ISSN: 1089-747X
Copyright © 1995–2012 by the Society for Seventeenth-Century Music

Volume 5, no. 1:

Henry Aldrich, Selected Anthems and Motet Recompositions. Edited by Robert Shay. Recent Researches in the Music of the Baroque Era, 85. Madison: A-R Editions, 1998. [xiv, 120 pp. ISBN 0-89579-393-8. $45.00.]

Reviewed by Michael Burden*

1. Aldrich and Contemporary Oxford

2. This Edition



1. Aldrich and Contemporary Oxford

1.1 Like the poet Byron, Henry Aldrich (1648–1710) is one of those irritating figures of history whose papers were destroyed at his death. In Aldrich's case, this was at his request, and although they may have contained nothing of a scandalous nature, they would certainly have enlarged our otherwise scanty knowledge of this enigmatic music collector and composer. Indeed, it should be said that there is no whiff of scandal of any kind around this industrious and upright polymath. What the papers may perhaps have contained were references and correspondence relating to his staunchly pro-Tory—and therefore, opposed to King William III—stance, and he may have sought to protect his friends should the country's political fortunes have taken a turn against him.

1.2 Aldrich himself matriculated at the college of Christ Church in 1662, then became Tutor, Canon, and then, in 1689, Dean, the last being the Head of House. It is characteristic of the religious and political turmoil in England at this time that Aldrich succeeded John Massey, a Roman Catholic, who, having opened an oratory and appointed a Jesuit his Chaplain, fled when the Catholic James II went into exile and was replaced by the Protestant joint regnancy of William and Mary. He proved to be an effective and diplomatic Dean and provided a period of stability between the period of Massey (and his predecessor, John Fell) and that of the quarrelsome Francis Atterbury.

1.3 Aldrich's Oxford was, musically, somewhat diffuse. The University—of which Aldrich was Vice-Chancellor from 1692 until 1695—had included music as part of the medieval Quadrivium. However, the degrees offered in Aldrich's time—the BMus and the DMus—were instituted during the 1500s, and it was not until 1627 that William Heyther funded the Music Lectureship and the Choragus, which, after various incarnations, became the basis for today's Heather Professorship. These appointments did not result in vigorous music making, and the ceremony of receiving degrees—known as the Oxford Act—continued to be a focus for musical activity. Aldrich's contributions to the Act Music included at least one by his own hand, and some arrangements or adaptations of Carissimi, using techniques not unlike those employed by Aldrich in his motet "recompositions" included by Shay in this collection.

1.4 The Colleges were, of course, quite a different matter from the University. More focused institutions and powerful in their own right, they included three choral foundations—the medieval New College (1379), the renaissance Magdalen College (1448), and Aldrich's own Christ Church (1525; refounded 1532), and it was of the last—which then, as today, is also the Cathedral Church of Oxford—that he effectively took charge of the music in 1682, appointing William Saunders to the key post of Organist.  A remark made by a contemporary and reported by William Hayes, Organist of New College and Heather Professor of Music, shows Aldrich's mastery of the choir and its administration: "there was not a useless Member in his Choir; for Chaplains had then an equal share of choral Duty with the Singing-Man; nor was there the least Grumbling or Complaint on that Account; [Aldrich] himself setting a noble Example to the former; by constantly singing a Part in all the Services and Anthems. A man of some style, and determination."

2. This Edition

2.1 As well as the motet recompositions of Carissimi already mentioned—there are three—the edition also contains two works of Palestrina and one of Byrd, together with seven of Aldrich's own anthems, including the syllabic "O Praise the Lord," and a personal favorite, "Out of the Deep." Perhaps the most fascinating thing about Aldrich's music was the extent to which it was disseminated; some of his works were added to the books of the Chapel Royal and Westminster Abbey, they were performed in Durham and Trinity, and they appeared in the collections of later anthologizers such as Boyce and Aldrich.

2.2 As always with A-R Editions, one is struck by the clarity of layout and purpose of the volume, even when the content does not meet one's expectations. And here the content does meet expectations; the discussion is clear, the commentary lucid, and Shay's Critical Report is one of the best of its kind. There are one or two obscurities—the anthem is not part of the Anglican liturgy, but is para-liturgical, and while he is neglected, I doubt if Aldrich can really be said to be "one of the least known figures in the musical scene of Restoration England"— but none of them is serious. The Notes on Performance deal thoroughly with the subject, but Shay's remark—that "modern performers need not be too legalistic in handling verse sections in such works"—comes just in time to prevent the consideration from becoming too heavy-handed. The divisions of verse and full sections, however delineated in the score, were probably adjusted to the talents of the singers who were present, and as Shay himself shows in the succeeding discussion of organ realizations and accompaniments, there is endless variation in both presentation and style. While no-one interested in the subject would advocate a completely free approach, a flexible one within known parameters probably reflects what actually occurred. The edition has one of A-R's improvements to their original house style, the abandonment of a realized figured bass. Apart from the doubt over the copyright protection a realized bass actually gives—the reason advanced by some publishers for its inclusion—this antediluvian practice causes sound editorial work to date more quickly than today's sensation.

2.3 Reviewing editions of works by composers of Aldrich's standing always raises the question of the need to produce such music in modern editions. It is not "top-flight-stuff" by any means, and the suspicion in which contrafacta of this sort are held today mitigates against their being taken into the repertoire, however ingenious Aldrich's recompositions may be. Shay is—I can't help feeling—over positive about it on occasion, not allowing the least glimmer of doubt as to the musical worth of these anthems and motets. I would be inclined to counsel caution, given some of the aspects discussed by Shay. This is not to sell Aldrich short—indeed, I have myself commissioned editions of Aldrich, and have recorded one of his Act odes—but it is an acknowledgement that the interest contained in the music and the circumstances of its composition are not guarantees of musical quality.

2.4 Nevertheless, in this case, there can be no question that these works are fascinating, and that their closer study is essential to our understanding of music in Restoration England. Further, it is only through editions of the quality such as Shay's, that, with appropriate caution, we will be able to build up a clearer picture of seventeenth-century compositional processes.


*Michael Burden (, who is director of New Chamber Opera, is Fellow in Music at New College, Oxford, and Lecturer in Opera Studies in the University. His last book, A Woman Scorn'd: Responses to the Dido myth, was published by Faber & Faber in 1998, and he is currently working on a new complete edition of Purcell's Fairy-Queen for Eulenburg.
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