O Lord God, the heathen are come into Thine inheritance: Thy holy temple have they defiled, and made Jerusalem an heap of stonesWhen William Child set these words from Psalm 79 as an anthem, sometime around 1644, his despair was well founded. In January 1643, Parliament passed a bill calling for the "utter abolishing" of the Church of England’s ecclesiastical structure, including "all vicars choral and choristers". The bill was not enacted, but the Puritans’ intent was clear, and in May 1643, Child was ejected from his post as organist of St George’s Chapel, Windsor Castle. His fate was shared by hundreds of his fellow musicians elsewhere: in cathedrals across the country, choirs were ejected from their stalls, and organs torn down by Cromwell’s soldiers. By the end of 1645, the Anglican choral tradition lay silent. Whilst some cathedrals were now used to house troops and horses, musicians were compelled, in the words of eighteenth-century historian John Hawkins, to "betake themselves to some employment less offensive to God than that of singing his praises".
This concert featured music that reflected the reverent joy in the restoration, not only of the Monarchy, but also of worship as it had been, and the return of music in praise of God as a public art. The featured composers also represent a succession of sorts, hingeing upon the Chapel Royal where Child was organist, where John Blow was teacher to Henry Purcell and where music for the evening service by the "gifted amateur," Robert Creighton, may well have been performed.
This sampling of the English Baroque was presented accompanied for the most part by a capable band of string players underpinned by a continuo grouping of Gamba, Theorbo and chamber organ. With the introductory "Symphonies" to some of the pieces and a purely orchestral interlude (incidental music to the Tempest by Matthew Locke) the audience experienced a satisfying structure of choral-instrumental-choral, partitioning the concert in a positive way. The choir meanwhile acquitted themselves well in this challenging programme with some of the music being written for double choir and solo groupings that culminated in the Blow "God Spake Sometime in Visions."
Despite contemporary estimates of the "crudities" (Burney and his more continental sensibilities) there is much to admire in Blow's technical assurance and "word-painting" while Henry Purcell has been thought by some to have been possessed of a more original ear than Bach himself. Had he not died at the age of 37 it is amusing to speculate that his unique language of dissonance and consonance might well have changed what we now know as the European Baroque.