George Frideric Handel:

or The Power of Musick

Ode for the Birthday of Queen Anne


BMC 4748
Double Album

ALEXANDER'S FEAST or The Power of Musick
Honor Sheppard, Soprano / Max Worthley , Tenor / Maurice Bevan, Bass
Oriana Concert Choir & Orchestra
Alfred Deller, Countertenor and Conductor

Ode for the Birthday of Queen Anne - 1713
Honor Sheppard, Mary Thomas, Soprano
Alfred and Mark Deller, Countertenors / Maurice Bevan, Baritone
Oriana Concert Choir & Orchestra
Alfred Deller, Conductor

CD 1 - Alexander's Feast Part 1

2: Tenor Recitative "Twas at the Royal Feast"
3: Tenor Air & Chorus "Happy, happy, happy Pair"
4: Tenor Recitative "Timotheus, plac'd on high"
5: Soprano Acc. Recit. "The song began from Jove"
6: CHORUS "The list'ning crowd"
7: Soprano Air "With ravish'd ears"
8: Tenor Recitative "The praise of Bacchus"
9: Bass Air & Chorus "Bacchus, ever fair and young"
10: Tenor Recitative "Sooth'd with the sound"
11: Soprano Acc. Recit. "He chose a mournful Muse"
12: Soprano Air "He sung Darius, great and good"
13: Soprano Acc. Recit. "With downcast looks"
14: CHORUS "Behold Darius great and good"
15: Tenor Recitative "The mighty master smil'd to see"
16: Soprano Air "Softly sweet in Lydian measures"
17: Tenor Air "War, he sung, is toil and trouble"
18: CHORUS "The many rend the skies"
19: Soprano Air & Chorus "The Prince, unable to conceal"

Total Time: 63:41

CD 2 - Alexander's Feast Part 2

1: Tenor & Chorus "Now strike the golden Lyre again"
2: Bass Air "Revenge, revenge, Timotheus cries"
3: Tenor Acc. Recit. "Give vengeance due"
4: Tenor Air "The Princes applaud"
5: Soprano Air & Chorus "Thais led the way"
6: Tenor & Chorus "Thus, long ago"
7: Tenor & Bass Recit. "Let old Timotheus yield the prize"
8: CHORUS & Soloists "Let old Timotheus yield the prize"

Ode for the Birthday of Queen Anne - 1713

9: Countertenor & Chorus "Eternal source of light Divine"
10: Soprano "Let all the winged race with joy"
11: Countertenor "Let flocks and herds their fear forget"
      "The day that gave great Anna birth"
12: Countertenor & Bass "Let the rolling streams"
13: Sopranos "Kind health descends on downy wings"
14: Bass "Let envy then conceal her head"
15: Countertenor & Chorus "United nations"

Total Time: 61:40

Handel's Oratorio "Alexander's Feast, or The Power of Music" is based on the poem by John Dryden, (1631-1700), poet laureate, dramatist, critic, and the leading literary figure of Restoration England. In 1683 a musical society was formed in London for performing annually on November 22nd, a composition in honour of St. Cecilia, the patron saint of music. Dryden had already written a poem (A Song for St. Cecilia's Day) for the 1687 festival. Alexander's Feast was written for the festival in 1697, first set to music by Jeremiah Clarke, and later by Handel in 1736. In this Cecilian Ode, subtitled "The Power of Music", Dryden attempts to demonstrate the effects of music upon the emotional harmony of man and also conceives of music as the harmonization of human passion with universal order.

The setting is a scene from classical antiquity: Alexander the Great, after his defeat of Darius and the Persians in 331 B.C., is celebrating the victory with a banquet, at which the famous flute-player, Timotheus, entertains the guests with music.

Like Orpheus reborn, Timotheus, singing and playing the flute and the lyre, is able to inspire and arouse in his listeners a range of intense emotions - sense of sublime divinity, bacchanalian joy, martial zeal, heartfelt pity, tender love, and even fiery revenge. The princes applaud, with a furious joy; And the king seized a flambeau with zeal to destroy;

Then Cecilia appears and by giving men the instrument of heavenly harmony - the organ - she extends the benefits of music beyond those influences which Timotheus exerted. At last, divine Cecilia came, Inventress of the vocal frame; The sweet enthusiast, from her sacred store, Enlarg'd the former narrow bounds, And added length to solemn sounds. In conclusion the poet decides that Cecilia and Timotheus should divide the musical crown between them. Let old Timotheus yield the prize, Or both divide the Crown: He rais'd a mortal to the skies; She drew an angel down.

Completed on January 17, 1736 and produced at Covent Garden in London on February 19, Alexander's Feast became one of Handel's most admired compositions. It was produced once more in February, and three times in March. Later Handel repeatedly revived it whenever, with his audiences diminishing, he wanted a "sure-fire" attraction. Altogether it was given eighteen times between 1737 and 1743, and eight times in the following decade. It was published in full in Handel's lifetime; a notable distinction accorded to only one other of his choral works, Acis and Galatea.

Alexander's Feast was a product of Handel's mature years, mature both in the musical sense and in the sense that he was by then well established in London both as a composer and an impresario. With the Ode for the Birthday of Queen Anne we go back to 1713, when Handel was not even "officially" settled in England.

On leave of absence in London from his position at the Hanover court in 1712, Handel was invited to produce an English Court Ode for Queen Anne's birthday. The Queen normally took little interest in her composers, being (according to the Duke of Manchester) "too busy or too careless to listen to her own band, and had no thought of hearing and paying new players however great their genius or vast their skill". It is surprising, therefore, that she granted Handel a pension of £200 a year for life.

On the other hand, it was Anne who presided over England's dramatic defeat of France, in which John Churchill, Duke of Marlborough, put an end to the expansionist ambitions of King Louis XIV and twelve years of war. This Ode is therefore one of great joy and celebration, which Handel captures in his music just as confidently as in Alexander's Feast though in a noticeably more youthful style.

Baroque Music Library