When GCA Director Stephen Mulder designed the 2010-2011 season to include a Masterworks concert focusing on a “coronation” theme he was functioning–serendipitously–as a latter-day Nathan the Prophet (a prominent character in the brilliant opening of tonight’s first piece). How could any of us have foreseen the “buzz” at a most-nominated-Oscar film featuring an English king or the breathless tabloid anticipation of a Royal Wedding less than two months from tonight–both phenomena spotlighting Westminster Abbey, a venue put on the musical map by one of tonight’s composers?
The two “anchor works” selected were Handel’s Coronation Anthems and Mozart’s Coronation Mass, not only because they were composed for (or have become permanently associated with) the coronation of a monarch but also because they are masterworks by any measure. It is also fitting in tribute to the stature of Handel and Mozart as “musical monarchs” that the forces performing their works tonight include the largest number of musicians yet assembled in the history of Griffin Choral Arts.
Back in the century from which all of tonight’s music comes, we Americans rejected monarchs–at least in the narrowest political sense. Artistically and culturally, however, fascination with (and probably affection for) the pomp and circumstance of monarchy has never really died in the hearts and imaginations of us former Colonists–hence the guaranteed appeal of tonight’s “Crowning Glories.”
Coronation Anthems George Frideric Handel (1685-1759)
The Aylesbury (UK) Choral Society reminds us, “One of the last acts of King George I before his death in 1727 was to sign ‘an Act for the naturalising of George Frideric Handel and others.’ Handel’s first commission as a naturalised British citizen was to write the music for the coronation [of his fellow German-speaking new monarch George II] later that year,” to be held in the grand expanses of Westminster Abbey.
(http://www.choirs.org.uk/prognotes/Handel Coronation Anthems.htm)
As GCA Director Stephen Mulder has suggested, in many ways Handel was the John Williams of his day: the “go-to” composer when a grand spectacle called for the best possible combination of compositional skill with the unsurpassed ability to engage the audience’s senses as fully as possible through that music. As the Aylesbury Choral Society further notes, “Handel always matched his music to the occasion and the [setting] for which it was written. . . . His ceremonial style [in the coronation anthems] differs from the instrumental concerti. [The coronation anthems are] wholly extroverted in tone, dealing with masses [of musicians] and broad contrasts, rather than delicate colour: he was not going to waste finer points of detail on the reverberant spaces of The Abbey. . . . The forces that he used were substantial for the period; an augmented Chapel Royal Choir of 47 and an orchestra that may have numbered as many as 160! The chorus is divided from time to time into 6 or 7 parts, . . . and a large
body of strings includes three (not the usual two) violin parts.” In addition, rather than using the great organ of Westminster Abbey, the orchestral forces included a new organ specially built for the occasion and later donated to the Abbey by the King. (This special instrumentation is reflected in tonight’s performance by the use of the portable, positiv pipe organ played by its owner, guest artist Dr. Daniel Pyle.)
For the upcoming coronation, Handel composed four anthems (listed here in their usual modern ordering): Zadok the Priest, Let Thy Hand Be Strengthened, The King Shall Rejoice, and My Heart Is Inditing. Tonight’s concert includes only the first two anthems.
Zadok the Priest (HWV 258)
The aptness of Dr. Mulder’s comparison between Handel and John Williams is nowhere better seen than in the the famous opening of Zadok the Priest, which is almost supernaturally ahead of its time in terms of “cinematic” effects. A fairly lengthy, pulsing, restless pattern in the orchestral strings may envision an aircraft-borne camera skimming over vast expanses of countryside heading . . . who knows where–but definitely in almost unbearable anticipation. This musical suspense-building is almost certainly the equivalent of the collective British breath-holding for the re-establishment of the stability and continuity represented by the coronation of the new monarch. Finally, upon reaching the briefest of crescendoing harmonic suspensions, with sudden surprise the full orchestra and choir burst forth (with the manuscript direction “loud”) in the biblical words adapted from I Kings 1:39-40, with an equally abrupt shift to a “close-up” of specific “actors” in important dramatic motion:
Zadok the priest and Nathan the prophet anointed Solomon King.
This is the traditional moment for the anointing of the new monarch by the Archbishop of Canterbury: in the words of the official Westminster Abbey Guide to the Coronation service, “the monarch is set apart or consecrated for the duties of a Sovereign.”
No sooner has this brief dramatic scene finished when the musical “camera” pans back and out to a broader shot of the reactions of the throng of witnesses:
And all the people rejoiced and said:
At this new musical cue (at least in the imagined “cinematic” scenario), the monarch’s subjects raise their hearty, prolonged cheering:
God save the King, long live the King, God save the King!
May the King live forever, alleluia, amen!
(Lest we moderns sense any blasphemy in these words, we do well to remember the notion of the “divine right of kings,” according to which even Christian antiquity viewed monarchs as the representatives of God in earthly government.)
The biblical words from I Kings have been used in every British coronation since 973, and Handel’s musical setting of the text has been used at every coronation since its debut in 1727. (This year’s Oscar-leading film The King’s Speech contains only one brief coronation-related reference to Handel, but the scene’s humorous iconoclasm still pays homage to the long tradition.)
Let Thy Hand Be Strengthened (HWV 259)
While Zadok the Priest is organized by dramatically sudden shifts, Let Thy Hand Be Strengthened is set forth in more conventional “fast, slow, fast” and “major, minor, major” structure. The text is from Psalm 89: 13-14 (listed by section/movement):
Let thy hand be strengthened, and thy right hand be exalted.
Let justice and judgment be the preparation of thy seat!
Let mercy and truth go before thy face!
The references to hands and to power and justice correspond symbolically (if not in the actual timing of the ceremony) to the bestowal of the Regalia (the Orb, the Sceptre, and the Rod with the Dove) upon the monarch shortly before the actual crowning. The orb is usually replaced on the altar, but the monarch continues to hold the Sceptre and the Rod as s/he is crowned by the Archbishop.
If indeed Handel was the first truly “cinematic” composer (and, if so, far ahead of the technology) that reputation still lives today in the frequent uses of his music in many other forms of art and communication. In particular, the “surprise” opening of Zadok the Priest lends its drama to visuals ranging from commercials to (by way of adaptation) the official anthem for the UEFA Champions League soccer matches to numerous feature films, including–not surprisingly–parodies.
Sonata in C for Orchestra and Organ (KV 278) W. A. Mozart (1756-1791)
Between 1772 and 1780, still based primarily in his hometown of Salzburg, Austria, Mozart composed seventeen “church sonatas” or “Epistle sonatas” for use in the Mass between the Epistle (appointed New Testament reading not including from the Gospels) and the Gospel itself. Just as the Epistle sonata served as a “bridge” between the two important New Testament readings in the Mass, so in tonight’s concert does the performance of this church sonata serve as a “bridge” between the major works of the two featured composers, Handel and Mozart.
The Salzburg setting is significant in that even though this period in Mozart’s life was uneasy (as we shall see further in connection with his Coronation Mass) the church sonatas he composed there stand unique in music history. After Mozart left Salzburg for Vienna in 1781, his Archbishop employer decreed that the role in the Mass of the instrument-only Epistle sonata be replaced by choral responsories.
In addition to the organ, this C major sonata (composed in 1777) calls for two violins, cello, bass, pairs of oboes and trumpets, and drums.
Mass in C, KV 317 (Coronation Mass) W. A. Mozart
The Mozart most of the modern world knows is the mirthful, eternal adolescent of the 1984 Oscar-winning Best Picture Amadeus (film by Miloš Forman, based on the Peter Shaffer play).
While much of that portrait is highly exaggerated and misleading, what is perhaps most importantly accurate is its showing us that Mozart could wrest ravishingly beautiful and even delightfully happy music from the most difficult conditions in his own personal life.
His exalting Coronation Mass is a good example. Professor of Music at Boston University Dr. Roye Wates describes its origin during that time in Mozart’s life:
In January, 1779, after eighteen months searching for a job in Mannheim and Paris, Mozart came home to Salzburg empty-handed. He had undertaken this long trip at his father’s urging, to look for a major court position worthy of his extraordinary gifts. But not only had he failed to land a job; he had turned down as uninteresting the only one he was offered: the post of organist at Versailles. While in Paris, his mother, who had accompanied him, suddenly became ill, . . . and a few days later . . . died. Leopold Mozart, at once heartbroken and furious, blamed his son for her death. Yet Mozart stayed on in Paris for two more months until finally, in response to rising anger from his father, he wended his way homeward. On the way he spent several weeks in Munich, where he proposed to Aloysia Weber, a dazzling soprano who had swept him off his feet in Mannheim. But she had found another man.
Nevertheless, despite these personal tragedies and professional setbacks, the trip–from a musical perspective–marked the turning point of Mozart’s life. In Mannheim he encountered a level of music-making so superior to Salzburg’s that it fundamentally altered the way he composed. Mannheim’s orchestra could play anything he could imagine writing; he wrote [his father that] Mannheim’s orchestra sounded like “an army of generals”–especially their wind players. . . . But when he got back to Salzburg, he faced the same obstacle that had sent him away in the first place: the city itself was a provincial backwater, and its ruler, Prince-Archbishop Hieronymus Colloredo, was a man whom both Leopold and Wolfgang despised.
The unhappy Mozart was appointed court organist in Salzburg, with duties to compose music for the cathedral. Barely weeks after taking up this position Mozart composed the great work that came to be known as his Coronation Mass. It was not originally composed for a coronation in the usual sense but may have served as celebratory music for the coronation of a miraculous statue of the Virgin Mary in a nearby town. But the Mass was also intended for use on Easter Sunday in the cathedral. The attaching of the title “Coronation” is attributed to the likely use of the mass at the coronation either of Emperor Leopold II in Prague in 1791 or his successor Francis I in 1792 (or possibly at both occasions). The Prague coronation is certainly highly likely, since that city was perhaps Mozart’s most avid “fan base,” given the huge success there of The Marriage of Figaro and Don Giovanni.
Among Mozart’s frustrations at his constraints in Salzburg was the requirement that the mass be short. The archbishop had decreed that even solemn masses (the longer version, with more components than the shorter missa brevis, of which the Coronation Mass is an example) must last no longer than forty-five minutes. Yet with typical challenge-meeting verve Mozart made the most of the time constraint–and even bettered it by a good fifteen minutes. Professor Wates elaborates further on Mozart’s strategies of compression and on their results:
[Mozart’s] solution was the same used by Haydn in his later Masses and [later] by
Beethoven in his early Mass in C Major: treating the four soloists as a quartet rather than assigning them individual arias; setting words homophonically [in chords] instead of polyphonically [in counterpointed melodic lines]; and replacing the traditional fugues at the end of the Gloria and Credo with quick, sharp chords.
From its opening bars, the Coronation Mass sparkles with bright orchestral colors and driving energy. The majestic dotted rhythms of the Kyrie become even more triumphant with the addition of the brass and timpani. The Gloria explodes in a fast, dancelike triple meter, opposing choral tuttis [full choir] to passages for vocal quartet and climaxing in dramatic soli-tutti exchanges at the final Amen. The Credo also opens with choral declamations, this time surrounded by rushing violin figures and playful blasts from brass and timpani. Then, suddenly, there is a kind of quiet musical genuflection [kneeling] at the words “And he was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the Virgin Mary, and was made man.”. . . Here, where worshippers were expected to kneel, the harmony shifts magically into E-flat major as the solo quartet sings softly and slowly, to the angelic accompaniment of muted violins. The triple-meter Sanctus is marked maestoso (“majestically”), its strong rhythms underscored by brass and timpani. The Osanna, brisk and joyful, contrasts with the vocal quartet’s gentler, duple meter Benedictus. For the Agnus Dei, Mozart breaks this Mass’s format with a transcendent aria for soprano. Written in pastoral style, this is his moving response to the image of Christ as the Lamb of God. . . . With its graceful
tempo and triple meter, pizzicato [string-plucking] cellos and basses, and songful countermelodies for oboes and violins, this aria invites us all into a peaceable kingdom, where the sins of the world are forgiven (qui tollis peccata mundi). Later, Mozart would use this same music (changing its meter to duple) for “Dove Sono,” the Countess’s lament in Act II of The Marriage of Figaro.
The great popularity of the Figaro opera in Prague in the 1780’s was almost certainly a factor in Mozart’s evident use of the Mass in the 1791 Prague coronation of Leopold II. It may also have been one of Mozart’s last magnanimous gestures of gratitude (he died on December 5 of that year) to the city that had been so good to him during his life and career.
KYRIE (sung in Greek)
Kyrie eleison. Christe eleison. Kyrie eleison.
Lord, have mercy. Christ have mercy. Lord, have mercy.
GLORIA (sung in Latin)
Gloria in excelsis Deo et in terra pax hominibus bone voluntatis.
Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to people of good will.
Laudamus te, benedicimus te, adoramus te,
We praise Thee, we bless Thee, we adore Thee,
gratias agimus tibi propter magnam gloriam tuam.
we glorify Thee, we give thanks to Thee for Thy great glory.
Domine Deus, Rex coelestis, Deus Pater omnipotens.
O Lord God, heavenly King, God the Father almighty.
Domine Fili unigenite, Jesu Christe, Domine Deus, Agnus Dei, Filius Patris.
O Lord, the only-begotten Son, Jesus Christ, Lord God, Lamb of God, Son of the Father.
Qui tollis peccata mundi, miserere nobis;
Thou who takest away the sins of the world, have mercy upon us.
qui tollis peccata mundi, suscipe deprecationem nostram.
Thou who takest away the sins of the world, receive our prayer.
Qui sedes ad dexteram Patris, miserere nobis.
Thou who sittest at the right hand of the Father, have mercy upon us.
Quoniam tu solus Sanctus, tu solus Dominus, tu solus Altissimus,
For Thou only art holy, Thou only art the Lord, thou only, Jesus Christ, art most high,
Jesu Christe, cum Sancto Spiritu: in gloria Dei Patris. Amen.
Jesus Christ, with the Holy Spirit, in the glory of God the Father. Amen.
CREDO (sung in Latin)
Credo in unum Deum, Patrem omnipotentem,
I believe in one God, the Father almighty,
factorem coeli e terrae, visibilium et invisibilium.
maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible,
Et in unum Dominum Jesum Christum, Filium Dei unigentium,
and in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God,
et ex Patre natum ante omnia saecula.
born of the Father before all ages;
Deum de Deo, Lumen de Lumine, Deum verum de Deo vero,
God of God, Light of Light, true God of true God;
genitum, non factum, consubstantialem Patri;
begotten, not made; being of one substance with the Father
per quem omnia facta sunt.
by whom all things were made.
Qui propter nos homines et propter nostram salutem descendit de coelis.
Who for us, and for our salvation, came down from heaven
Et incarnatus est de Spiritu Sancto ex Maria Virgine, et homo factus est.
And was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the Virgin Mary, and was made man.
Crucifixus etiam pro nobis sub Pontio Pilato; passus et sepultus est.
He was crucified also for us, under Pontius Pilate; he suffered and was buried.
Et resurrexit tertia die, secundum Scripturas,
And the third day He rose again, according to the Scriptures,
et ascendit in coelum, sedet ad dexteram Patris.
and ascended into heaven, and sits at the right hand of the Father.
Et iterum venturus est cum gloria, iuidicare vivos et mortuos,
And He shall come again with glory to judge both the living and the dead,
cuius regni non erit finis.
of whose kingdom there shall be no end.
Et in Spiritum Sanctum, Dominum et vivicantem: qui ex Patris Filioque procedit,
And in the Holy Spirit, the Lord and Giver of life, who proceedeth from the Father,
Qui cum Patre et Filio simul adoratur et conglorificatur:
Who together with the Father and the Son is worshipped and glorified;
qui locutus est per prophetas.
who spoke by the prophets.
Et in unam, sanctam, catholicam et apostolicam Ecclesiam.
And in one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church.
Confiteor unum baptisma in remissionem peccatorum.
I confess one baptism for the remission of sins.
Et exspecto resurrectionem mortuorum, et vitam venturi saeculi. Amen.
And I look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come. Amen.
SANCTUS (sung in Latin)
Sanctus, Sanctus, Sanctus Dominus, Deus Sabaoth.
Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God of hosts.
Pleni sunt coeli et terra gloria tua.
Heaven and earth are full of Thy glory.
Osanna in excelsis.
Hosanna to God in the highest.
BENEDICTUS (sung in Latin)
Benedictus, qui venit in nomine Domini.
Blessed are they that cometh in the name of the Lord.
Osanna in excelsis.
Hosanna in the highest.
AGNUS DEI (sung in Latin)
Agnus Dei, qui tollis peccata mundi: miserere nobis.
Lamb of God, who takest away the sins of the world: have mercy on us.
Agnus Dei, qui tollis peccata mundi: miserere nobis.
Lamb of God, who takest away the sins of the world: have mercy on us.
Agnus Dei, qui tollis peccata mundi: dona nobis pacem.
Lamb of God, who takest away the sins of the world: grant us peace.
“Hallelujah” from Messiah, A Sacred Oratorio George Frideric Handel
This most famous excerpt from Handel’s most famous work hardly needs a rationale for inclusion in any concert. But it is unusually well-integrated among tonight’s selections. To state perhaps the most obvious connection, it is the best-known ecstatic paean to the Ultimate Crowned Monarch–the “King of Kings and Lord of Lords.” To put it another way, this renowned work is the ultimate “Crowning Glory.”
Compositionally, it also shows the striking similarities between the ending of Zadok the Priest, with its “May the King live forever, amen, alleluia” and the near-reprises of these texts and musical structures in this later work. The pleasure of recognition here is a useful example of the common practice among ancient composers of “recycling” portions of their own music into later works (as we saw with Mozart’s re-use of the soprano aria that begins the Agnus Dei in an equally poignant moment in The Marriage of Figaro as well as in the passages in the third movement of Let Thy Hand Be Strengthened that anticipate the final Amen chorus in Messiah).
The fame of this particular chorus often outstrips audience members’ general knowledge about its origins. Paul Filmer, of the North London Chorus (UK), provides a useful review of some of its history:
Handel drafted Messiah, with what by then had become his usual rapidity of composition, between 22 August and 12 September 1741, and had the score “filled out” (“ausgefüllt,” as he termed it) by September 14. [Charles] Jennens had already written the libretto, with the intention “to perswade [Handel] to set another Scripture Collection . . . & perform it for his own Benefit in Passion Week. I hope that he will lay out his whole Genius & Skill upon it, that the Composition may excell all his former Compositions, as the Subject excells every other subject.” This ambition for Messiah has been amply fulfilled, but its success in England was not immediate.
The first performance was in Dublin, where a strong and well established musical
culture had tempted Handel to offer a series of subscription concerts through the late autumn and winter. He arrived in November, 1741, but did not publicly rehearse Messiah until 9 April 1742. . . . It was first performed in the Fishamble Street Musick Hall on the following Tuesday to a capacity audience, who had been asked not to wear swords or hooped dresses in order to maximize the seating. . . . The performance was so successful that the work received two further performances, each by public demand.
The first performance . . . in London was not until 23 March 1743, at Covent Garden. There was some public controversy over whether a sacred oratorio should be performed in a secular theatre, but this did not prevent subsequent performances on 25 and 29 March. . . . It was performed regularly thereafter, but it was not until 1750 that Messiah reached the level of popularity that it has enjoyed since, when it was performed at The Hospital for the Maintenance and Education of Exposed and Deserted Young Children — the Foundling Hospital.
Drawing full circle in tonight’s concert is Mozart’s recognition of his musical debt to Handel. Mozart played a significant role in expanding Handel’s fame (particularly for his operas and oratorios) back on the Continent. In 1789, Mozart’s re-orchestration of Messiah was first performed in Vienna. While mostly adapting to the many differences in instrument-making technology that had arisen in the near-half-century following Messiah’s premiere in 1742, Mozart’s arrangement of Handel’s masterpiece remains somewhat controversial. But of the many types of changes Mozart makes elsewhere in Messiah, relatively few occur in the “Hallelujah” chorus.
Perhaps the most telling circle-drawing of all is the fact that the monarch who so famously rose to his feet at the “Hallelujah” chorus at the 1743 Covent Garden concert was the same George II for whose coronation Handel had written the anthems Zadok the Priest and Let Thy Hand be Strengthened. Theories abound as to what moved the monarch to rise at that point (possibly even his startled reaction to his own nodding off), but his homage to a “King of Kings” higher than himself is certainly among them. Similarly, when Papa Haydn first heard Handel’s famous chorus sung in concert, he too joined in the now-customary audience rising, saying of his older colleague Handel, “He is the master of us all.” The tears of exaltation that often accompany the standing tribute have always flowed freely as well, not only Haydn’s in his praise of Handel but even Handel’s own, in reporting that in his writing of the “Hallelujah” chorus he had seen the face of God.
–Program notes by Bill Pasch, copyright 2011
Further acknowledgment: Four Coronation Anthems by G. F. Handel, edited by Clifford Bartlett © Oxford University Press 1988. All rights reserved. Text material used by permission.