Britannia & Augusta
Editor: with an Introduction by Peter Holman. Three scores and set of parts
for two sopranos (d'-a''), two recorders/oboes, strings and bc
Britannia and Augusta is one of Pepusch’s first major works. It is a setting of an elegiac ode by John Hughes (1667-1720) in memory of William Cavendish, fourth Earl and first Duke of Devonshire (1641-1707). Cavendish, a prominent Whig politician who played an important role in bringing about the Glorious Revolution of 1688, died in London on 18 August 1707 and was buried on 1 September at All Hallows, Derby. Hughes, a Whig writer and associate of Addison and Steele, provided Pepusch with many texts to set, including no fewer than twelve cantatas and the masque Apollo and Daphne (1707). Cavendish was interested in literature and music, and would have probably have come into contact with both poet and composer at literary gatherings or concerts. We know from the printed text that Britannia was sung by Margherita de l’Epine (Pepusch’s future wife) and Augusta by Catherine Tofts, and from Hughes’s correspondence that the venue was Stationers’ Hall; no record of the performance has survived, but it was presumably during the autumn of 1707. Given that the singers and the composer were members of the Italian opera company, then being formed, it is likely that the accompaniment was also provided by members of its future orchestra.