The music this morning revolves around Giacomo Carissimi (1605-1674). Spending his life in Rome, Carissimi was one of the most important and influential composers of the Italian seventeenth century - and was well regarded as a teacher, attracting pupils from all over Europe (such as Charpentier from France, Bernhard from Germany, and Kerll from Austria). His music was frequently copied and studied abroad, but it’s worth noting much music was misattributed to him; of fourteen masses ascribed to him, for instance, scholars speculate only one is actually by Carissimi. This is certainly the case of the (albeit lovely) mass setting this morning.
This brings us to Henry Aldrich (1648-1710). An English scholar and composer, Aldrich studied at Christ Church, Oxford, receiving a Doctor of Divinity and eventually rising to both Dean of Christ Church and vice-chancellor of Oxford. Although he ordered the destruction of all his personal papers upon his death, he donated his music collection to Christ Church, and some 8000 compositions (mostly his copies of others works) remain in the library there to this day. Aldrich ran weekly ‘music meetings’ in the deanery, reading music he had collected in travels across Europe - often music not appropriate for liturgical performance, either due to language or secular content. In particular, Aldrich had a fascination with Carissimi, not only copying his works, but also re-composing them to English texts - often taking several existing motets or cantatas and cutting them up to create a work in the style of an English verse anthem. This ‘naturalzation’, as musicologist Robert Shay terms it, leads to unique pieces like ‘I am well pleas’d’ - ostensibly based on two Carissmi motets, but finding the base material becomes a bit like ‘Where’s Waldo’ - the musical style in Restoration England not being incredibly compatible with high baroque Italy. Regardless, the piece circulated widely at the time, being published in an anthem collection as late as 1780, and performance materials survive at Christ Church, meaning it was used liturgically at the time, as well.