There could be no neater way of expressing how the educational aims of the Schola Cantorum Basiliensis can be realized today than the recent recording on Glossa of The Passions by William Hayes, with a member of the faculty in Anthony Rooley conducting choral and orchestral forces drawn from the Schola and with soloists who have been students there (or who also teach there like Evelyn Tubb). With Anthony Rooley there is the added benefit of the career-long enthusiasm that this musician has brought to unearthing musical masterpieces from the past, unworthily dismissed by the passing of time, and to bringing such works to a state of performance.
Rooley’s discovery of this ode by Hayes came by chance when he was researching ‘Human Passions Delineated in the Arts, Philosophy and Medicine, from around 1600 to the end of the 19th century’, for the SCB in the British Library back in 2000.Having called up the score to his desk in the Reading Room of the British Library, Rooley says that he “experienced catharsis – for I was in the presence of a masterpiece that I had been wholly ignorant of until that moment. It was not less than ‘life-changing’, and indeed the last ten years my life has been changed by this exquisite piece of creativity.” A forgotten composer like William Hayes (born in Gloucester in 1708, organist at Worcester Cathedral before becoming Professor of Music at Oxford University in 1741. He died in 1777) who has been overshadowed by a great figure – in this case that of Handel – is meat and drink to the Rooley ‘treatment’ (a treatment which has yielded so many discoveries over the decades). Rooley’s enthusiasm for the work was shared by Peter Reidemeister, the retiring Director of the SCB, by Reidemeister’s successor Regula Rapp and by Thomas Drescher (the Assistant Principal), the last of whom was to suggest the making of a recording.And thus, William Hayes’s The Passions became one of the first three recordings to be issued by Glossa as part of its new collaboration with the Schola Cantorum Basiliensis.
Simon Heighes, who while at Oxford himself took up William Hayes as his ‘subject’, provides an excellent overview study of William Hayes in the CD booklet and he writes the historical essay setting the man and his composition in context. Anthony Rooley can be described as not so much a “scholar” in the musicological sense, but as a practical performer with “scholarly pretensions”, which means that to his innate ability to transform a score like The Passions into musical entertainment he adds a Renaissance wealth of knowledge and understanding of the life and times of the composer involved (and beyond). Catching him just after he had given a concert in Britain with Emma Kirkby he was still full of enthusiasm for the neglected figure of William Hayes and for his music and here he expands on subjects such as the “passions”, “giantism” in music history and his own continuing zestful work in Basle.
What was the importance of the “passions” in Hayes’s time in the middle of the 18th century?
Hayes created The Passions for the Oxford Encaenia, celebrating the founders and benefactors of Oxford University. This was in 1750, which was a very critical point: it was halfway through the century and therefore something of a symbolic point for people at that time. The text had been published as a poem in 1747, and William Collins, its author, was a very interesting character. His life was to end shortly after in sadness and despair (he was a troubled soul), but during the 1740s he was promising to become one of the great poets of the 18th century and certainly his The Passions, an Ode for Music went on to become very popular all through the 18th and 19th centuries. It only really fell out of awareness in the 20th century, largely due to the effect of the two World Wars which cut across so many traditions and to the development of Freudian and Jungian psychology, as a result of which people became less interested in the 18th century view of the psychology of man. Yet, before 1914 no uneducated person would have been unaware of William Collins’s The Passions and many people could quote them from memory. Actors would go around the country using this text for showing their oratorical skills. That is why William Hayes’s secular ode The Passions is such a fantastic rediscovery now because we have plugged into something which was of prime importance during the Age of Enlightenment and well on through the Romantic Era, where this poetry of Collins allowed people to understand a little better where the “passions” came from. This was, I think, something that Hayes, as a contemporary, understood.
In 1747, the physician James Parsons gave an address to the Royal Society in London, his aim being to try and show where the “passions” resided in the human frame. This was a real concern for people in the 18th century (and actually it probably still is, we still do not know where the “passions” live or quite how they arise. Are they in the head? Are they in the heart? How does one’s face express anger so immediately when something truly riles you?). James Parsons was very keen to identify where a smile lived before it was manifest in all these muscles around the face and his methods included cutting up the fresh cadavers of executed prisoners. He was the first to give the names to all the muscles in the face, the numerous muscles that caused the smile, for example. So, Parsons, like Hayes and Collins were all trying to understand the strange nature of the human passions and it really upset them in that encyclopaedic age, that age of pinning things down, that they couldn’t really say where the passions resided. A reflection of the continuing interest in the “passions” into the 19th century is that there were to be many further settings of Collins’s The Passions; I have tracked down up to ten settings of the whole of The Passions or part of them, including a really important one by Alice Mary Smith from the early 1880s. Having been a student in Leipzig Smith came back to England as a very important figure. This is an area of musical history that I would really like someone to be looking at! I’d love to see a revival of some of these important 19th century composers who have been cast into oblivion because of the same tendency to make even greater the existing ‘great’ names, at the expense of getting a proper historical assessment of an era.
How did Hayes respond to the “passions” in his music?
Hayes’s music is never without its sense of humour, a wonderful English ability to create humour even in the darkest moments. An example of this is that the character Despair in The Passions is the only person in the world to believe in his condition – whereas we all just smile and say, ‘come on guy, just get on with it’. The approach from Hayes is so wonderfully over the top and that is the approach that I have taken in the recording. Some of Hayes’s music strikes me as being galant and there is even a hint of the early classical style, which is extraordinary, considering that the piece was written in 1750 (and, it should be said, you don’t find anything so galant in even very late Handel). I think that Hayes was one of those composers who were walking on a narrow path which hadn’t really been explored and, in part, this derived, I think, from his awareness of the “passions” which was an idea so forward in society’s mind at the time. His artistic way of dealing with the “passions” therefore reflects a way of exploration.
As a composer did William Hayes suffer from being a contemporary of Handel?
Hayes spent a lot of his energy promoting Handel. His performance of Messiah was the first in Oxford, for instance, and his connection with the Three Choirs Festival made sure that Handel was well-integrated into the countrywide awareness in England. In fact, the year after Handel’s death, in 1760, The Passions was performed again at Gloucester, together with “O that some pensive Muse” (also called an “Ode to the Memory of Mr. Handel”); the whole evening was in praise of Handel’s great genius! Hayes was thus right at the very centre of the whole “Handelian Appreciation Society”, as it were – to the extent that this had the effect of pushing the question of the quality of his own music into the background; it is quite extraordinary, it is almost like the man had no ego at all. In Britain I think that we suffer from the problem of “giantism” (or the great shadow that genius casts around itself), which stems from a very ‘soggy’ 19th century view of what constitutes greatness. In the 18th century the related Handelian furore came from the top of society – indeed from the monarchs themselves with their extraordinary praise of Handel – and George III was absolutely besotted with him almost to the point of madness. The extraordinary furore created by Handel’s genius appealed not only musically, but also through his setting of so many biblical texts. At that time there was a revival of Christianity in its particular Romantic form and Handel was deemed something of a demigod. William Hayes himself, I think, was aware of Handel’s genius, but not to the exclusion of all else; along with other people at the time he had a historical interest in music, such as that of Henry Purcell.
How does reassessing the music of William Hayes affect the position of Handel?
I think that oblivion tends to operate whenever there is such greatness, as in the case of Handel, because it causes big shadows and it is merely a matter of history that almost all of the other names active in England in the middle of the 18th century still have to be fully reassessed, because of this blindness and myopia caused by that praise of Handel. Don’t think for a moment that I am saying that I don’t think that Handel was a genius. I think that he is but I think that the weakness comes in the rest of us: we don’t have sufficient discriminatory powers: anything from the middle of the 18th century is going to sound Handelian if you don’t know any better. You could say just as well that Handel sounds a little Hayesian! We owe it to the age to understand where Handel comes from and also to understand how much Handel borrows. And this is why I come back to the humour in Hayes. If you listen to the last eight bars of the final chorus of The Passions, it is just a wonderful quotation from the “Hallelujah” chorus of Handel! It just makes you wreathe in smiles and it must have done the same for the people at that time too. And it is also like a little bow towards the great man himself, but it is done with such tongue in cheek humour. This is not Hayes borrowing from Handel because he did not have better ideas. He is using it for quite other purposes.
What other works by William Hayes have you had the opportunity to look at?
I think that his Six Cantatas (published in 1748) are a brilliant collection of works. The final cantata “An Ode to Echo” is so assured in its approach, a fabulous piece, complete with large instrumentation and lots to do, with the solo voice and flute duetting. The collection as a whole is beautifully-built and, so far, I have worked with four or five of them and each one is a wonderful surprise, each one of them is a unique individual and as you get to know each of them, you get to know them like meeting new people. And you begin to admire them for the integrity that they carry. So, to me, they deserve a great deal of attention. There are some other cantatas in other sources but this set of six is of major importance. He wrote a couple of oratorios and The Fall of Jericho is more centrally Baroque a piece than the Six Cantatas but the choruses, which for the centrepiece, are some of the most fabulous that I have heard (including from Handel, or Hayes’s The Passions. In The Fall of Jericho the choruses are so powerful, they have almost a word-for-word painting, almost a madrigalian approach but on a choral scale. I know his instrumental music a little: his harpsichord works concertos appear to be quite good and they certainly deserve closer work, but in total Hayes did not appear to compose a great amount. That, of course, is another problem, when one are measuring another composer against Handel, because Handel was so prolific. Very few other composers in history have been as prolific and certainly you couldn’t compare Hayes in that way at all. You have to take his small output and appreciate it for what it is.
Beside William Hayes which other composers from Handel’s time in England do you believe are also worth investigating today?
There are a number of composers and it would only be fair to Handel to do so and Handel himself would appreciate it, frankly. William Jackson, is one, I think. On my shelves I possess virtually every note that he composed. I think that he is fantastic – not always good, perhaps, sometimes a little-bit “mimsy”, but the rest is superb. His An Ode to Fancy is a work I would say probably as exciting as The Passions by William Hayes. John Eccles is another. Lots of people comment on what a wonderful work they think Handel’s Semele is. Well, he was using the libretto written by William Congreve that was set by Eccles. It is a matter of accident of history that Eccles’ setting, which was completed in 1706, was never performed, because the title role was going to be sung by Mistress Anne Bracegirdle who at that point decided to go into retirement. One of her admirers – Lord Halifax – left her a sum of money and she apparently made the comment that “at the age of 46 there is no point my carrying on the stage when there are young things coming up, like Mrs Toft”. So, Eccles’ Semele was never performed. Handel, 30 years later takes up the same libretto, cuts it about a bit – because actually his knowledge of English was not that great – and created some beautiful arias, but the overall work has nothing like the dramatic passion and integrity and unity that John Eccles setting has. I have done the Eccles setting in America, in a well-funded university production, and it had an astonishing effect on the audience there. Indeed, there is a legion of other important people: such as John Smith (like Handel a first-generation Englishman), whose work is of a very high order. And there is also Benjamin Cooke, who also set The Passions (the next one chronologically, in about 1776/82 or so).
Your recording of William Hayes’s The Passions was carried out in association with the Schola Cantorum Basiliensis. What have been your connections with the Schola?
All the performers involved in the recording have a link with the Schola and achieve a fantastic standard. The soloists are typically former students of the Schola – such as Ulrike Hofbauer who was a student of Evelyn Tubbs’ – and I have worked with them over the years, especially given that I have been coming to the Schola, on or off, since the late 1970s and have been here in Basle as a regular member of staff for the last five years. The centre is a very, very good one and the performers on the Hayes all perform to a very high standard. I am very keen on the AVES project in Basle, the Advanced Vocal Ensemble Studies, which I have been asked to direct. It is now two years old and it is for mature people, for singers who have completed their studies but want to come back and explore ensemble singing to a high level. My brief was to bring young vocal ensembles to the same level as the best young string quartets, each course lasting two years. One of the things that these students are required to do is to take on a personal project, by exploring repertoire and it is quite astonishing what the first group of twelve people on the course produced. One example involved the madrigals of Steffano Landi (1587-1639). If anybody knows Landi they know him for his two operas or for his books of arias, but nobody has written about his madrigals (the Primo Libro de Madrigali was published in 1619). Yet they are marvellous works, written to a very high level of craftsmanship and which in their day they were regarded as masterpieces. One of the students on the AVES course has edited this set of madrigals for the first time and they certainly demand to be recorded. And here is a group of performers who are in an ideal position to give that freshness, that vitality to make such a recording. Another example is Sigismondo d’India, of whom many people have heard, and regard him as a forward thinking and eccentric composer. His Book 7 has never been studied because it lacks an alto part. Now one of our people in our AVES group, is a brilliant composer and has created an alto part having studied all of d’India’s approach to musical setting and to the solutions that he might have chosen and she has created a most convincing alto part book for the complete volume. And this is very exciting because he was experimenting with chromaticism in a very advanced form, in quite a different way to Gesualdo. Another project which is just ripe for a really fresh approach in recording.
text by Mark Wiggins Photographs by Susanne Drescher © 2010 Glossa Music / MusiContact