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Journal of Seventeenth-Century Music

Journal of Seventeenth-Century Music

Volume 6 (2000) No. 2

John Weldon. The Judgment of Paris. Edited by David W. Music. Recent Researches in the Music of the Baroque Era, 94. Madison: A-R Editions, 1998. [xvii, 104 pp. ISBN 0-89579-426-8. $44.95.]

Reviewed by Kathryn Lowerre*

1. Background

2. Weldon’s Music

3. The Edition

4. Issues Raised by the Introduction


1. Background

1.1 Musical competition fascinates audiences. Such competitions (formal or informal) fill the pages of music journals of the past two centuries and have inspired the historical imagination from the Renaissance through the present day. In addition to twentieth-century competitions between contemporary performers or composers in various venues, early music concerts have offered today’s audiences popular (and amusing) musical evenings based on well-known rivalries, such as that between feuding sopranos Faustina Bordoni and Francesca Cuzzoni in Handel’s London.1 Such dramatic frameworks provide a rudimentary narrative to follow (it’s not “just” a concert) and also, significantly, provide an opportunity for the audience to become part of the performance by pretending to be part of a claque: cheering “their” performer, booing their rival—often with considerable vigor—and casting their vote for a piece or performer—verdicts which may or may not agree with history. In 1989 a well-attended reenactment of the 1701 competition that produced multiple musical settings of poet and playwright William Congreve’s masque The Judgment of Paris took place in London’s Royal Albert Hall. Yet despite this very public and prestigious revival, the work is still generally known by name only except to specialists.

1.2 While still a relative newcomer to London and an outsider in the theater world, John Weldon was awarded first prize (200 guineas—a sizable sum) for his setting of The Judgment of Paris in a competition sponsored by several prominent members of the nobility including Lord Halifax and the Duke of Somerset, both patrons of music and of the theaters. To the surprise and chagrin of his competitors, Weldon’s music was chosen over that of John Eccles, a highly successful theater composer who had recently been named Master of the King’s Music at court, and Henry Purcell’s brother Daniel, also a prominent theater composer and fellow organist. Yet in some respects, Weldon was not much of an underdog; he had been a chorister at Eton and studied with Henry Purcell for a year before being appointed organist at New College, Oxford. While at Oxford his music was published and performed, and on arriving in London he began what seems to have been a very successful series of concerts. In addition to his highly-publicized victory with “The Prize Music,” Weldon’s involvement with the university, a series of churches, and with the English court insured that his life was a stable one compared with the lower ranks of musicians (and actors) from the theaters who scrambled to get any money they could performing in taverns and at street fairs.

1.3 A facsimile edition of John Eccles’s setting of The Judgment of Paris appeared some sixteen years ago with an introduction by Richard Platt.2 An edition of Weldon’s winning entry, which (unlike Eccles’s and Purcell’s efforts) was never published during the composer’s lifetime, was long overdue. A-R Editions is to be commended for expanding their catalogue to include dramatic music from England as well as the collections of anthems and instrumental works already available.

2. Weldon’s Music

2.1 Congreve’s masque calls for solo male singers portraying Mercury, the messenger of the gods, who announces the competition among the goddesses for the golden apple inscribed “For the fairest”; and Paris (a pastoral prince of Troy), who has been chosen as arbiter. Paris must judge which of the three female soloists—representing Juno, goddess of marriage; Pallas Athena, goddess of wisdom and martial arts; or Venus, goddess of love—most deserves the prize. The goddesses offer Paris various incentives, but in the end Venus’s allurements (and promise to get him Helen, the most beautiful woman in the world) win, and the masque ends with a triumphal chorus by Venus and her attendants.

2.2 Among the three extant settings of the text, Weldon’s work is notable for its comparatively extensive use of choral settings and its vocal virtuosity in the solo passages.3 For those who chart key relationships with an eye to linked musical-dramatic structure, it is worth noting that in Weldon’s setting (unlike that of Eccles) Venus’s victory is predicted from the goddesses’ first appearance, as both wavering Paris and seductive Venus are grounded in the flat keys, while the imperial Juno and militant Pallas share C major and the sharp side. Weldon’s most famous vocal mannerisms are frequently displayed throughout—Paris’s “O Ravishing Delight” might well be retexted “save me from excess of ornamentation” rather than “from excess of joy.” However here the vocal extravagance reflects the emotion of Congreve’s poetry, and properly sung, demonstrates a convincing mastery of the florid vocal style.

2.3 In Venus’s air “Stay, lovely youth, delay thy choice,” for two flutes and voice over a ground, Weldon shows himself a worthy pupil of Henry Purcell, avoiding monotony by varying his bass line through transposition or compression. Generally, Weldon writes in the sequence-dominated “Italianate” style, and one may well wish the occasional harmonic twist would flower into a perverse Purcellian dissonance. While “Stay, lovely youth” is competent writing, the opening section of Venus’s later air “Nature fram’d thee sure for loving” brings echoes of “Fairest isle” to the ear, and is absolutely convincing as the music Paris is unable to withstand (“I yield, I yield, O take the prize”). If the later sections of Venus’s air do not quite come up to the standard set in the opening bars (which suffer nothing from comparison with Purcell), they are still eminently singable and well-shaped, and the piece as a whole is both impressive and an unadulterated delight.

3. The Edition

3.1 In general, the edition is elegant and easy to read or play from and will help make this work accessible to performers as well as scholars. It is also very precise in its details (I found but a single typographical error and a single smudged note). The few questions raised by the edition are largely those of method. In his introduction, the editor seems to be concerned to make explicit connections between the potentially unfamiliar instruments of 1701 and modern-day equivalents (essential if this edition is to be of use to student performers), but this is not carried out consistently, and this oversight makes surveying the orchestration confusing. In the opening “Notes on Performance” (p. xiii) the editor provides the following modern equivalents for the manuscript’s terms: “flute” (recorder), “curtal” (bassoon), “bass viol” (violoncello), and “bass violin” (contrabass).4 Yet in the Table of Instruments preceding the score, only two of these are listed alongside the eighteenth-century terms, and here the choice of which term is in parentheses is inconsistent. The “Editorial Methods” section at the end of the score states that “[d]esignations for vocal and instrumental parts are given using modern equivalents” (p. 99) which holds true for the low strings but not for the woodwinds, as the score uses the terms “flutes,” “curtal,” and “bass curtal” throughout.

3.2 In his critical notes the editor is admirably thorough in cataloguing the variants in the printed concordances which survive for a handful of Weldon’s songs from The Judgment of Paris; however, at times it would have been helpful to have a more precise explanation of a few of his editorial decisions. For example, the air for Pallas “Hark, hark! The glorious voice of war” presents an unusual scoring, with oboe and trumpet playing in unison throughout. In other movements, such as the “symphonies” for Pallas and the closing chorus, oboe and trumpet are used antiphonally, and their appearance in unison might well seem curious. Unfortunately, there are no critical notes for this movement, which has no concordances. Here the editor has made the decision to present on separate staves an obbligato part which appears on a single staff in the manuscript. He certainly cannot be faulted for doing so, as a quick look at a microfilm of the Folger manuscript confirms that the original designation reads “Trumpet & Hautboy.” However, there should be a record of this editorial decision. Given the original scoring (and the contemporary flexibility in the designation of obbligato instruments, most commonly a choice between flute or violin) one might suspect that the “&” could be an error of the copyist’s, and that the line could be played by either instrument alone.

3.3 As can be seen from the reproductions of selected pages from the manuscript (Plates 1–3) the source of Weldon’s music is relatively clean and written in a handsome hand. Often such fair copies can be deceptive. Because they are so neat (especially when compared with the “working” collections made for theater ensembles, music meetings, or private performance, hastily written out and imperfectly preserved), it is sometimes hard not to take them at face value when it might be useful to question and compare further. With the exception of relatively minor complications like those raised above, the editor has produced an edition that will stand scholars and performers in good stead.

4. Issues Raised by the Introduction

4.1 The editor is to be commended for his efforts in making Weldon’s charming work accessible in a beautiful and practical modern edition. However, his introduction contains some statements regarding Weldon’s career and works which might usefully be emended in the context of contemporary musical life in London.

4.2 The 1704 production of Britain’s Happiness is described first as a play (p. ix) and then as one of the “three major musical-dramatic works” Weldon composed for the theaters (p. x; the others are The Judgment of Paris and The Tempest long attributed to Henry Purcell). The editor quotes an advertisement for the work that demonstrates the hybrid nature of such entertainments and includes the tantalizing lure “after the manner of an Opera.” But what does that mean? Like symphonies and sonatas, operas in turn-of-the-century London come in a bewildering variety of forms.5 While Britain’s Happiness can usefully be compared to Motteux’s earlier “interludes” and “entertainments,” perhaps the most important tie between Motteux’s work and The Judgment of Paris lies in the context, the competition that produced the Congreve settings.

4.3 While extensive detective work is beyond the scope of an introduction, particularly in an edition where the music takes center stage, the case of Britain’s Happiness demonstrates many of the challenges faced by scholars of music from the London theaters and concert series during this period. The full title given in the printed libretto of Motteux’s work reads Britain’s Happiness, A Musical Interlude. Perform’d at both the Theatres, being part of the Entertainment subscrib’d for by the Nobility.6 In his prefatoryletter to the reader, Motteux describes his text as having multiple settings, inspired once again by aristocratically-supported competition, this time between Weldon and singer/composer Richard Leveridge. As the editor rightly notes, Weldon was not a major theatrical composer—the principal slots for composers at both theaters had been pretty securely filled since the late 1690s—and when his music appeared it was more often in the chapel or on the concert platform. Aside from the contested Tempest music, Weldon’s music rarely can be connected to theatrical productions.7 Although Weldon’s setting of The Judgment of Paris (like Eccles’s and Purcell’s) is known to have been performed in the theater again a few years after the competition, it apparently did not become part of the theatrical repertory, always appearing as part of a concert, not as an afterpiece to a play.8 Weldon’s work as an organist and anthem composer, a writer of solo songs for concerts, and particularly his position as a producer of entertainments for the nobility far outweigh any explicitly theatrical connections, and his extra-theatrical status must be taken into account when charting the ‘evolution’ of masque and opera in England during this confusing period.

4.4 Always competent and sometimes inspired, The Judgment of Paris demonstrates that Weldon could hold his own in the competitive circle of London composers. David W. Music’s elegant edition of this unique manuscript is a welcome addition to Recent Researches in the Music of the Baroque Era and will give many more students, scholars, and performers a chance to make their own judgments regarding its merits.


*Kathryn Lowerre (Kathryn.Lowerre@alumnae.brynmawr.edu) has taught at Colby College and The University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. Her research centers on the uses of music in the London theaters at the turn of the eighteenth century. Return to beginning


1. One example which comes to mind is the Ensemble Courant concert on 22–23 January 1994 at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, which featured Sally Sanford and Penelope Jensen as the rival sopranos. Although billed as “Prima Donnas of 18th-Century London,” in his program notes for the concert cellist Brent Wissick explicitly emphasizes the rivalry between Bononcini and Handel as well as that between the singers. Eighteenth-century London was nothing if not a competitive world. Return to text

2. Music for London Entertainment 1660–1800, series C, vol. 1 (Tunbridge Wells: Richard Macnutt, 1984). Return to text

3. Contrasting styles of vocal writing and text setting can clearly be seen in comparison with the score by Eccles. While Weldon has choruses echo the words of the goddesses from their initial appearance, Eccles reserves the use of chorus to the final attempt made by each goddess to persuade Paris. Likewise, while Eccles’s score contains proportionally more solo music than Weldon’s, the vocal style is more tuneful, even dance-like. Return to text

4. The question of which bass stringed instruments were used where and when in late seventeenth-century and early eighteenth-century England is a tangled one. See Peter Holman’s brief discussion of the low string instruments in late seventeenth-century England (using Eccles’s setting of The Judgment of Paris as an example) in an analysis of Matthew Locke’s “The Rare Theatricall” (Four and Twenty Fiddlers: The Violin at the English Court, 1540–1690 [Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1993], 318–19). I did not note any place in Weldon’s score where the lowest line descended below C, so the low B-flat and B-natural cannot be used as a touchstone to distinguish between bass violins and bass viols or violoncellos. Return to text

5. The question of genre also arises in reference to The Judgment of Paris. I have referred to it throughout (as the editor does) as a masque, which is how Congreve categorized it. However, the title pages of the Eccles and Purcell settings call it a “pastoral.” In the introduction to his facsimile edition of Eccles’s Judgment, Richard Platt hypothesizes that this may have been to “emphasize the operatic nature of the work” (op. cit., pp. x–xi). Also drawn by the question of genre, Michael Burden addresses The Judgment of Paris in the context of post-Purcellian theatrical masques (“The British Masque, 1690–1800,” Ph.D. diss., University of Edinburgh, 1991). Return to text

6. During the 1690s well-to-do members of the London public were accustomed to subscribing to concerts of vocal and instrumental music. Given the explicit reference to subscription, Weldon’s involvement with Britain’s Happiness (as with The Judgment of Paris) would seem to grow out of his concertizing in various venues around London, emphasizing his connections among the nobility and gentry rather than any direct relationship with any theatrical company. Several pieces in John Walsh’s series The Monthly Mask of Vocal Music were published under the general heading “Subscription Music.” Among these I have found two other songs from Britain’s Happiness in addition to the duet cited by Music: “Just Comeing from Sea, our Spouses and wee” (not one of Motteux’s more inspired bits of doggerel) and “The Welfare of All on blest ANNA depends.” For more on Britain’s Happiness, see my “Music in the Productions at London’s Lincoln’s Inn Fields Theater, 1695–1705,” (Ph.D. diss., Duke University, 1997), 657–9. Return to text

7. The example Music cites, Weldon’s song “Take, oh take those lips away,” published in 1702, cannot be confidently assigned to the 1700 revival of Measure for Measure at the Lincoln’s Inn Fields theater as he (and others, including pioneering theater music scholar Roger Fiske) have suggested. Compositions known to have been used in the 1700 production include Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas—divided into masque entertainments (presented at the end of each act) as well as a dialogue for Aeneas and two friends—and act music by Eccles, the principal composer for Lincoln’s Inn Fields. Return to text

8. An afterpiece was a short musical or comical work presented in the theater following the major production of the evening. Eccles’s version of The Judgment of Paris was revived 11 March 1706 following John Vanbrugh’s comedy The Provok’d Wife and 15 April of the same year, when it followed Thomas Southerne’s tragedy The Fatal Marriage. Both plays, like Eccles’s Judgment, were several years old. In addition, it was almost certainly Eccles’s version that was performed 10 March 1705 at Lincoln’s Inn Fields together with another play, all for the benefit of a leading actress in the company with which Eccles was associated (The London Stage, ed. Emmett L. Avery [Carbondale, Illinois: University of Southern Illinois Press, 1960], vol. 1, pt. 2, 89). Weldon’s Judgment appeared as part of (another) “Subscription Music” in concerts featuring soprano Catherine Tofts, on 18 January and 1 February 1704 (ibid., 54–55). Return to text

Linked Text

Pierre Motteux, Britain’s Happiness, A Musical Interlude. (London, 1704), “To the Reader” (f. 2–2v):

This Interlude was long since design’d only for an Introduction to an Opera, which, if ever finish’d, may be call’d, The Loves of Europe, every Act shewing the manner of a different Nation, in their Addresses to the Fair Sex. But some Persons of Quality who did not know that Mr Leveridge, had set this Part of it to Musick, having engaged Mr Weldon to put Notes to it; I am oblig’d to let it appear without the rest. There is room indeed in this for Great Musick, but much more for Humour, and every Passion in those [parts] that were to follow. I could wish they might have appeared all together, but ‘tis the desire of those Persons, to whom I must submit, that this should be perform’d in the mean time. They will at least have the Satisfaction of Hearing fine Music, and observing how the same Words may be admirably set [in] a different manner, when two Masters exert their Genius, to please and to excel.

Return to text

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