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William HAYES (1708 - 1777): The Passions, An Ode for Music

Ulrike Hofbauer (Cheerfulness, Hope, Reason), Evelyn Tubb (Cheerfulness, Melancholy, Narrator), soprano; Sumihito Uesugi (Jealousy, Joy), alto; David Munderloh (Despair, Fear), tenor; Lisandro Abadie (Anger, Revenge), bass
Choir of the Schola Cantorum Basiliensis; La Cetra Barockorchester Basel
Dir: Anthony Rooley

rec: Oct 2008, Basle, Volkshaus
Glossa - GCD 922501 ( 2010) (75'43")

In the 17th and 18th centuries the veneration of St Cecilia as patron of music was widespread in Europe, and especially in England. When Handel arrived in London, the celebration of St Cecilia's Day had already a long history. Until the end of the 17th century it was a private affair, but from 1683 on The Musical Society held a celebration in London which was repeated every year with a service and a concert. It was for such concerts that composers were writing music to a text poets were asked to deliver. John Dryden was one of the most famous poets of his time, and his poems A Song for St Cecilia and Alexander's Feast, or the Power of Music were set by Giovanni Battista Draghi and Jeremiah Clarke respectively.

Henry Purcell and George Frederic Handel were also asked to compose Odes for St Cecilia's Day. These are frequently performed and recorded. But there is more than these Odes. When in 2001 Anthony Rooley started to research the English St Cecilia tradition he stumbled across The Passions, An Ode for Music which William Hayes had set to a poem by William Collins, and was first performed in 1750. It was not written for St Cecilia's Day, though, and the patron saint of music isn't even mentioned. But its subject is strongly linked to the veneration of St Cecilia as it honours the "power of music", just like John Dryden's poems did.

William Hayes was born in Gloucester in 1708 and entered the town's cathedral choir. Its director, William Hine, probably gave him his first organ lessons. In 1729 Hayes was appointed organist of St Mary's in Shrewsbury. In 1731 he became organist of Worcester Cathedral. In 1734 he moved to Oxford, where he took over the position of organist and master of the choristers at Magdalen College. In 1741 he was appointed organist at the university church. In Oxford he played a central role in the music scene: Hayes directed the weekly concerts in the Holywell Music Room, which was opened in 1748. Hayes was also an academic: he received his B.Mus. in 1735, was appointed professor in 1741 and in 1749 he received his D.Mus.

The poet William Collins (1721-1759) was first educated in Winchester and than 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, and 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. In the Ode as it was set by Hayes various characters show up: Fear, Anger, Despair, Hope, Revenge, Jealousy, Melancholy, Cheerfulness and Joy. "Collins' poem illustrates music's power to arouse each of the human emotions (passions) in turn, from fear and anger through to cheerfulness and joy. In the Earl of Lichfield's revised ending Reason steps forward to adjudicate between the vying passions, concluding, very reasonably of course, that when music assigns each passion its proper place then all will 'jointly please'. The final chorus then celebrates music's mastery over them all". (Simon Heighes in the programme notes)

Hayes was an admirer of Handel, and that is reflected by this Ode. Handel goes into great detail in illustrating the text in his music in his Ode for St Cecilia's Day, and so does Hayes. When a horn is mentioned we hear a horn, and a transverse flute when the text is about a "lively pipe". The "awakening viol" is illustrated by the cello, reflecting the change of fashion in Hayes' time. The horns turn up again when there is a reference to "the hunter's call", and the oboe is acting as an echo to the voice of Hope: "She called on Echo still, through all the song". There are also various passages of eloquent text illustration, and the fact that Hayes expresses contrasting Affekts within a single aria or even a single line - for instance in line 2 of Jealousy's aria ("and now it courted Love, now raving called on Hate") - shows that he was open to modern trends in musical aesthetics.

Anthony Rooley considers this Ode a masterpiece, and I tend to agree. I have very much enjoyed Hayes' music, which only confirms by favourable impression of his music when I reviewed a disc with orchestral music. It is a matter of good luck that the performers deliver such a convincing interpretation of Hayes' Ode. All soloists have very fine voices, and are totally at home in the baroque idiom. Actually, there is no weak link here. If I have to mention one highlight it is probably the aria 'When Cheerfulness, a nymph of healthiest hue', which is in fact a duet - sung by Evelyn Tubb and Ulrike Hofbauer - which merges into a chorus. The choir of the Schola Cantorum Basiliensis and La Cetra Barockorchester Basel are also top-notch.

The booklet contains contributions of Anthony Rooley and Simon Heighes, and the complete lyrics, with translations in German, French and Spanish. In short, this is an outstanding production which I strongly recommend.

Johan van Veen ( 2010)

Relevant links:

La Cetra Barockorchester Basel


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