Wednesday, October 13, 2004

Dettingen Te Deum

Not feeling well, I drove to work Friday. This almost never happens. Normally, either I'm healthy enough to bike, or too sick to work at all. I consoled myself that the weather forecast was dire: downpours and thunderstorms, but, as it turned out, my commutes in and out were dry and calm.

As it happened, my choice of music for the drive was a tape of Handel's Dettingen Te Deum, a work of typically Handelian majesty that has a charming comic-opera aspect. It celebrates a victory of somewhat dubious triumph. Here's a description: "King George the second [prevailed] over a startled Franco-Bavarian army in 1743. His Majesty's Anglo-Hanoverian troops had seemingly been trapped, but the King's horse bolted, his army took the spectacle for a heroic charge and followed with such gusto that the opposing forces snatched improbable defeat from the jaws of seeming victory. Thus cast as an unlikely war hero, the runcible monarch saw his chance and commissioned the two works from Handel." (source here)

This was certainly the last time a British monarch led troops in battle and may have been the last time any monarch did so. The event remained controversial for much of the rest of the century, since the political opposition fervently believed that George II and his government followed a policy favoring Hanover and continental intrigue to the detriment of trade and the overseas colonies in North America and the West Indies. In a mild way, the battle of Dettingen was a precursor to the American War of Independence.

Read about the Te Deum as a form of music here, an article pointing out that Handel borrowed his inspiration "for ten of its numbers from a Te Deum composed by the Minorite Francesco Urio, and able Milanese composer of the seventeenth-eighteenth century." Be that as it may, the music is glorious and the text seems typically 18th-century Anglo-English. Christ is "Thine Honourable, True, And Only Son." In this text, we do not simply pray, but "Vouchsafe, O Lord." The final anthem has five sections which read as one text: The King Shall Rejoice -- His Honour Is Great -- Thou Shalt Give Him Everlasting Felicity -- And Why? Because The King Putteth His Trust In The Lord -- We Will Rejoice In Thy Salvation.

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