Welcome to all the pleasures: a double-deal!
Music featuring Henry Purcell – presented by BarokkSolistene and a vocalensemble*
Suggestion for contence:
Welcome to all the pleasures – ode for St.Cecilia’s day (1683)
Welcome to all the pleasures
Here the deities approve – while joys celestial
Then lift up your voices
Beauty, thou scene of love
In a consort of voices
My Beloved Spake
Chacconne, sonata nr 6 from Ten sonatas in four parts (London, 1697)
My heart is inditing of a good matter (psalm 45) (composed for the coronation of James II in Westminster Abbey 1685)
Break – turn the hall into a tavern, or move everybody (including audience) to a new location fittng for pub-music
An Alehouse session – really old pub music
Traditional folk music combined with composed music by Purcell and his peers – all found in the London taverns and alehouses in the 17th century. Songs, music, humour, beer, humour and beer presented under the leadership of Bjarte Eike.
”A house of sinne you may call it, but not a house of darknesse, for the Candles are neuer out, and it is like those Countries farre in the North, where it is as cleare at mid-night as at mid-day.” John Earle, micro-cosmographie: Or a Peece of the World Discovered (1628)
Henry Purcell (1659-1695)
Music is «Nature’s Voice». Thus sang the counter-tenor Henry Purcell in his own composition from 1692, the ode Hail Bright Cecilia – and he did it «with incredible graces» according to the Gentleman’s Journal. Purcell has been celebrated – and is even today know as the Orpheus Britannicus – the composer that has brought the English language to life through music. His musical style catches the essens of his time’s drama, William Shakespeare’s noble plays, the sharp humour of the comedies and the greatness of John Dryden’s tragedies. Purcell’s genius understanding of the theatre gives the religious texts a dramatic presence.
In the English musical tradition, solos are marked verse, and sung by members of the choir. Sometimes a declamation of the text in the same rythme is done by a verse-ensemble or the whole collective choir – other times he lets the ensemble use the rythme of fashionable dances like courant, sarabande and jig. In the latter, the formal choreography of the dance symbolises the ortodox in the religious doctrines, and acceptance of the social hierarchy. For the solo verses, on the other hand, he often uses a style inspired by the new opera-recitatives, that enhances individuality and emotion.
The psalms of David gave Purcell plenty of opportunities to use these personal expressions – in the texts that again and again features the Psalmist’s «voice», his «cries» and «his new song». But Purcell also found inspiration in a long, seemingly wordless «Halleluja».
Purcell gives the instruments clear individual voices and thus giving them dramatic presence to his church music and therefore freeing them from their normal role as being accompanists to the singers. Elevated preludes forms the introduction to his royal hymns, and lively symphonies has the dancing joy of the religious texts.
The stray musicians of 17th century London and of today
The musical life in London in the Baroque periode was dynamic, energetic, pulsating and full of life. A huge amount of composers and musicians came from all over Europe in hope of making a living at one of the town’s many music-houses, or the newly built theaters and operas. Music was in high fashion in England, and London was full of musicians rushing from one music-place to the other – not an unfamiliar phenomenon in the musical environment of today’s freelance musicians.
As opposed to Italy, France and Germany in the 17th- and 18th century, the orchestras in England did not belong to the court or the aristocratic culture. The English court and its culture was abolished by the puritan revolution and the initiation of the Commonwealth. King Charles II was restored as king along with the court in 1660, but he had to battle with the constant quarrels between catholic and protestant, Whig and Tory, town and court and with the Parliament that held England’s budgets on a very tight leash.
Like his mentor and financial helper, Ludvig XIV, Charles II had employed a group of musicians – the so-called 24 violins. Ludvig could afford to employ his musicians full-time, but Charles’ musicians had to do extra work at the theaters and the town’s public concerts in order to make a decent living.
The English Aristocrates hired musicians for special occasions, and otherwise they bought subscriptions for the opera- and concert series; the King was also subscribing, since he didn’t own neither the theaters, concert-halls nor the orchestras playing in them. During the 18th century it became common that concert-arrangers and promoters put adds in the papers and sold tickets through subscriptions, in stores or even at the door. The ticket-sales were open to everybody – one didn’t have to belong to the aristocracy in order to listen to music.
Music became enormously popular in 17- and 18th century London, but at the same time there were no orchestras that gave full-time employment for musicians – this resulted in a London almost drowning in freelance musicians. Musicians, that we in one moment find playing among beer glasses and shouting people at one of the many informal and popular concerts given in the town’s taverns and alehouses, and in the next moment they played at the big charity-events, before hurrying on to an opera production at theaters like the King’s Theatre in the Haymarket . Between May and September, outside the theatre-season, we find the musicians playing in the so-called Pleasure Gardens – huge outdoor events with music.
To be a musician in the 18th century London meant an exceptional varied work-form and activity enough to play all year round, but for most of them it also meant such small vages that one had to work constantly in order to put food on the table. They had no security and very few rights, and often they had to play for free hoping that a rich gentleman among the audience would take pity on them and give a few shillings.
So, what has happened with the freelance musician in the past 350 years?
The members of Barokksolistene and our vocal group play and sing with a lot of different ensembles in churches and concert-halls, at theaters, opera-houses, pubs and when feeling like it, on the streets (often connected to a visit in the pub..). Some times there is such a pressure for time that we have to have a taxi waiting outside the concert-place, ready to transport us from one gig to the next. Other times the calendar is so empty that you wonder whether the world has forgotten about you.
One has to say that in 350 years life as a freelance musician has changed strikingly little – maybe with the exception that a musician today can make a relatively decent living out of todays salaries. And funnily enough, maybe the biggest similarities are found between the musicians in the baroque periode, and today’s musicians playing baroque music..
Purcell composed music for the church, the royal court and the theatre; for official ceremonies, private services and pleasant entertainment; music suitable for the official ceremonies in Westminster Abbey and the grandeur of the royal chapel – but also joyful melodies suitable for the blunt humour of the alehouses and the songclubs. He is maybe the most English of all the famous composers from England: In his vocal music he shows his unique understanding of the English language, and in all his works he unites his indigenous musical heritage with Italian and French influences to form a style, that is both typically English and also very personal.
We, stray musicians anno 2010, think it most appropriate to present this portrait of one of the most genius, spontaneous, peculiar, unpretentious, unique and musical composers that has ever set foot on this earth.
Welcome to all the pleasures that delight
© Bjarte Eike