David Bates on ‘A French Affair’

David Bates on ‘A French Affair’

23 January at Wigmore Hall

A French Affair Looks at the music from James II’s court – celebrating the genius of Henry Purcell, who was influenced by Lully and Charpentier, and who influenced Rameau, Blow and Cassandra Miller.

The performance practice of the French and Italian court musicians must have fundamentally influenced Henry Purcell’s compositional style and he is likely to have know some works by Lully and Charpentier that would have made their way over the channel. For example his friend Pelham Humfrey sang for Lully in a well documented perform of his Grand Motet Miserere one Easter in Paris.

The linchpin of our programme is the epic and brilliant Ode on the Death of Henry Purcell by John Blow. Blow was Purcell’s teacher, and was so impressed by his genius that he handed over the most prestigious position of Organist of Westminster Abbey to his pupil.  On Purcell’s tragic death (aged only 36) Blow retook the position and wrote this dynamic and incredibly personal tribute to his friend and pupil. As the central lyric in the ode says;

“So Ceas’d the rival crew when Purcell came,

They sung no more or only sung his fame.

Struck dumb they all admir’d the matchless man.

Alas too soon retir’d,

As he too late began.”

Why is Rameau’s music in a recital of Purcell?  Well, given Purcell’s untimely death, I find it fascinating to think where his sound might have taken him had he lived a full life. Rameau only wrote his first opera Hippolye et Aracie aged 50! The daring harmony of Tendre Amour and Laboravi Clamans, the perfectness of scale and word painting were all elements that Purcell adored in composition, and I like to think that he might have gone in this direction. It’s nice to dream.

Dreaming takes me onto my final thought about this programme – Sleepsinging by Cassandra Miller.  I have long admired Cassandra’s unique sound – it is in many ways perfectly sympathetic to Baroque English soundworld. Commissioning is becoming a vital and fundamental part of LNM’s work and I asked Cassandra to write a piece that not only was influenced by the sound of late 17th century London, but, like the Blow ode, gives us an insight into her appreciation of the Henry Purcell and his music.  I can’t wait to work on her score with the team, and to give its first performance at Wigmore Hall.  Please do join us! Buy tickets

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