EASTERN EARLY MUSIC FORUM
My Heart is Inditing: Coronation Anthems by Purcell
The Old Baptist Chapel, Elsworth
Tutored by Dr Peter Holman
HIS year’s workshop was hosted in Michael Taylor’s splendid Old Baptist Chapel, an ideal setting (with ideal weather) for music-making, convivial conversation with old friends and, as usual, a tasty light lunch, all ably organised by Selene Mills.
THE workshop was principally devoted to Purcell’s marvellous eight-voice anthem ‘My heart is inditing’, which along with the 5-part setting of ‘I was glad’ made up his contribution to the coronation service for James II in 1685. The choir was accompanied by a string band of two gambas, two violas, two second and two first violins, with chamber organ continuo. Leading the workshop was Peter Holman, who, of course, is an internationally renowned specialist in music of this period. He not only led choir and orchestra through the intricacies of 17th century performance practice but provided us with all manner of interesting snippets of information about the coronation service itself, the kinds of spaces in which the music would have been performed and so on. The eight-part writing of the anthem is fresh and inventive but not always easy to negotiate when sight-reading and the choir coped admirably with its complexi-ties. There was plenty to occupy the band, too: the piece starts with a French-style overture and triple-time fugue with exhilarating cross-rhythms in all the parts and a wealth of Purcellian false relations and English cadences.
IN the afternoon session, as a reward for our morning efforts, our Maestro allowed us to run through a short piece by a great admirer of Purcell’s, G. F. Handel. We performed one of his four Coronation Anthems (this time for George II in 1727), ‘Let thy hand be strengthened’. This is a much more familiar piece, of course, and the choir give a spirited performance. I always find it interesting to compare the quirkiness of the 17th century idiom (and especially Purcell’s idiosyncratic take on that idiom) with the more stylised late Baroque language of composers of Handel’s generation.
AFTER the traditional final run-through of our two main pieces (“without stopping”) we had a little time left over, so we returned to the 1680s and Purcell and his anthem ‘Rejoice in the Lord alway’, otherwise yclept ‘The Bell Anthem’, because it opens with a descending scale imitating a bell-peal. This additionally gave three brave soloists (ATB) a chance to show their mettle. It was a delightful way to conclude a particularly successful and satisfying workshop.
THE original advertising for the work-shop mentioned a 1685 coronation anthem by John Blow, but we certainly didn’t feel short-changed – and there’ll be ample opportunity to explore Blow’s output next year, the 300th anniversary of his death. And talking of anni-versaries, the last musicological morsel that Peter gave us, just before we concluded, was his theory about Purcell’s date of birth: Peter has uncovered circumstantial evidence that Purcell may have been born in 1658, on
Extracted from EEMF Newsletter 66, November 2007