The English Concert on authentic instruments. Leader - Simon Standage.
Directed from harpsichord by Trevor Pinnock
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BOYCE; EIGHT SYMPHONIES
If we were asked to name the native musician most typical of his profession in 18th-century England we would almost certainly nominate William Boyce. As a composer for church and state occasions, for the concert rooms, theatres and pleasure gardens, he worked in every genre open to him at the time; as a practising musician he achieved distinction both as an organist and as Master of the King's Musick; and as what we would now describe as a musicologist he kept alive and in use some of the finest church music of the previous century, in the great collection of Cathedral Music published in three volumes between 1760 and 1773. To Sir John Hawkins - not an easy man to please - he appeared as "doubtless one of the first of his kind, il we except Mr Handel", while Hawkins' fellow-historian, Dr. Charles Burney, remarked that "there was no professor who I was ever acquainted with that I loved, honoured, and respected more than William Boyce".
Born in London in 1711, the path Boyce trod between his chonstership at St. Paul's and his burial there under the dome in 1779, was one of well-meriled distinction. Alter his voice broke he was articed to Maurice Greene, the organist of the Cathedral. 1 lis training completed, he went on to hold positions as organist in several London churches. At the age of 25, he succeeded John Weldon as Composer to the Chapel Royal, and over the next decade he established himself as one of the foremost English composers of his day, not only with his church compositions but with theatre pieces too.
His theatrical music included the opera Pdeus and Thetis (c. 1740) and the serenata Solomon (1742); the latter, perhaps his masterpiece, achieved the rare distinction, for those days, of publication in full score. In 1749 Boyce took die degrees of Bachelor and Doctor of Music at Cambridge University and in the same year the great actor David Garrick, whose earlier collaboration with Thomas Arne seems by then to have foundered somewhat, invited Boyce to work with him at Drury Lane Theatre. The outcome was two so-called "musical entertainments", The Chaplet (1749) and The Shepherd's Lottery (1751, and like Solomon published in full score), as well as music for a number of plays including two of Garrick's own pieces "after Shakespeare", Romeo and Juliet (1750) and the masque in The Tempest (1757). In 1757 Boyce was sworn in as Master of the King's Musick in succession to his old teacher, Maurice Greene, some of whose work, during Greene's final illness, Boyce had already been undertaking. The following year he became one ot the three organists of the Chapel Royal. These appointments meant that for the rest of his life he was heavily committed to the provision of court music, providing settings of no less than 59 odes tor New Year celebrations or royal birthdays. A large amount or excellent music is thus buried by its association with extravagantly fulsome lexis intended for. and suitable to, only the most ephemeral occasions.
Perhaps recogni/ing this fact, Boyce determined to salvage the purely instrumental pieces from his odes and theatrical works, publishing Eight Sym-phonys in 1760 and Twelve Overtures in 1770, the contents of both collections being drawn mainly from such sources. But times had changed in the ten years that elapsed between these two publications, and the success of the Symphonys was not repeated in the case of the Overtures, whose failure to win approval led Boyce to publish no more of his own works. The 1760 volume had included pieces written between 1739 and 1756 and some of them must already have seemed a little dated. The French overtures and Italian sin-fonias which had satisfied the public in the first half of the century no longer appealed to public-taste in the second, which witnessed a shift in favour of more recent continental developments. The orchestral style of the Mannheim School, exemplified in the works of Alexander Erskine and others, took hold, only to be quickly superseded by that of the symphonies of visiting German composers like J. C. Bach and K. F. Abel which, in turn, at the end of the century gave way to the fully realized Classical style in the London Symphonies of the great Haydn himself.
The symphonies recorded here were published by John Walsh (Handel's publisher) in 1760 under the title Eight Symphonys in bight Paris. Six for Violins, Hoboys, or German Flutes, and Two for Violins, I'rench Horns, and Trumpets, with a Bass for Violoncello and Harpsicord: Composed by W Boyce Opera Seconda. The orchestral specification in the title is not quite complete since bassoons and double bass, playing from the bass part, are also required, as arc timpani in Symphony no. 5. All except the last of the symphonies were originally overtures to odes or dramatic works.
Boyce's symphonies are constructed in a relatively simple manner, generally having three movements, one ol which might be in the relative minor key (Symphonies nos. 1 and 3). Most of the movements are in a binary, or occasionally extended binary form, sometimes with the opening strain repeated so as to give the illusion, at least, of rondeau form (Symphonies nos.3 and 4, 3rd movements). In Symphony no. 5 the two chords of the Adagio ad libitum remind one ol a similar feature in Bach's Third Brandenburg Concerto; in both cases some embellishment is called lor. Symphony no. 8 is rather different from the rest (some manuscript sources describe it as a concertogrosso). Its second movement is based on a freely handled ostinato figure, and its final Gavotte is a set of variations that follows the traditional pattern of "divisions", with running quavers in the bass in the first variation and triplet quavers in the treble for the last. The first movements are more varied, though those in Symphonies nos. 1, 2 and 4 are still straightforward binary pieces. Nos. 3 and 5 begin with quite broadly conceived Italianate sinfonias; Nos. A, 7 and 8 commence with slow sections in the French overture style, but the ensuing quick sections are more Italianate than French, the Allegro in no. 8 being a well worked-out double fugue. Boyce sometimes reduces his texture to three or even two parts, and while his woodwind generally double the string parts there arc some effective obbligato passages such as the bassoon solos in Symphony no. 3. Instrumentation is often changed for middle movements, with oboes being replaced by flutes: they were, of course, normally played by the same performers. 1 lorns and trumpets each appear only once (Symphony no. 4, 2nd movement, and no. 5, respectively) but in both cases they make a fine eftcct playing in their upper registers.
No doubt Boyce learned a good deal tram his great contemporary Handel. But his rnuMe lias a robust and fresh quality ol its own, nowhere more apparent than in the vigorous "jiggs" and sturdy, tuneful gavottes of these symphonies, a quality that seems innately English and makes a distinctive and valuable contribution to the music of the 18th century. Indeed, we may well echo Burney's judgement that "There is an original and sterling merit in his productions...that gives to all his works a peculiar stamp and character of His own, for strength, clearness, and facility, without any mixture or styles or extraneous and heterogeneous ornaments.