Baroque odes celebrate British queens

By February 24, 2011

The American Bach Soloists come to Davis on Monday with a program featuring music by the greatest composers in England during the late 1600s and the early 1700s — music that celebrates the life of the royal women of that era.

Henry Purcell (1659-1695) and George Frideric Handel (1685-1759) took great joy in composing music honoring their royal patrons — Queen Mary, Queen Anne and Queen Caroline — each of whom returned the favor by calling on the composers to write music for birthdays, funerals and other auspicious official occasions.

The program will open with two odes by Purcell, who wrote quite a bit of music for Queen Mary. “Now Does the Glorious Day Appear,” composed in 1689, and “Come, Ye Sons of Art” in 1694 — each containing several songs — were both written to celebrate the queen’s birthday.

“Both of these odes by Purcell are wonderful music, and examples of how genuinely appreciative he was of the patronage of his queen,” said Jeffrey Thomas, artistic director of the American Bach Soloists.

Thomas added that “ ‘Come, Ye Sons of Art’ contains some of the most famous tunes that Purcell wrote: ‘Sound the Trumpet’ and ‘Strike the Viol’ are songs that almost every voice student sings, even today.”

Purcell died young in 1695, while in his late 30s. He never met the German-born Handel, who settled in England in 1712. But Handel became a great admirer of Purcell’s music, and Handel’s 1714 setting of the Te Deum (honoring Queen Caroline) recalls some of Purcell’s odes, with its use of trumpet fanfares and chorus.

“A good part of Handel’s life in London focused around his relationship with his royal patrons,” Thomas said. “He was very close to (Queen) Caroline of Ansbach, who was the wife of King George II. Handel was her music teacher; he also taught music to her children, and she was very generous to him. You could say they ‘hung out’ together.

“She was very interested in the arts, and he wrote a number of pieces for her, including this Te Deum.

“Handel also wrote music for Queen Anne,” Thomas continued. “She immediately understood that Handel was talented, and granted him a stipend for life, which was later increased. So for her birthday ode, one year before she passed away, Handel wrote ‘Eternal Source of Light Divine.’ It contains the most sensuous sunrise music I’ve ever heard. It’s so beautiful, as the countertenor and one trumpet and strings hold these gorgeous chords.”

Soloists for the concert include soprano Elizabeth Weigle, countertenor Ian Howell — a former member of Chanticleer, who’s appeared in Davis with the American Bach Soloists and the University Chorus at UC Davis — countertenor Clifton Massey, tenor Aaron Sheehan, baritone Jesse Blumberg and bass Hugh Davies.

The American Bach Soloists perform at 8 p.m. Monday at Davis Community Church, 412 C St. Tickets are $18 to $50, available at the door, by calling (415) 621-7900 or online at http://www.americanbach.org.

— Reach Jeff Hudson at [email protected] or (530) 747-80bb. Comment on this story at www.davisenterprise.com

Check it out

What: The American Bach Soloists, conducted by Jeffrey Thomas

When: 8 p.m. Monday

Where: Davis Community Church, 412 C St.

Tickets: $18 to $50, available at the door, by calling (415) 621-7900 or online at http://www.americanbach.org

Jeff Hudson

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