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Master Chorale Offers Music Fit for a Queen (or King)

Handel and Purcell to provide sounds of royalty at First Presbyterian Church.

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The Santa Barbara Master Chorale, conducted by Steve Hodson, will perform works by two English composers, Henry Purcell (1659-1695) and George Frederick Handel (1685-1759), this weekend at First Presbyterian Church. Since both of these gentlemen spent a good deal of their creative lives employed by, and writing music for, the English crown, the program is called "The Music of English Pageantry."

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The program will include two works by Purcell, the Ode for the Birthday of Queen Mary, "Come ye sons of art," and the Music for the Funeral of Queen Mary, plus two Coronation Anthems by Handel, No. 1, "Zadok the Priest," and No. 4, "My Heart is Inditing."

From the death of Queen Elizabeth I in 1603 until the death of Queen Anne in 1714, the English throne was held by the Scottish House of Stuart. This tenure was not without its ups and downs — indeed, Voltaire said the House of Stuart was the unluckiest royal family in European history. Under the first two Stuart kings, James I and Charles I, music and theater flourished. Then came the Civil War, between the Cavalier forces loyal to the King and the puritanical Roundheads, led by Oliver Cromwell, who supported Parliament. In 1649, Cromwell cut off Charles I’s head and England became a Commonwealth for 11 years — without a king, and without music or theater.

Charles’ family fled to France, where they converted to Catholicism. The Stuarts were asked back in 1660 (the "Restoration") and Charles II, secretly a Catholic, ruled a Protestant kingdom for 25 years. Theater and music again flourished, and toward the middle of his reign, appeared a young artist, born into a family of musicians, who was to become one of the greatest composers ever born in England (most of us would say, without hesitation, the greatest): Henry Purcell, who was the equal of Mozart in every way — lifespan, genius, range and number of compositions, talent for friendship — except in the opinion of German musicologists.

Handel, born in Halle near Leipzig, became as a young man a composer at the court of the Elector of Hanover, but traveled a good deal to England and lingered longer each trip. On one such lengthy sojourn, Queen Anne died, childless, and her cousin, the Elector of Hanover, became King George I of England. Handel wasted no time in arranging a tearful reunion, and became the greatest "English" composer of the 18th century, as Purcell had been of the 17th.

The concerts take place at First Presbyterian Church, 21 E. Constance Ave., at 8 p.m. Saturday and 3 p.m. Sunday.

Tickets are $17 for adults, $15 for seniors and $7 for students (with ID). Children 12 and under are free. Tickets are available from chorale members, Chaucer’s Books, Santa Barbara Sheet Music and at the door. Click here to pay online with PayPal or credit card.

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