-1760: rhetorical strategies and style history Simon McVeigh & Jehoash Hirshberg The Boydell Press (Woodbridge, 2004); viii, 372pp; £55, $99. ISBN I 84383 092 2.
THESE TWO BOOKS covering important repertories of the 18th century stand for two very different ways of writing about music, the first a readable narrative history of one particular man in one particular and fascinating connection, the other a dense account with dozens of tables and examples concerning the shape and form of 800 movements by some 30 composers. The differences are clear in any two statements taken at random. From the first: One reason for the irregular manner of Handel's appointment may have been the provision in the Act of Settlement [...] "that no person born out of the kingdome [...] shall enjoy any office of trust".' From the second, 'A relatively large group of forty movements (22%) not only avoids the dominant as the first target key, but eschews the dominant as a stable key area altogether.' Both have their uses.
Handel and the English Chapel Royal is a large book covering in great detail a subject full of intriguing topics - royalty in often fraught times, court practices, dodgy dynasties, Household institutions, personnel, finances, protocol, national events, musical customs, and of course one of the most dazzling (and in many ways, puzzling) composers of the period. It is therefore bound to be of lasting value coming from so thorough and reliable an author as Burrows. This is a major contribution to the study of English church music in the broadest sense, even if neither the term 'English' nor 'church' has quite its regular implication. The many facts, associations, connections, names, events, musical details, all spilling out in their dozens on every page, do indeed make a fascinating story. Quite what is left to be said on the subject I don't know: future scholars will not be able to do much more than (maybe) correct a detail here or re-interpret a summary there. Burrows Chapel Royal will surely remain the canonical text.
Handel's 20 or so works include the different versions taken by some of them, plus the various forms of Handelian self-borrowings (to use the old term). The Coronation anthems for Westminster Abbey and celebration music for St Paul's are included, thus marking 'Chapel Royal' as an institution rather than merely a building, and there also is consideration of Handel's anthems and canticle for Cannons. The peculiar nature of the StuartHanoverian cappella and its arrangements with musicians is clearly drawn, not only offering some interesting comparisons (only partly explored) to current practice in Protestant Germany but conveying a sense of irony that we got one branch of James I's progeny while Prussia got another. (Ironic because of how much more hand-to-mouth the arts became and have remained in the former than in the latter.) Burrows's summary of the political and royal history behind this corpus of music is not the least interesting part of the book, and many a nonspecialist would find the coverage as absorbing as will music historians.
An Introduction includes remarks on Handel in his German and Italian contexts, if only in a preliminary way, and more useful are the following chapters, first on the Chapel Royal before the composer's return to London in 1712 and then on the influence of the verse anthem (as it had become under Croft's hands) such as can be discerned in his earliest work for the Chapel. Burrows's technique is to trace the known background to a work, then go through it in an informal analytical way, pointing out important characteristics, summarising the 'circumstances of performance' and describing the source (composer's MS). So for the Utrecht Te deum and Jubilate (1713) we learn what the celebrations were about, who attended and where, how the music relates to Purcell's and Croft's Te deums, what its shape is, what use was made of it later, how things would have been managed for the performance in St Paul's, and how the Ode for Queen Anne fits in. Such a procedure is then followed piece by piece, with a substantial 'Interlude' for the music written for Cannons (Duke of Chandos). The detail is thorough and fully documented, as only longsustained, alert and conscientiously pursued scholarly studies can make it.
Although the general tenor is less critical of Handel's constant regurgitation than it could usefully be, it is also less merely reverential than today's usual writing on JS Bach. Now and then it is deservedly enthusiastic, as when discussing Zadok and My heart is inditing. The book's account of the 1727 coronation produces a masterly vignette, summarising not only the music but the kings' activities, the day's politics, musical rivalries, the Hanoverians' interests in Germany, and so on. Interconnections between the Chapel's repertory and personnel with those of the oratorio theatres in the 17305 are also nicely traced, as is the background for the work required for Princess Anne's wedding and for the Other Royal Family Occasions' up to the last, the Thanksgiving for the Peace in April 1749. For the first time, the full significance of Handel's royal appointment in 1723 and the various duties attaching to it are outlined in convenient form and provided with a biographical and musical context. It becomes clear that this was neither quite a standard capellmeistership (as it might have been for the Elector of Hannover) nor a purely honorary title (as Bach's for the Elector of Saxony). No wonder Maurice Greene must have felt usurped, sourly turning into a 'wretched little crooked illnatured insignificant Writer Player and Musician', in the words of that paragon of earthly virtues, George III.
Two-hundred further pages, with tables and name-lists, are given to matters arising: detailed accounts of the London choirs and instrumentalists, descriptions of the buildings themselves (particularly in St James's Palace), lists of individual musicians and soloists, a table of services, extracts from the Lord Chamberlain's Records (contractual and financial arrangements), bibliography and notes on editions. So much of this depends on primary sources researched and brought together for the first time, none of which disguises how modest in various ways was the Chapel Royal. At times, the book has a feeling of dissertation about it, not least in sharing the traditional fondness English Handel scholars have for naming and listing singers. (By the way, it is not made clear why Handel so often wrote singers' names in his scores himself. Merely to identify to whom the part when copied was to be sent?) Though mercifully free of jargon, musical judgments are not always convincing, as e.g. on what the lute did (if anything at all) or on whether countertenors are falsettists. Despite several returns to the knotty problem of pitch, a clear picture does not quite emerge (e.g. how do we know a separate organo part was not transposed down?). A book this long inevitably results in more than a little repetition, and not all readers like authors to feel so obliged to reveal everything they know. Desirable too would have been a little less authorial T and a little more recognition of predecessors.
THE Italian Solo Concerto 1700-1760 is also the product of very thorough research, and in describing so many first movements it not only puts the genre on a firm footing but aims to reveal Italian ritornello form in all its variety and versatility. In running through their repertory, much of it catalogued and studied for the first time, the authors are at pains to illustrate not only the common compositional devices (motifs, themes, sequences, figurations, textures) but the freedom with which even minor composers interpreted the ritornello principle. They do this with authority, and one knows what the authors mean when they claim to having 'failed completely to find any concerto that encapsulated the supposed model" of the ritornello form that every student has learnt about, though I wonder how many musical genres or forms there are of which this is not also true. If it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, then, etc. etc, but after all, no two ducks are identical either.