Emmanuel Music presents this anthem setting of Psalm 100 in the spirit
of the Celebration of Psalms presented this afternoon by the Emmanuel
Handel spent a couple of years (1717-1718) as resident composer at Cannons, the home of James Brydges (later known as the Duke of Chandos). He wrote nearly a dozen large-scale anthems during his tenure as well as the masque Acis and Galatea and Esther, considered the first oratorio in English. The Chandos Anthems draw upon earlier material from both Handel’s Italian and first Chapel Royal works, and they also serve as forerunners of the large-scale pieces that were to come.
O Be Joyful in the Lord provides a good example of Handel borrowing from himself and generating music to be found in later works. It is a reduction of musical material from the Utrecht Jubilate and Utrecht Te Deum of 1713, which are both derived from and early Italian work, Laudate Pueri Dominum of 1707. Furthermore, the Adagio of the Sinfonia begins similarly to that of the Caroline Te Deum of 1714. The entire Sinfonia is found as the opening two movements of the Trio Sonata Op. 5 No. 2 of 1739.
A setting of Psalm 100, O Be Joyful in the Lord is uniquely scored for a choir of soprano, tenor and bass; and an orchestra consisting of 2 oboes in unison, 2 violins and basso continuo with separately notated lines for cello, bassoon and contrabass. Of special interest is the omission of both the inner voices – alto and viola. The resulting texture is one of crystalline clarity while maintaining depth of sonority.
The piece opens with a brief French overture followed by a lively Allegro that provides a seamless transition to the brilliant opening tenor solo and chorus. The second part of the opening chorus is a clever five-voice fugue with an overlapping cantus firmus hovering above that appears in all voices of the chorus and orchestra. Listen for the fourth and fifth voices of the fugue in the violins and continuo respectively, as the cantus firmus in the tenor and oboes pierces through the texture.
The charming duet for soprano and bass is essentially a quartet for soprano and bass soloists along with violin and oboe solo. Handel sets the assuring text of “Be ye sure that the Lord he is God,” as a strict canon at the unison. At the point the text wanders to the metaphor of sheep, so does the canon to the fifth. Handel composes the chorus that follows in stille antico, a method that recalls polyphony of Palestrina. The trio for soprano, tenor is striking for its chromaticism and simultaneous weaving of multiple motives.
The Doxology concludes the anthem, first with block chords in the choir accompanied by undulating eighth notes in the strings, followed by a rather grand four-voice fugue. As in the first chorus, the fourth voice of the fugue appears in the violins. As Michael Beattie remarked in his notes on the Chandos Anthems presented last season: “The brilliant writing for chorus and orchestra suggest that he had skilled musicians at this disposal. Certainly the flexing of this kind of compositional muscle was to serve Handel very well in later oratorios.”
© Ryan Turner