Spotlight on the Netherlands: Odes and Motets I

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Program: #10-05   Air Date: Jan 25, 2010

Henry Purcell's exquisite Ode for St. Cecilia's Day with the Innsbruck Festival Chorus directed by Timothy Brown. We continue our long and fruitful association with our partners at Radio Netherlands in presenting a series of concerts from the 2009 Holland Festival of Early Music at Utrecht. The RNW web site provides more in-depth information about the music and performers we hear as well as more information about the festival ( The primary theme for 2009 was the 250th anniversary of the death of Handel and the 350th of the birth of Purcell. RNW has also prepared a short YouTube video introduction to the festival for this year:

NOTE: All of the music on these programs is performed by the ensemble B'rock with the Innsbruck Festival Chorus. For more information on B'rock:

and for the Innsbruck Festival Chorus:

Innsbruck Festival Chorus
Timothy Brown

Judith van Wanroij, soprano
Maarten Engeltjes, countertenor
Christopher Ainslie, countertenor
Tom Raskin, tenor
Stephan Varcoe, baritone
Giles Underwood, bass

Odes & Motets

1 Henry Purcell 1659-1695
Ode for St Cecilia Z 238 (1692)

Recorded by Bert van Dijk, Helix

From All Music Guide on Purcell's Ode for St. Cecilia:

The celebrations of the Feast of St. Cecilia in Purcell's day were not a result of these earlier celebrations. There was no continuum, as far as anyone knows. A group called the "Musical Society", a group of men that included the publisher John Playford, initiated the celebrations in 1682. The singers that took part were from Westminster Abbey Choir, St. Paul's Cathedral, and the Chapel Royal. The musicians were from the King's band and from the theaters, so many of them were professionals. In 1683, the "Musical Society" commissioned the first of Purcell's Odes for St. Cecilia's Day. It was a choral work on a grand scale, and for the next twenty years it was the model that other composers emulated. The "Musical Society" didn't commission another Ode for St. Cecilia's Day from Purcell until 1692, but other composers such as Blow, Eccles, and Clarke wrote odes for the Festivities in the meantime.
In 1692, the "Gentlemen Lovers of Musick" commissioned another ode from Mr. Purcell. "Hail, Bright Cecilia!" is a brilliant work for large choruses, orchestra, soloists and vocal ensembles. It has thirteen movements and sets a poem by the Reverend Nicholas Brady in praise of Cecilia, music, and the instruments of music. Large scale choral works were new, and were inspired, in part, by a man named Giovanni Battista Draghi, an Italian with whom Purcell had studied. It is the type of choral writing that influenced Handel's compositions, and marks the beginning of the secular choral tradition in England. It was secular choral music because the celebration of St. Cecilia's Day was a civic entertainment, put on for the entire population. The musicians that took part made money off it; it was a commercial venture for them, and the Odes that were commissioned for the celebrations were performed in public concert halls. They added to the professional musical life of the city.

In the composition of "Hail, Bright Cecilia!", Purcell supplied an unbelievable amount of variety and diversity, coupled with unifying forces that resolve the diverse elements into a complete whole. One of the unifying elements is the structure. Purcell walks the listener through eight key centers; he begins in D Major and minor, and two third of the way through the piece ends up in E minor. Then he travels back again to end the work in D. He composed two large choruses, one after the opening symphony, and one at the very end, that balance one another. And at the very center is a third chorus entitled "Soul of the World". It is about the creation of the world, the creation of music, and of the resolution of all into "Perfect Harmony."

Composer Info

Henry Purcell 1659-1695

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