HANDEL: Dettingen Te Deum / Te Deum in A Major (Alsfelder Vocal Ensemble/ Andrew Walton/ Chris Dixon/ Concerto Polacco/ Dorothee Mields/ Mark Wilde/ Ulrike Andersen/ Wolfgang Helbich) (Naxos: 8.554753)
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George Frideric Handel (1685-1759)
Te Deum in A major * Dettingen Te Deum
Georg Friedrich Händel, later more generally known under the English forms of name that he assumed in London, George Frideric Handel, was born in Halle in 1685, the son of a successful barber-surgeon and his much younger, second wife. His father opposed his sons early musical ambitions and after his fathers death Handel duly entered the University in Halle in 1702 as a student of law, as his father had insisted. He was able to seize the chance of employment as organist at the Calvinist Cathedral the following month, holding the position for a year, until his departure for Hamburg, to work there at the opera, at first as a violinist and then as harpsichordist and composer, contributing in the latter capacity to the Italian operatic repertoire of the house. At the invitation of the son of the Medici Grand Duke of Tuscany, he travelled, in 1706, to Italy, where he won considerable success during the next four years. Connections he had made in Venice, brought appointment in 1710 as Kapellmeister to the Elector of Hanover. From here he was granted immediate leave to fulfil a commission in London.
Handels first opera for London was Rinaldo, with which he won general acclaim, and after little over a year in Hanover again, he returned to England in the autumn of 1712. The following year he took up residence at Burlington House in Piccadilly as a guest of Lord Burlington. He had, at the same time, accepted a commission from Queen Anne for his first contributions to the English liturgy, settings of the Te Deum and Jubilate in celebration of the Peace of Utrecht. After a brief return to Germany in the summer of 1716, Handel returned to England, joining the establishment of James Brydges, Earl of Carnarvon and later Duke of Chandos, at Cannons, near Edgware. It was during his two years at Cannons that he wrote the so-called Chandos Anthems, making use in the first of these of an earlier anthem written for the Chapel Royal. Principally, over the following years, Handel established himself as a composer of Italian opera, for which there was a fashionable audience, gradually achieving a dominant position in the musical life of the English capital. He enjoyed the royal patronage of George I, Elector of Hanover, who had succeeded to the English throne in 1715, on the death of Queen Anne, and on the death of the former in 1727 was commissioned to provide anthems for the coronation of George II. In the following years he was again called upon to provide music for royal occasions. At the same time his involvement with Italian opera brought increasing commercial difficulties, particularly after the establishment of a rival opera company in 1733 under the patronage of Frederick, Prince of Wales, himself later a strong supporter of Handel.
While Handels work in Italian opera continued, with a final opera to be staged in 1741, he increasingly turned his attention to a new English form, that of the oratorio. This had certain very practical advantages, in language, lack of the need for expensive spectacle and the increasing employment of native singers. The content of oratorios appealed to English Protestant susceptibilities, providing a winning synthesis of religion and entertainment, and offering no offence to those who had found operatic conventions ridiculous in a city with strong pre-existent dramatic traditions. Handels first English oratorio, in 1732, was Esther, with a libretto based on Racine, followed, in 1733, by the biblical Deborah in March and in July Athalia. During the following years he continued to develop the form, chiefly on biblical subjects but with an occasional excursion into the mythological. These works, with their Italianate melodies, strong choral writing and demonstrable dramatic sense, ensured their composers continued popularity and dominance, particularly, after his death, with the wider development of choral singing in the nineteenth century. Handels most famous oratorio, Messiah, was first performed in 1742, his last, Jephtha, ten years later. While Messiah may be exceptional in its ambitious subject, most treat narratives derived from the Old Testament, well characterized by the composers own descriptive title of them as sacred dramas.
Handel died in London in April 1759 and was buried, as he had requested, in Westminster Abbey, to be commemorated there three years later by an imaginative and slightly improbable monument by Louis François Roubiliac, who had provided, thirty years before, a statue of the composer for the pleasure gardens at Vauxhall, in his night-cap and slippers, in the guise of Apollo, an indication of his popular reputation. His funeral drew a crowd of some three thousand mourners, while posthumous Handel celebrations could muster a similar audience in the Abbey, with a proportionate number of performers.
In England Handels association with church music was closely related to his connection with the monarchy, at first to a commission from Queen Anne, then for other royal occasions after the Hanoverian succession, the coronation of 1727, the wedding of the Prince of Wales in 1736, the funeral of Queen Caroline the following year and finally, in 1743, anthems and canticles in celebration of the victory at Dettingen. The Te Deum in A, however, was based on a work written for the then Earl of Carnarvon, the so-called Chandos Te Deum, in the key of B flat, suitably adapted and abridged for the Chapel Royal, possibly for use in the celebrations of 1727.
The Te Deum in A opens with lively dotted rhythms, introducing and accompanying the opening verses for chorus and soloists, all in a musical language that draws both on Italy and on the English traditions of Purcell. There follows a short passage in F sharp minor for tenor solo and chorus, leading to the walking bass accompaniment to a section for alto and chorus. The next verse is entrusted to bass and alto soloists and to the chorus, a B minor section that ends in a brief fugal passage in D major. Flute and bassoon, the former replacing the oboe, are used in the alto solo setting of When Thou tookest upon Thee. The oboe, in duet with the bassoon, and dotted rhythms return in an E minor Adagio for bass and alto soloists with chorus, joined by a solo tenor. This shifts to C major for the cheerful Day by day we magnify thee. The oboe and bassoon again assume prominence in the following A minor verse, an aria for alto. The original key is restored in the final fugal chorus, O Lord, in Thee have I trusted.
The War of the Austrian Succession had started in 1740 with the invasion of Silesia by Frederick the Great of Prussia, and Saxony and Bavaria both put forward claims to the Austrian throne. An alliance between Austria and Savoy, Saxony, and Great Britain brought conflict also with Prussias ally, France, whose forces were defeated in 1743 at the battle of Dettingen. On that occasion the Hanoverian and English troops were led by George II himself, fighting eventually on foot, when his horse seemed inadequate to the task. This was the last occasion on which an English king led his armies in battle. Whatever the reasons for the French defeat, the victory was the cue for celebrations in London, for which Handel wrote an anthem, The King shall rejoice and a setting of the Te Deum. These had their first official public performance at the Chapel Royal at St Jamess on 27th November 1743. The nature of the occasion called for grandiose scoring for an orchestra that included three trumpets and drums, in addition to oboes,