Te Deum and Jubilate, November 23, 2014

Jessica Cooper, Artistic Director

Our program on Sunday November 23, 2014 features Purcell’s sacred music written for Queen Mary II, Purcell’s favorite patroness.   At 6 feet tall, Mary was a remarkable figure in the England of her day.  She was devoted to her husband and fellow ruler, William of Orange, and during their brief reign the seminal English Bill of Rights passed into law. These and other bold decisions marked William and Mary's reign as the beginning of a parliamentary England. Interestingly, the English Bill of Rights was heavily influential on the colonists that founded the United States of America.  When she died suddenly at the age of 32 during the smallpox epidemic of December 1694 only 4 short years after being crowned,  her death was greatly mourned by all of England-  especially by Purcell.  The Queen was fond of music, and the odes he wrote for her were the most elaborate, utilizing scoring for full baroque orchestra for four of them.  Our afternoon program begins with the music written after her death, including three polyphonic settings of the funeral sentences from “Queen Mary’s Funeral Music,” and the utterly beautiful “O Dive Custos Auriacae domus,” a private ode to the Queen.   

Purcell composed two private elegies in Latin for the Queen, “Incassum Lesbia,” and “O dive Custos Auriacae domus.”  The latter, for two sopranos and organ, is an Italianate setting of the text of Henry Parker (1604- 1652), taken from “Three Elegies upon the much lamented loss of our late most gracious Queen Mary.”  The opening text,  "O dive custos Ariacae domus" literally calls upon the "Sacred guardian of the House of Orange."  While various translations add, "O God, sacred guardian..." the text seems to call upon Mary herself, and indeed calls Maria "dea moriente," the dead divinity.  Alternating soprano voices call upon the "guardian,"  joining together to praise the "certain hope of faltering sovereignty."  Two voices call out to the "guardian" in adversity with dissonant, rising and falling melodic lines, then at a swifter pace  sings praises to her/ him, "our chiefest glory and prosperity" in "O superum."   In the next section, the poet nods to the great institutions of England: Oxford (specifically the Oxonian chorus), and the "waters of Cam," a reference to Cambridge. The voices entreat the "guardian" to "descend, descend" and visit "these thy temples," and to "enter into the sacred hearth and home of Caesar," and to "pass into the shrine."  In what is truly the heart of the piece, the second half shifts in tempo and mood as each voice gently and freely states that Maria is dead, and entreats for all to lament her loss.  As if in disbelief, each voice cries the name of Maria in turn until they both join together, as if to unite in the solemn reality.  Alternating voices in descending lines cry the name of Maria in weeping figures, until in hopeless solemnity in the final five measures, death is accepted in a soft,  slowly descending legato line on the word "moriente."

At the time of the Queen’s death, Purcell assembled three verse anthems scored simply for soprano, alto, tenor, bass soloists, choir and organ to be sung for the burial service. The first two parts of the anthem: “Man that is born of a woman,” Z. 27, and “In the midst of life,”  Z. 17A, B and “Thou know'st, Lord” Z. 58 A, B" were conceivably written when he was much younger, as early as 1672 while Purcell was still a chorister for the graveside service for Henry Cooke.  The final revisions to these “sentences” were done in 1680.  Purcell’s setting skips several liturgical texts that were traditionally included in the service, “I am the resurrection and the life,”  “I know that my redeemer liveth,” and “We brought nothing into this world,” and instead begins with the bleak text,  “Man that is born of a woman hath but a short time to live, and is full of misery.”  With constant highlighting of crucial words, rising and sinking melodic lines (sometimes simultaneously), and searing dissonances, Purcell begins these “sentences” by illustrating human frailty and our temporal state. His setting is intimate in mood, but it’s musical language is extremely powerful.  Upon the tragic death of the Queen, Purcell assembled the second and third sentences, "In the midst of life," Z. 17A, B, and provided a new setting of “Thou know'st, Lord” Z. 58 C," for the service.  It is believed that the later setting was actually written to replace a lost movement in the otherwise complete setting of the same text by Thomas Morley.  According to Purcell expert, Bruce Wood, Purcell’s last setting "succeeded brilliantly in matching Morley's antique language, whilst outdoing him in expressive intensity.... and according to one eye witness, drew tears from everyone, musicians and non- musicians alike." (Bruce Wood)  

Though the anthem “O God, thou art my God,” was composed around 1680-82, it was a smash “hit,” and played regularly throughout England, and it's popularity persists today.  It is contagiously sprightly, and even its brushes with solemnity don't last long. Where another setting might have treat the lines "early will I seek Thee", and "Thus have I looked for Thee in holiness, that I might behold Thy power" with solemnity, here Purcell makes them skip lightly in rising and falling scales and arpeggiated figures, and even the verse trio starting with "My soul thirsteth after Thee" turns to a jaunty snap on the words "barren and dry land". With this leaning towards happiness, it's no wonder that the second verse trio dwells on the words "loving kindness", and the final chorus will quickly become recognizable as the well known and triumphant hymn tune Westminster Abbey. 

We complete our program with the large scale, triumphant “Te Deum and Jubilate.”  The piece was first performed as a part of the St. Cecilia celebrations in 1694 in St Bride’s Church in Fleet Street. This was the very first year that Purcell did not write an ode, but rather a setting of liturgical text. Purcell’s Te Deum and Jubilate was the first of it’s kind in English Church music, and served as a model for Handel’s setting of the same text 20 years later. Composed in a style that was vastly different than the very conservative liturgical settings at the time, Purcell's settingpresented a very modern, even flamboyant verse anthem; scored not only for treble and adult choirs, soloists, strings and continuo, but also for trumpets.  It caused such a  sensation, that Baroque composer Thomas Tudway, who was in attendance, wrote: 

...There is in this Te Deum, such a glorious representation, of ye Heavenly Choirs, of Cherubins and Seraphins, falling down before ye throne and singing Holy, Holy, Holy as hath not been Equall’d, by any Foreigner, or Other... He brings ye treble voices, or Choristers, singing, To thee Cherubins, and Seraphins, continually do cry; and then ye Great Organ, Trumpets, the Choirs and at least thirty or forty instruments besides, all Joine, in most excellent Harmony and Accord... This most beautiful and Sublime Representation, I dare challenge all Orators, Poets, Painters of any Age whatsoever, to form so lively an Idea, of Choirs of Angels singing, and paying their adorations.
— London, British Library, Harl. MS 7342, f. 12v.

One of the most striking aspects of Purcell’s “Te Deum and Jubilate,” is it’s emotional spectrum, being both fully triumphant and intimate, ideally illustrating Purcell’s skills in compositional device and in word painting.  Alternating between grandeur in and and the utterly personal (in “Vouchsafe O Lord”), the spacious tutti sections in the full choir and orchestral sections contrast with the gems of chamber movements studded throughout.  The vigorous dotted rhythmic playing of trumpets at the opening is answered by a trio of male voices. The piece unfolds and blossoms from this rhythmic core. The proud dotted rhythms and arpeggios of heralding trumpets return in the vocal lines again and again in chorus and solo sections throughout the piece.  A more intimate atmosphere is created with the alto and bass duet ‘When thou took’st upon thee to deliver man.  The “sharpness of death” is enhanced with a diminished chord, and the Kingdom of Heaven is opened with a rising phrase before the two treble voices interrupt in close imitation at ‘Thou sittest at the right hand of God’.” Purcell wrote copious amounts of music for countertenor voice- his favorite, and it is in the intimate “Vouchsafe O Lord,” that we find the heart of the Te Deum and Jubilate.  Profoundly pleading for mercy, dissonances pile up in the ravishing sequences in the strings and voice. The piece is made all the more poignant knowing that Purcell himself would suddenly die less than a year later.   The scale of this piece is deceptive, as there is truly monumental scope contained in far fewer pages than some sacred works. Perhaps because of his dramatic soul, Purcell leaves us wanting yet more of this majesty.


Te Deum and Jubilate in D, Z. 232, Part 2, by Henry Purcell 

Douglas Dodson | countertenor
Emily Howe | Conductor

with Andrew Sheranian, organ; Colleen McGary-Smith, cello; Pauk Perfetti and Robinson Pyle, trumpets; Marika Holmqvist, Julie McKenzie, Asako Takeuchi, Amy Rawstron, violins; Anne Black, Anna Griffis, viola; Andrew Arceci, violone

Andrew Sheranian and Suzanne McAllister, directing and preparation 

Sunday,  November 23, 2014
All Saints Parish, 1773 Beacon St. Brookline, MA 02445