Henry Aldrich was born on 15 January, 1648 at Westminster, where as a boy he attended Westminster School and was chosen as a King’s Scholar in 1658. He matriculated in 1662, and was elected to the Westminster Scholarship to Christ Church. Aldrich graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in 1666 and a Master of Arts in 1669, entering Holy Orders about this time. While at Oxford, he may have received formal musical training from Edward Lowe, who held a position as professor of music at Oxford until his death in 1682. Aldrich was appointed canon in 1682, having proceeded Bachelor of Divinity and Doctorate of Divinity that same year. Read more
On April 4, 1689 Aldrich was installed as the Dean of Christ Church, succeeding John Massey, a Catholic. Massey, who three years earlier had been appointed Dean by James II, was forced to make an abrupt departure from Oxford the previous November due to the escalation of anti-Catholic tensions at Oxford.
As a canon at Christ Church, Aldrich had actively worked to oppose James II’s attempts to Catholicise Oxford.
In addition to his three years as the Vice-Chancellor of the University from 1692 to 1695, and the twenty-one years served as Dean, Aldrich distinguished himself as a logician, skilled architect, competent musician, and composer of predominantly sacred music used in cathedral services at Christ Church. During the 1690s, he was closely involved with the cathedral music programme both as a singing man and as a composer. He was also known to hold regular musical gatherings in his rooms at college where the incentive for an on-time arrival for rehearsals was the service of drinks following the meeting.
Aldrich died in London on 14 December 1710 after a brief illness, and his body was brought back to Oxford on 22 December and interred in the north choir aisle of Christ Church Cathedral.
The Choral Music
Aldrich’s original sacred choral compositions, dating from around 1670 until his death in 1710, were intended for use in services in Christ Church Cathedral, and can be organized into three distinct groups: four complete sets of service music (in the keys of A, G, F Major and E Minor), seven full anthems, and sixteen verse anthems. In addition to his own original compositions, Aldrich arranged the Tallis Litany for four voices (AATB), as well as thirty-five anthem ‘arrangements’ in English, based on Latin texts of sacred choral motets by composers such as Palestrina, Carissimi, Byrd, and Tallis.
Of Aldrich’s twenty three original choral anthems, seven are full anthems and sixteen are lesser-known verse anthems. The texts are direct quotes or paraphrases from the Book of Psalms or the Book of Common Prayer (1662), ranging in mood from penitential to celebratory. Both full and verse anthems were popular musical forms in the English Church, and were in use before and after the Civil War of the mid-seventeenth century. However, it may be assumed that the full anthems were more regularly per- formed in the Cathedral at Christ Church, there are organ accompaniments found in the organ-book manuscript, principally copied by the Christ Church organist Richard Goodson Sr. dating from the late eighteenth century. No organ accompaniments for the verse anthems have survived in the collection.
In general terms, Aldrich’s musical language is conservative and by far less daring than that of his more famous contemporary, Henry Purcell. Many of Aldrich’s original compositions in the collection are in his own hand, where barring is often irregular and changes to the time signature are seldom noted. This lack of changes in time signature points to a practice in which performers are relied upon to sing with appropriate syllabic emphasis rather than relying on beat stresses within measures. Aldrich also uses rhythm to reinforce word meaning where, for example, in the verse anthem I will love thee, O Lord the word ‘flying’ is set with dotted rhythms and quavers in a long ascending phrase that soars up into the top of the bass vocal range, and the word ‘thunder’ is similarly rhythmically set, descending into the lower part of the vocal range. Early examples of the use of musical gestures for affect can be heard in the full anthem Sing unto the Lord, O ye saints where the first syllable of the word ‘weeping’ is set with a dotted note that may well encourage a dynamic swell for emotional affect, contrasted by the word ‘joy’ which has been set to a long, short, short rhythm to enhance the emotional abandon that joy can create.
Of the seven full anthems, Out of the deep and O give thanks can be considered to be two of the more popular compositions, due in part to their inclusion in the second volume of William Boyce’s Cathedral Music published in 1768. The rising arpeggiated motif used in the anthem Out of the deep enhances the voice of the supplicant crying from the depths, contrasted by the more melodic writing for the theme of mercy and the close of the anthem in the key of G major. For his setting of Psalm 30, Sing unto the Lord, O ye Saints, Aldrich chooses the more dramatic parts of the text to create brief musical episodes contrasting themes of thanksgiving with the wrath of God, and the theme of weeping at night with joy in the morning. In terms of formal structure, Aldrich chooses to repeat the opening phrase of the psalm at the close of the anthem signalling a rounded binary musical structure. For the more ambitious setting of the first verse of Psalm 107, O give thanks, Aldrich expands the vocal forces to include two soprano and two alto parts in support of a call and response structure, to add musical interest to a simple psalm text.
It is in the verse anthem writing that we hear a less conservative approach to Aldrich’s compositional style, and a difference in the level of musical sophistication. For example, the solo writing of O sing unto the Lord and I will love thee, O Lord requires vocal dexterity and ease for the navigation of florid vocal lines for the soprano and for the extremities of the vocal range of the bass soloist. It may be deduced that because no original source for the verse anthem accompaniments survives in the collection, the full anthems may have been more often performed and remained in the regular Cathedral service repertoire for a longer period.
The Service Music
Based on evidence found in the Christ Church manuscript collection, Aldrich composed three sets of service music in the keys of G, A and F major, and a fourth in E minor for which only an incomplete sketch of the decani countertenor and bass vocal parts survives. In addition to musical settings of the canticles for Morning and Evening Prayer, the Service in G includes a Kyrie, Gloria, Credo, and Sanctus, representing the most complete set of service music for worship in the Cathedral at Christ Church. The Services in G and A (with settings of the alternative canticles for Evensong, the Cantate Domio and Deus Misereatur) were included in separate publications of cathedral church music edited by William Boyce and Samuel Arnold, dating from the end of the eighteenth century.
Of note in his setting of the Magnificat and Nunc Dimittis from the Service in F, Aldrich varies the vocal textures by assigning each of the verses a different combination of solo voices; where we hear the voice of a tenor soloist at the opening of the Magnificat, followed by an alto solo verse punctuated throughout by sections for full choir. The most interesting vocal combination is the trio of soloists in the Nunc, scored for two sopranos (originally scored for double treble) and bass; the musical skill and vocal agility required suggest that the level of musical training was of a fairly high standard at Christ Church Cathedral during last quarter of the seventeenth century.
The Oxford Odes
From about 1672 onward, Aldrich was often called upon to provide occasional music for the Oxford Act, an annual event held every July in the Sheldonian Theatre. Conveniunt doctae sorores is the first of two choruses composed for the 7 July 1682 Act. The Conveniunt text draws upon classical hero rhetoric, including the voice of Apollo sung by the bass soloist, who reminds the assembly of the loyalty that is due King Charles as his favourites, “loved before all others and restored… with a kind embrace.”
Of equal interest, as it represents some of the only occasional instrumental music composed by Aldrich to have survived, is a multi-movement suite for strings, beginning with Introduction, and followed by Gavot, Menuet, Lancashire Hornpipe, and a slow short conclusion entitled Brouch. Of note is the use of the term “brouch” as a title for the slow finale in duple metre, which appears as a uniquely Oxford musical term in the late seventeenth century possibly connected to the composer Christopher Gibbons, who used the term during this period, and who received an Oxford doctorate in 1664.
The American musicologist, Robert Shay, coined the term ‘recomposition’ to describe the process through which Aldrich created an entirely new choral composition based on a pre-existing Latin sacred choral model. Aldrich created original English texts for his motets – not translations from the Latin – which required significant musical alteration and, in most cases, additional original musical material. This compositional practice is unique to Aldrich during the years of the Restoration in England. There are approximately 35 works by Aldrich in the Christ Church manuscript collection that characterize this genre, including recompositions of original works by Byrd, Tallis, Palestrina and Carissimi.
Be not wroth is an arrangement based on Civitas sancti tui, the second part of Byrd’s Latin motet Ne irascaris Domine. A copy of the original Aldrich likely consulted for his arrangement is described in the collection as, “Score of Mr [William] Bird, O Lord tune thy wrath awaie from us”, copied by Edward Lowe, organist at Christ Church, sometime in the third quarter of the seventeenth century. When compared to a copy of the original motet, Aldrich scores Be not wroth with note values at a ratio of 2:1, making up for the doubling by trimming nearly 16 measures from Byrd’s original. While the main motif remains recognisable, and the chordal texture of “Sion” appearing mid-motet remains unchanged from the original, this arrangement demonstrates both Aldrich’s skill as a composer/arranger and his command of compositional techniques of the previous century. Aldrich’s Be not wroth is not merely a contrafactum of Byrd’s original, but is an entirely new composition, inspired by, rather than borrowed from, an earlier musical model.
In the context of his contemporary, Henry Purcell, Aldrich’s compositional style can best be described as ‘conservative’. His most important contribution to the music of the late seventeenth century is his recompositions which account for over half of his surviving output. From these works, we gain valuable insights into Aldrich’s compositional methods which, like his architectural design, are firmly rooted in pre-existing classical models.
The music of Henry Aldrich found its way into cathedral music collections during his own lifetime, as well as music publications into the twentieth century.
Aldrich’s personal involvement with the music programme in Christ Church would indicate that the establishment of music in the regular services of the Cathedral was an important priority for him as Dean. Aldrich’s choice of the neutrality of psalm texts for many of his choral anthems is a further indication of his conservative attitudes towards church music during the time of the Restoration. In addition to his life as a composer and collector of manuscripts and monographs, his legacy includes a large collection of prints, many of which are architectural, which served as inspiration for the design of Trinity Chapel, All Saints Church (now the Lincoln College Library), and Peckwater Quadrangle at Christ Church.
— Dr Dean Jobin-Bevans
Lakehead University, Canada. September 2019