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8.557278 - BOYCE: Symphonies Nos. 1-8, Op. 2
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William Boyce (1711-1779): Eight Symphonies, Op. 2

The English composer William Boyce is nowadays best known for his church music, anthems and services for the liturgy of the Church of England, and for the present Eight Symphonys in Eight Parts, Op.2, published in 1760. Boyce was born in London, the son of a cabinet-maker. As a boy he was a chorister at St Paul’s Cathedral under Charles King and studied the organ with Maurice Greene, to whom he was apprenticed, also serving him for some time as a copyist. He is said to have had lessons from Johann Christian Pepusch, the successful arranger of the music for Gay’s The Beggar’s Opera, a noted theorist, a co-founder of the Academy of Ancient Music, and a scholar with a profound interest in earlier music. Pepusch may have done much to arouse the enthusiasm of Boyce for a study of earlier music and theory, shown in an unpublished treatise, Harmonics, or an Attempt to Explain the Principles on which the Science of Music is Founded. In 1734 he was appointed organist at the Earl of Oxford’s Chapel, now St Peter’s, Vere Street, moving two years later to St Michael’s, Cornhill. In 1736 he succeeded John Weldon as second Composer to the Chapel Royal, sharing the duties of second organist, under the first Composer and Organist, Greene, with whom he was also involved in the Apollo Academy, a society for the performance of secular music. For the next twenty years, at least, he conducted the Three Choirs Festival.

Boyce gradually established a wider reputation as a composer, particularly after the success of his Solomon, with the descriptive title, rare hitherto in England, of serenata. This was first performed in London at the Apollo Academy in 1742. During these years he contributed music in various forms for the London stage, most significantly when employed by David Garrick, who found Boyce more reliable than Thomas Arne. In 1749 Boyce was appointed organist at All Hallows the Great and Less, a church that served the Joiners’ Company, of which his father had been appointed resident beadle in 1723, with a residence at Joiners’ Hall, where Boyce seems to have lived until his father’s death in 1752. He retained the position at All Hallows, his responsibilties often entrusted to a deputy, until his dismissal in 1758, and at St Michael’s, Cornhill, for a further ten years, until similar dissatisfaction led to his resignation. In 1758 he received official appointment as an organist of the Chapel Royal. He had succeeded Greene as Master of the King’s Musick on the latter’s death in 1755, assuming more of Greene’s former responsibilities, among them the task of assembling the important collection Cathedral Music, being a Collection in Score of the Most Valuable and Useful Compositions for That Service by Several English Masters of the Last 200 Years. This was published between 1760 and 1773, and retains a continuing influence on Church of England cathedral repertoire.

The Hanoverian court had largely preferred the music of Handel for royal occasions. The latter’s death in 1759 left the way open for Boyce to provide the anthems for the funeral of George II in November 1760 and for the coronation of his successor, George III, the following year. There had been considerable enmity between Handel and Greene, perhaps the result of the latter’s appointment as Master of the King’s Musick in 1727. Boyce, however, retained great respect for Handel, remarking, of his ‘borrowings’ that he took other men’s ‘pebbles and turned them into diamonds’. Charles Burney praised him for his reverence for Handel, but also for the fact that he ‘neither pillaged nor servilely imitated him’. During his last years he limited his musical activities, while continuing to supply the necessary odes for royal birthdays and New Year. He died in 1779, his death an occasion for widespread mourning, and was buried at St Paul’s Cathedral, where his funeral brought together the choirs of the cathedral and of Westminster Abbey.

Boyce’s Eight Symphonys in Eight Parts were published in 1760, collected from a number of earlier works. The first four of the symphonies published are in the form of three-movement Italian overtures, although Boyce only has a slow second movement in the first of the set. Symphony No. 1 in B flat major is taken from the overture to the New Year’s Ode, Hail, hail, auspicious day, written for 1756. This is very much in the style of the period, both in general form and in the melodic and rhythmic treatment of the material, with an effective and tuneful slow movement at its heart.

Symphony No. 2 in A major is taken from another court composition, the overture to the royal Birthday Ode of 1756, When Caesar’s natal days. The first of the three movements is in suitably celebratory style, leading to a second movement, Vivace, an elegant little dance. The symphony ends with music of similar charm.

The third of the set, the Symphony No. 3 in C major, opens in more formal baroque style. It was originally the overture to The Chaplet, a two-act afterpiece first mounted at Drury Lane on 2nd December 1749. This was commissioned by David Garrick, with a libretto by Moses Mendez, a well-to-do Jewish stockbroker whose Portuguese grandfather had come to London as a doctor in the service of Queen Catherine of Braganza. The Chaplet is a pastoral piece, in which two shepherdesses, the innocent Laura and the more worldly wise Pastora vie for the attentions of the shepherd Damon. Like Richardson’s Pamela, Laura refuses to grant her favours without marriage, a fate to which Damon finally succumbs, leaving Pastora to make what she can of the young treble Palaemon, already known to her, as it transpires. Attention has been drawn to the composer’s use of the bassoon, in the tenor register doubling the violin melody in the A minor second movement, an effect Boyce uses elsewhere.

Symphony No. 4 in F major was originally the overture to The Shepherds’ Lottery, a two-act afterpiece with libretto by Moses Mendez, first staged at Drury Lane on 19th November 1751. Another pastoral, this won less popular favour than the earlier work. The lottery of the title refers to the custom by which shepherds drew the names of their respective wives from an urn on May-day. Phyllis, the ingenue shepherdess of the drama, is anxious that her name be drawn by her lover Thyrsis, while the more experienced Daphne has no time for men, using the occasion to slight the shepherd Colin, who wins the day by refusing to draw any name at all. The symphony opens with a spritely Allegro, followed by a Vivace ma non troppo, marked piano sempre, an instruction Boyce uses for other such movements. In 9/8 this movement makes bold use of the wind instruments, notably when bassoons and then horns double the violin melody. The work ends with a characteristic Gavotte.

The fifth of the set, the Symphony No. 5 in D major, is taken from the overture to the Cecilian Ode of 1739, See famed Apollo and the nine, with words by the versatile John Lockman, writer and Secretary of the British Herring Fishery, ‘so eminently distinguished by his many curious writings’, as Faulkner’s Dublin Journal wrote of the first performance in Dublin. It had been heard in London at the Apollo Academy, thus avoiding competition with Handel. The symphony is in the form of a French overture, with a stately formal opening, strengthened by trumpets and drums, leading to the necessary fugal section. This is complemented by a Gavotte and a Minuet.

Symphony No. 6 in F major was the overture to Boyce’s very successful Solomon, with words by Edward Moore, a writer who frankly claimed that his literary endeavours were undertaken ‘more from necessity than inclination’. The text is indebted not only to the Song of Solomon but also to The Fair Circassian by the Reverend Samuel Croxall. The first of the two movements is in the characteristic French overture style, with a stately introduction, here with the appropriate dotted rhythms, leading to a fugal section. This is duly followed by a Larghetto dance movement.

Symphony No. 7 in B flat major, originally the overture to the ode Gentle lyre begin the straine, with words after Pindar by Walter Harte, composed in 1740, is again in French overture form, the opening dotted rhythm Andante leading to a Spiritoso fugal section. It is followed by a stately dance movement, and a more spirited final English Jigg.

Also known as The Worcester Overture and Concerto in D minor, the eighth symphony proclaims something of its origin in the alternative titles. Again Boyce uses the baroque French overture style, an opening marked Pomposo followed by an exercise in contrapuntal writing. The two following movements are in the dance forms still expected by English audiences of the period, so soon to be swayed by the newer fashions of Johann Christian Bach.

Keith Anderson

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