February 11, 2024
Sweeter than Roses
English Baroque love songs for voice, oboe, viol, and harpsichord, featuring soprano Grace Srinivasan and oboist Pablo O’Connell, with Adaiha MacAdam-Somer on viol and Byron Schenkman on harpsichord. Music by Henry Purcell, George Frideric Handel, Elisabetta de Gambarini, and Ignatius Sancho.
“Wringing every bit of grace out of the harpsichord, Schenkman brought life and wit out of these ancient works.”
– Sun Break
George Frideric Handel:
Sonata in C Minor for oboe and continuo
Elisabetta de Gambarini:
“Behold and listen” from op. 2
“I feel new passions rise” from op. 9
“Come away death”
The Complaint “Take, oh take, those lips away”
Hornpipe in B-flat Major
“Oh let me weep”
Suite in D Minor for harpsichord
Sonata no. 1 in B-flat Major for oboe and continuo
“Sweeter than roses”
“[Grace Srinivasan has] beautiful vocalism”
– San Francisco Gate
Notes on the Program
By Byron Schenkman
London was a very cosmopolitan city in the 17th and 18th centuries. Many composers working there during that period came from Germany, Italy, and other parts of the world, and the best English-born composers benefited from those foreign influences.
George Frideric Handel, by far the most famous English Baroque composer, was born in Germany and lived in Italy as a young adult before settling permanently in London in 1712. Handel achieved great fame for his Italian operas and English oratorios which featured celebrity singers from his circle. Although better known as a keyboard player, Handel was said to have preferred the oboe, an instrument which features prominently in his work.
Elisabetta de Gambarini, John Stanley, and William Babell were all closely associated with Handel’s work. Gambarini, daughter of Italian immigrants, performed as a singer in Handel’s oratorios as well as in concerts of her own music. 18th-century composers solicited subscriptions to support publication of their work and Handel was one of Gambarini’s distinguished subscribers. John Stanley, nearly blind from the age of two, became a church organist at the age of eleven, and directed Handel’s oratorios from memory after learning the scores by rote. William Babell, also a church organist, published virtuoso keyboard arrangements of arias from Handel’s operas. Babell’s highly embellished oboe sonatas seem to be modeled after those of Handel.
Thomas Arne, one of the most prominent English theater composers from the generation after Handel, is best known for his patriotic song “Rule, Britannia” and perhaps for his frequent appearances in New York Times crossword puzzles. Our program includes settings by both Arne and Ignatius Sancho of texts from plays by William Shakespeare. Sancho was born on a slave ship sailing from Africa to South America and was bought by an English family as a young child. Eventually he escaped slavery and became a successful businessman, published author and composer, and champion for the abolition of slavery.
Henry Purcell was the most celebrated English composer from the 17th century. He composed a vast amount of instrumental and vocal music in all genres. His music for the London theater includes incidental music for many plays including contemporary adaptations of works by Shakespeare. “O let me weep” was written for “The Fairy Queen,” based on “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” and “Halcyon Days” was for “The Tempest.”