Chattanoooga Bach Choir and Orchestra Delighting audiences with Classical and Baroque choral music since 1985

Program Notes

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Notes on Chandos Anthem No. 3

In 1717, Handel entered into service as composer-in-residence to James Brydges, Earl of Carnarvon and later the first Duke of Chandos, at his opulent estate northwest of London. As one of the wealthiest noblemen in Europe, Chandos—nicknamed “Apollo of the Arts”— employed a small ensemble of singers and instrumentalists. During his residency of about 18 months, Handel provided his patron with 11 large-scale, multi-movement anthems as well as several other works, including an early version of Esther, considered the first English oratorio. The anthems were first performed at the church of St. Lawrence, Whitchurch, close to the Earl’s mansion, Cannons. These choral works reflect Handel’s cosmopolitan outlook in that elements of English, German, and Italian styles make their contribution. Handel’s basic orchestration for the anthems is violins and a single oboe, along with continuo. The vocal textures vary between two and four soloists with three- to five-part choruses, all but two of which exclude an alto line.

The Chandos anthems set texts from the Psalms, for use in the Anglican liturgy. The third anthem—Have Mercy Upon Me, O God—is a setting of the penitential Psalm 51. Set much like an English verse anthem, which was perfected in the music of Henry Purcell, and not unlike a Lutheran sacred concerto (cantata), Chandos Anthem No. 3 is set to eight movements. After a slow/fast symphony in the first movement, the second through eighth movements set the text of Psalm 51:1-4, 8, 10, and 13 in succession.

Writing music for an Anglican church service, Handel uses church modes for his key signatures, mostly Dorian, which sounds like a minor tonality (Aeolian) reflecting the penitential nature of Psalm 51. The exception is movement 6, set in F major with brilliant coloratura by the chorus and with the eighth/two-sixteenth “joy motif” on the text, “Thou shalt make me hear of joy and gladness.” Characteristics of a multicultural cantata are present throughout the work: in the opening symphony movement (influenced by his time studying in Italy, and sometimes seen in Lutheran cantatas), the choruses (movements 2, 6, and 8), the arias/duets (movements 3, 5, and 7), but also interestingly Handel includes an accompanied recitative in movement 4, no doubt an influence from his time in Italy and from the Lutheran cantata heritage.

Movements 5, 6, and 7 were previously composed, in whole or in part, for Handel’s Utrecht Te Deum (1714). In addition, the composer took the opening bars of the first chorus and used them as the basic choral motif for choruses in two later works: “For ever to the voice of prayer” in Deborah and the “Chorus of brethren” in Joseph and His Brethren, first heard in 1744. The last movement of the anthem reappears in the oratorio The Triumph of Time and Truth, ca. 1756/1757.

David Long & Laurie Cooper

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