Early English cantatas with their Italianate recitatives and da capo arias gave composers an opportunity to work in the Italian operatic style. Indeed each cantata is, in effect, a miniature opera. Fanciful plots are played out in the timeless dream world of Arcadia, the home of pastoral poetry and song. Set for a small number of performers, the chamber cantata enabled a little of the drama, if not the spectacle of the opera house, to be enjoyed in the eighteenth century drawing room.
Each cantata tells a brief but complete story. Short recitatives set the scene and move the action along followed by attractive, tuneful and above all approachable arias. Far removed from the stresses of modern life (and no doubt the lives of contemporary musicians) the imagined pastoral dream world is inhabited by nymphs, shepherds and the gods and goddesses of classical mythology.
Six English Cantatas
by Boyce, Broderip, Burgess, Carey, Eccles, and Young.
Edited and with an Introduction by Peter Harrison
1. William Boyce (1711-1779) Tell me ye Brooks(1745)
2. John Broderip (1719-1770) On Voice and Beauty
3. Henry Burgess Jnr. (1738-1765) Cælia (1749)
4. Henry Carey (1687-1743) Belinda & Eurillo (1732)
5. John Eccles (c.1668-1735) Love Kindled Recitative & Aria
6. Anthony Young (1683-1747) Bright Teraminta (1725)
On Voice and Beauty uses 2 violins, otherwise all are set for voice and continuo
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Cupid, the Roman God of desire, that rather chubby, impish, winged boy with his mischievous bow and arrow, often has a significant contribution to make to the story lines. In Henry Carey’s ‘Belinda and Eurillo’ Belinda is compared to Diana the Roman goddess of hunting. The fructifying Zephyrs breath balmy breezes in ‘Cælia’ but here Burgess or his librettist confines Venus, the Roman Goddess of beauty ‘to her Isle’, referring to her as ‘the Cyprian dame’ perhaps confusing Venus with her Greek equivalent Aphrodite.
John Eccles’ work, ‘Love Kindled’ is little more than a song while the tale of ‘Cælia’, a rather convoluted saga of mistaken identity, by Henry Burgess, is a more extended work with the solo singer expected to take several parts as well as acting as narrator.
We can but speculate on the nature of contemporary performances. As a minimum usually one singer and a continuo instrument are required but occasionally there are obbligato instrumental parts as in John Broderip’s exposition of the power of music in ‘On Voice and Beauty’.
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