This Sunday Elder Music column was launched in December of 2008. By May of the following year, one commenter, Peter Tibbles, had added so much knowledge and value to my poor attempts at musical presentations that I asked him to take over the column. He's been here each week ever since delighting us with his astonishing grasp of just about everything musical, his humor and sense of fun. You can read Peter's bio here and find links to all his columns here.
As I mentioned in the countdown from 20 to 11, Australia's ABC Classical radio station had a listeners' poll on their favorite Baroque (and earlier) pieces of music. These are the big guns, as selected by the listeners, and my goodness I find it a bit on the popular side (well, I guess that was the point of it after all).
However, as much as I admire Mr Handel, four selections seem a bit much considering Papa Bach only managed one.
Okay, counting down from 10 to 1.
10. THOMAS TALLIS - Spem In Alium
Not much is known about Tom's early life. He was probably born in 1505 and lived a long time – through the reigns of Henry VII, Henry VIII, Edward VI, Mary and Elizabeth I. That's not counting Jane and Philip who might also be included by nitpickers.
Elizabeth granted him (and William Byrd) a really nice deal: they had exclusive rights to print any music in any language for 21 years. A nice little earner, that one.
In between, he wrote a lot of music, best known of which is Spem in alium. Here it is.
9. GEORGE FRIDERIC HANDEL - Music for the Royal Fireworks
After The Messiah, the two best known works would be Music for the Royal Fireworks and Water Music. Not surprisingly, as this column is the result of a popular vote, both are included today.
First off is the Fireworks, the third movement.
8. GEORGE HANDEL - Four Coronation Anthems
George again. There are four Coronation Anthems (the title probably gave that away) including the most famous of the lot, Zadok the Priest. In spite of its being played often, I still like it, even though I'm not into kings or gods.
7. HENRY PURCELL - Dido and Aeneas
Henry is considered the finest English composer ever, a big call as he was only 36 when he died. One theory of his demise is that his wife locked him out in the middle of winter after he returned late from the theatre and he caught a chill (or something worse).
Another theory is that it was tuberculosis that did him in. Before that he wrote vast amounts of music in all the styles of the day and a few he invented for himself.
One of those is the opera “Dido and Aeneas”, one of the very first English operas. From that is Thy hand, Belinda - When I am laid in earth sung today by the incomparable Jessye Norman.
6. JOHANN PACHELBEL - Canon and Gigue in D for violins and basso continuo
This was played a bit when Jo wrote it in 1694 for Johann Christoph Bach's wedding – he was J.S.'s oldest brother – and then put away and forgotten about for a couple of centuries until it was rediscovered in the 20th and has become extremely popular ever since.
I've omitted the Canon and have just included the Gigue.
I decided to play this all the way through to see which bit I'd select. That'll put paid to the afternoon but there are worse ways to spend the day. (Time passes – a considerable amount of time).
Okay, I've settled on O Mensch, bewein dein Sünde gross.
4. G. HANDEL - Water Music
Georgie once more. This time in an aquatic mode with the Gavotte from his Water Music Suite.
3. GREGORIO ALLEGRI - Miserere mei, Deus
There is a famous story about the Miserere. All the various popes since the time when Greg wrote the piece refused to allow anyone to perform it other than at the Sistine Chapel. No one was permitted to publish the work or copy it in any way.
This was under pain of excommunication (and probably worse, knowing of some of those popes at the time).
Anyway, one year Leopold Mozart and his 12-year-old son Wolfgang were visiting the city and went along to a performance. Upon returning home, young Wolfie wrote out the entire work from memory. He returned a couple of days later to ensure he got it right – only a couple of very minor corrections were needed, and the work subsequently became widely known.
I suppose this is the first instance of a teenager (or nearly so) illegally downloading music.
The complete Miserere is a bit long for this column, running around 15 minutes, so here is the first half of it (more or less) performed by the Choir of New College, Oxford.
2. ANTONIO VIVALDI - The Four Seasons
These are really just four violin concertos linked by a common theme. They are certainly Tony's most famous work and most often played (over-played, if you ask me).
I'm sure most of you would have at least a passing familiarity with these, so I'll do something different. In spite of these being written for violin and orchestra, I have a transcription for solo guitar. So I thought I'd play that instead.
Here is what would normally be called the Concerto no. 1 in E major, RV 269 (Spring), but in this case is just a guitar playing it. The first movement.
1. Mr HANDEL - Messiah
Top of the pops is the big man himself with his best known work, The Messiah. Not all of it, but you can catch the lot every Christmas, or at least around my neck of the wood that is so.
The section I've chosen is aptly titled The Sound is Gone Out. Trevor Pinnock conducts The English Concert and Choir.