Magazine article Musical Times

Handel and the English Chapel Royal/The Italian Solo Concerto, 1700-1760: Rhetorical Strategies and Style History

Magazine article Musical Times

Handel and the English Chapel Royal/The Italian Solo Concerto, 1700-1760: Rhetorical Strategies and Style History

Article excerpt

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. …

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