Magazine article Musical Times


Magazine article Musical Times


Article excerpt

A new Handel borrowing?

In 1996 Peter Holman and the Parley of Instruments released a CD of English trumpet music entitled 'Henry Purcell and his followers' (Hyperion CDA66817). One of the pieces on this CD is William Croft's Overture in D major.

In his detailed booklet notes Holman suggests that Handel may have known this piece, 'for the opening is oddly similar' to the beginning of the Allegro section in the overture to the Music for the Royal Fireworks (HWV 351). Indeed, a short look at the scores reveals a striking resemblance: while the similarity of the opening theme in the trumpets could be explained by the fact that it is simply a fanfare-like motive, one must also acknowledge that Handel follows the structure of Croft's opening section almost exactly. The theme is presented in the trumpets and 'answered' in the other instruments, whose music is characterised by dotted rhythms. After a repeat of this, the whole procedure is heard in the dominant, again twice (exx.i and 2).

The similarity is too striking to be dismissed as coincidence. Indeed, a deliberate borrowing seems even more likely after looking at the history of Croft's piece in more detail. Croft wrote it as the overture to his ode With Noise of Cannon, which was performed on 10 July 1713 in the Sheldonian Theatre in Oxford as part of his DMus degree exercise; this and the other ode that he wrote and performed for this occasion were afterwards published in score under the title Musicus Apparatus Academicus. (For a full discussion about the date of the first performance and the date of the publication see Matthias Range: 'Neue Überlegungen zu Händeis frühen Jahren in England: William Croft', in Göttinger Händelbeiträge 10 (2004), ???33-48, here pp.136-37.) Furthermore, there is a harpsichord arrangement of the overture (probably not made by Croft himself) in Cambridge Fitz.52.B.7, pp.118- 23. Although there are no reports in contemporary sources, it is almost certain that Handel would have known Croft's odes - after all, they were colleagues at the Chapel Royal. While Handel was busy preparing his Utrecht Te Deum and Jubilate with the Chapel Royal, Croft would have rehearsed his odes: the thanksgiving service for the Peace of Utrecht in St Paul's Cathedral took place on 7 July, and only a few days later Croft and at least some of the singers from the Chapel Royal and other court musicians performed his odes in Oxford.

One might wonder why Handel would have looked back to this piece, which was over 40 years old. The answer is perhaps that Croft's With Noise of Cannon was in fact an extension of the peace celebrations to Oxford: the text of the ode, written by Joseph Trapp, celebrates the triumph of war, but above all peace and 'Britains Glorious Queen' ['Mighty Anna']. Handel wrote his Music for the Royal Fireworks for a very similar occasion: it was composed and performed in 1749 for the public celebrations of the signing of the Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle, which marked the end of the War of the Austrian Succession. As a matter of fact, up to that time Handel had provided exclusively sacred music for the celebration of such events: as seen above, he had composed and performed a Te Deum and Jubilate for the Peace of Utrecht; furthermore, he had provided his Dettingen Te Deum and anthem for a thanksgiving service in 1743. The fact that in 1749 he was asked for the first time to contribute a 'secular' piece of music may have caused Handel to look for examples: not because he did not know how to do this, but simply because he looked for inspiration. Croft's ode, written for a similar occasion - a peace celebration in a secular context - would then have been an obvious choice.

Handel's borrowing from Croft's ode shows that he was always willing to refer to the long musical tradition of his chosen home country, even in his later years, when he was already well-established and an institution himself.

Matthias Range

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