Pamela Dellal, mezzo soprano


uncommon intelligence, imagination and textual awareness...



Miscellaneous Notes

G.F. Handel: "'My song shall be alway," H. 252 (Chandos Anthem 7)

Handel spent a couple of years (1717 – 1718) as resident composer at Cannons, the home of James Brydges (later known as the Duke of Chandos).  He wrote nearly a dozen large scale anthems during his tenure as well as the masque Acis and Galetea and Esther, considered the first oratorio in English. Though the scoring of the Anthems - violins, continuo and a few wind instruments – reflects the modest resources available to Handel at Cannons, these pieces are nevertheless astonishingly inventive and rich in detail; they are unquestionably the forerunners of the large scale pieces that were to come.

The text for today’s anthem, My song shall be alway, is extracted selectively from Psalm 89, softening considerably the grim and violent tone of the psalm as a whole. After a lively Symphony (with brilliant writing for the solo violin and oboe) the soprano sings an intimate and gracious air punctuated by surprising unison choral outbursts. Eventually the solo voice is absorbed fully into the ensemble texture. Next the tenor - after a rather stiff recitative - launches into a jagged and fiery aria, coming perhaps the closest to the the uncompromising tone of Psalm 89. The trio - something of an afterthought - appeared in later editions of the piece, perhaps even added by another composer. It is a delightful showpiece and worth hearing even if it seems rather unsuited to the text. In the duet for alto and bass, the juxtaposition of high floating strings and low voices and instruments (notably, the bassoon) provides a nice pictorial aid to the image of heaven and earth. A radiant chorus in D Major - ending in the ‘wrong’ key of B Major leads directly into the second extended aria for the soprano - an earnest and somewhat melancholy song of praise. The final Alleluia seems the seed of something longer and greater that might have been; rousing, but curiously abrupt.


©Michael Beattie