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William HAYES (1708 - 1777): "Ceremonial Oxford - Music for the Georgian University"

The Choir of Keble College, Oxforda; Instruments of Time & Truthb; Edward Higginbottomc, Matthew Martind, Rory Moulese, organ
Dir: Matthew Martin

rec: June 25 - 27, 2017, Oxford, Keble College Chapel
CRD - 3534 (© 2017) (79'12")
Liner-notes: E; lyrics - no translations
Cover & track-list

William HAYES: Concerto for keyboard and orchestra in Gbd; Lord, how long wilt thou be angry?, anthema [3]; Lord, thou hast been our refuge, anthemac [3]; O be joyful in God, all ye lands, anthemac [3]; O worship the Lord, anthemac [3]; Psalm 23: Lo! My Shepherd's hand divineac [2]; Psalm 120: To God I cry'd with anguish stungae [2]; Save, Lord, an hear us, anthemac [3]; The Fall of Jericho, oratorio (sinfonia; chorus: Whom then does Jericho deride - Will she in gates of brass rejoice)ab; The Hundredth Psalmab; The Passions, An Ode to Music (overture; chorus: Thy wide extended pow'r)ab; William WALOND (1719-1768): Voluntary in Gd [1]

Sources: [1] William Walond, Voluntaries for the organ or harpsichord, op. 1, c1752; William Hayes, [2] Sixteen Psalms Selected from the Rev. Mr. Merrick’s New Version, 1773; [3] Cathedral Music in Score, 1795

In the first half of the 18th century George Frideric Handel was without any doubt the most popular composer in England. The many arrangements of his works or extracts from them that were published, for instance by John Walsh, attest to that. However, he was not unanimously admired: one of his fiercest critics was Charles Avison (1709-1770), who, in his book Remarks on Mr. Avison's Essay on Musical Expression, had the audacity to rank Geminiani, Rameau and Marcello above Handel. This did not remain unanswered. The reply came from William Hayes, who was one of Handel's greatest admirers and one of the strongest promoters of his work. He was born in Gloucester, but worked for most of his life in Oxford, where he directed many performances of Handel's compositions, in particular his oratorios. In 1749 he was responsible for the first known performance of Messiah in Oxford.

One of Hayes' main works is his oratorio The Fall of Jericho, which unfortunately has not been recorded as yet. That would be a very interesting work to hear at full length, as the extracts on the present disc suggest. The overture, called sinfonia, is in two movements; the first is dominated by dotted rhythms, the second is a fugue. The chorus is about the fall of Jericho as the result of the Jewish people's marching around its walls. This is vividly depicted in Hayes' music, both in the choral and in the orchestral parts.

The disc opens with two excerpts from one of his major secular works, The Passions, An Ode for Music, which dates from 1750. The text was written by the poet William Collins (1721-1759), who was first educated in Winchester and then in Oxford, and that may have been the main reason that Hayes chose his Ode The Passions to set to music, as his composition was to be performed at the Commemoration of the Founders and Benefactors of the University of Oxford. At the time Collins' poetical works were not very well received, especially the Odes which were published in 1747. It was only later that his works were appreciated, and The Passions became so popular that it was even quoted in Charles Dickens' Great Expectations (1860/61). The Ode by Collins was not used unaltered, though. Hayes thought the ending was not very well suited to be set to music, and he asked the Chancellor of the University, the Earl of Lichfield, to rewrite the last 25 lines. This chorus is what is performed here, preceded by the overture in the French style. The entire work is well worth hearing; it was recorded by Anthony Rooley.

The other vocal works are intended for liturgical use. Most of them are in the category of the full anthem: a piece for choir and organ. They attest to Hayes' admiration for the anthems of the previous century, by composers like Henry Purcell. "That our Church-Music is capable of Improvement ... cannot be denied. (...) [The] further we look back, the more excellent the composition", Hayes is quoted in the liner-notes. In his anthems he is indeed rather conservative, as they are dominated by polyphony. All of them are settings of verses from Psalms, and they are divided into three sections. The second is mostly for reduced voices and include lines for a single voice. Here these are performed with the respective voice group from the choir, but I wonder whether they were intended for solo voices. As I have no access to the scores I can't check whether there is any indication with regard to the line-up Hayes may have had in mind. His interest in early music also comes to the fore in his arrangements of motets by Byrd and Tallis from their joint collection Cantiones Sacrae of 1575. Hayes adapted Byrd's motet Emendemus in melius to the English text of three verses from Psalm 79: Lord, how long wilt thou be angry. He kept the original scoring for voices a capella.

In 1773 Hayes published his Sixteen Psalms, settings of versifications by James Merrick, a poet and scholar from Oxford. These settings are homophonic, and scored for three or four voices with organ. From this collection Psalms 23 and 120 are selected. One of the most famous tunes in English sacred music is that of Psalm 100, known as the Old Hundredth. Hayes added instrumental parts; the choir sings the hymn in homophony, the orchestra adds the polyphony.

Hayes not only was a composer, but also an organist. His oeuvre includes two organ concertos and the Concerto in G which was originally conceived as a harpsichord concerto. This makes it the very first concerto of its kind by an English composer. Simon Heighes, in his liner-notes, mentions that the autograph manuscript in the Bodleian Library shows that in the years after its first performance it was often played at the organ, and that is the reason it is played here as an organ concerto as well. It is a very nice work which has all the qualities of becoming part of the standard repertoire for keyboard and strings. The keyboard part is very attractive, and in the slow movement it even includes written-out cadenzas. The only piece not from Hayes' pen is the Voluntary in G by William Walond. He was also from Oxford; he acted as organist and copyist and played the viola in the first performance of Hayes' The Passions.

This disc attests to the growing interest in William Hayes. I already mentioned Anthony Rooley's recording of The Passions. He also recorded the Six Cantatas which Hayes published in 1748, together with his Ode Orpheus and Euridice. Capriccio Basel, directed by Dominik Kiefer, recorded various instrumental works, including the Concerto in G. The present disc is the ideal introduction to Hayes' oeuvre. We get here extracts from two of his major vocal works, a concerto and anthems. I did not know these two ensembles, and I am impressed by their qualities. The choir is a very fine ensemble, which sings the pieces of very different kinds quite beautifully. The relatively simple items and the more dramatic pieces come off equally well. The orchestra is outstanding, and so is Matthew Martin in his performance of the organ solos.

This release shows that the interest in Hayes is well deserved. Let's hope that his oratorio The Fall of Jericho will make it to disc one day.

Johan van Veen (© 2018)

Relevant links:

Choir of Keble College, Oxford

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