Choral works smuggled from Europe into England
Music was smuggled into England for various reasons: as the spoils of war, for the benefit of a community whose religion was not that of the government, to have an illegal text under what appeared a religious musical notation, to import an unusual notation which to officials had the appearance of a code, or as the wrapping around a more illegal object.
In this concert, Chandos will be departing from its normal rule of performing the first version of a work. Instead, the first known performance in England will be copied.
Shortly before his death, Pergolesi (1710-36) wrote his famous religious work Stabat Mater for two-part female voices and strings. Within a few years, a copy arrived at the Billingsgate church of St-Mary-At-Hill in London and (after the men of the choir objected) was performed with alto solos given to the bass and the men doubling the women in some choruses.
A setting of the Magnificat by the Netherlands composer Henri Du Mont (c.1610-1684), featuring all the French court’s bright and splendid pomposity, was published in Paris in 1657. A copy was smuggled into England (during the Commonwealth) and performed ‘behind closed doors’ in the autumn of 1658.
English messengers who had been ordered to return straight to England to bring news of the (temporary) defeat of Philip II at Fréteval (1194) and of Charles d’Albret at Agincourt (1415) thought it prudent to hide what they had looted from France.
Also from France, in the 1640s, came a newly composed plainsong – a setting of a magic text (a translation from the Hebrew); this was sent from Rouen to the South of England.
Mass movements by Ockeghem (died 1497), and settings from the Aeneid by Josquin (died 1521) and Lassus (died 1594), were brought to these shores at times when importing them would have been an offence.
The concert will be held in the serene surroundings of the Magdalen Chapel on Holloway, Bath BA2 4PX. A chapel is known to have existed on this site in the 11th century, and a leper hospital was built close by in the 12th. Both were under the care of the Abbey monks. The current building is 15th century. Despite severe bomb damage in 1942, it remains an active centre of worship.
Interval refreshments will be available.
Image: ‘Smugglers’ by George Morland (1763-1804), public domain via Wikimedia Commons