O Praise the Lord in his Holiness

An Anthem

Nicola Haym (1678-1729)

Editor: with an Introduction by Peter Holman

for two sopranos (c’-a’’), flute, oboe, two violins, violoncello & organ

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The composer and cellist Nicola Haym (1678-1729) was the son of a Roman instrument maker and was a professional musician in the city from at least 1694. He arrived in London in March 1701 in the retinue of Wriothesley Russell, Marquess of Tavistock, soon to be the second Duke of Bedford. He became master of Russell’s ‘Chamber Musick’, and worked subsequently for Charles Montague, Baron Halifax, and James Brydges, Earl of Carnarvon, later Duke of Chandos. In 1706 he began a career in the theatre, initially at Drury Lane (he arranged Bononcini’s Camilla, produced there on 30 March), and worked subsequently for the Italian opera company at the Haymarket Theatre. He also wrote or revised the texts of Italian operas, including a number by Handel, from Teseo (1713) to Tolomeo (1728). From 1720 Haym was one of the two principal violoncellos in the orchestra of the Royal Academy of Music, becoming its secretary in 1722. He was a man with many interests: he edited Italian literary works, was a scholar interested in coins, gems, sculpture and other antiquities, and supposedly wrote a history of music, now lost.

'O praise the Lord in his holiness’ is the fourth of a set of sixth anthems written by Haym for the Earl of Carnarvon’s private chapel at Cannons near Edgware in Middlesex. The autograph score of the set, now British Library, Add. MS 62561, is described on the title-page ‘Six Anthems with Instruments, for one, two or three Voices, Composed by Nicolino Haym of Rome, for the Use of Witchurch, and Humbly Dedicated to the Right Honourable, the Earl of Carnarvon, Cannons, the 29th of September 1716’. The volume is listed in J.C. Pepusch’s catalogue of the Duke of Chandos’s library, compiled in 1720, and it passed with other volumes by inheritance into the library of Lord Leigh of Stoneleigh Abbey in Warwickshire. It was sold at Christie’s on 18 November 1981, lot 124, and was acquired by the British Library from Richard McNutt in 1983. There is also a copy of ‘O praise the Lord in his holiness’ in Oxford, Bodleian Library, Tenbury MS 830 with the unconvincing annotation ‘Dr Croft I believe’.

Haym’s ‘Chandos’ anthems, like those by Handel and Pepusch, were written for the group of musicians assembled by Carnarvon. On 15 November 1715 Cassandra, Lady Carnarvon, wrote to the Dowager Duchess of Bedford enquiring about Haym’s salary, and he seems to have been employed at Cannons from then until 1718, when he was dismissed. In the dedication Haym wrote that: 'Seeing your Lordship’s pleasure was, after having built your new Church, to have Musick there on Sundays, and since no Anthems were all ready made wherein your Musick could be Employed, I thought, though without a direct command from your Lordship, I could not better employ my time while at Cannons than in composing these six Anthems with Instruments for the said purpose…'

The group was small but select, and consisted mostly of Italians. In 1718 it included three violinists and three violoncellists or bass players, as well as the oboist Signor Biancardi and the flute and bassoon player Pietro Chaboud; they presumably played the flute and oboe parts in the anthem. The soprano singers were all boys; they must have been well trained to cope with Haym’s considerable demands. Until the chapel in the house was completed in 1720, the group performed in St Lawrence Whitchurch, just outside the Cannons estate, which had been rebuilt by Carnarvon in an Italianate style between 1713 and 1715. Unlike the chapel and the house, which was demolished in 1747, the small and elegant church survives, and a visitor can get a good idea of how music was performed there. The organ (by Gerard Smith, 1716; reconstructed by Goezte and Gwynn, 1994) has always been at the east end; the musicians were presumably grouped around it. The earl and his family sat facing them in a gallery at the west end.

‘O praise the Lord in his holiness’ is a setting of Psalm 150 in a version similar to that found in the 1662 Book of Common Prayer. Like Handel’s more famous Chandos anthems, it combines elements of Italian church music with the English type of symphony anthem. It starts with a Corellian sinfonia, and uses the instruments to illustrate those mentioned in the text, with the winds evoking trumpets and the solo violin and violoncello the lute and the harp. A strange feature of the work is that it has two settings of the Alleluia, respectively in a modern virtuosic style and in the learned stile antico. They work well together in performance, though it is conceivable that they were intended as alternatives, for different occasions. It is not clear whether the wind instruments should double the strings in movements where they are not specified. The ranges of the string parts mostly fit the flute and oboe, though for the first modern performance (The Parley of Instruments, Trinity College, Cambridge, 29 July 2009) it was decided to add them only to the last movement. It is possible, of course, that Chaboud played the bassoon when he was not playing the flute.

Peter Holman,

Colchester, August 2009.

Further reading:

G.S. Thomson, The Russells in Bloomsbury 1669-1771 (London, 1940).

C.H.C. Baker and M.I. Baker, The Life and Circumstances of James Brydges, First Duke of Chandos, Patron of the Liberal Arts (Oxford, 1949).

J. Milhous and R.D. Hume, ‘New Light on Handel and the Royal Academy of Music in 1720’, Theatre Journal, 35 (1983), 149-167.

G. Beeks, ‘Handel and Music for the Earl of Carnarvon’, Bach, Handel, Scarlatti: Tercentenary Essays, ed. P. Williams (Cambridge, 1985), 1-20.

L. Lindgren, ‘The Accomplishments of the Learned and Ingenious Nicola Francesco Haym (1678-1729)’, Studi musicali, 16 (1987), 247-380.

Introductions to N.F. Haym, Complete Sonatas, ed. L. Lindgren, Recent Researches in the Music of the Baroque Era, 117, 2 vols. (Middleton WI, 2002).