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William Hayes: Ceremonial Oxford - Music for the Georgian University



William Hayes was Professor of Music at the University of Oxford from 1741 to 1777. A keen admirer of Handel, he composed celebratory music for many Oxford occasions. The Choir of Keble College and Instruments of Time & Truth revive music written for the chapels of Oxford, University ceremonies at the Sheldonian Theatre, and for grand concerts given in the Holywell Music Room, the earliest purpose-built public concert room in Europe.

William Hayes: Ceremonial Oxford - Music for the Georgian University


Every now and then a CD comes along that makes one wonder why the music on it is not better known. That is precisely what happened here; I have known of William Hayes’s music for decades, and more recently through an offer to publish editions of some of his instrumental music, but I had never heard any of it except courtesy of the Sibelius playback feature. With the best will in the world, computers cannot (yet?) compete with human performance, most assuredly not when they are of this calibre – the lively playing of the orchestra and the soloists is well suited to accompanying the archetypically (in a good way!) stylish English collegiate choir. Hayes, 23 years Handel’s junior, builds solidly on the older man’s extension and expansion of choral repertoire, though there is no denying the essential Englishness of it all; there may be counterpoint, in many cases better worked that many of his generation, but his primary concern is to convey the mood of the words. The inclusion of an organ voluntary by an even more obscure composer, William Walond, who apparently played in performances of Hayes’s works, suggests a commitment to this repertoire that may bear further fruit. Brian Clark,

"A splendid tribute to a major figure of Oxford’s, and Britain’s, musical past, and a refreshing example of what can be achieved both within the University and well beyond through the marriage of sound scholarship and lively music-making.”  Andrew Parrott

“Excellent performances of excellent music, another proof that Handel’s English contemporaries deserve to be explored and performed.”  Peter Holman

Hayes would receive scores directly from Handel and conduct his oratorios in Oxford. But listening to the music on this disc, you can also hear Hayes interest in the music of his great predecessors, Tallis, Byrd and Purcell. Whilst the instrumental writing in works like the organ concerto has something of a Handelian cast, the choruses take on a very English feel, and in fact, we have one of his transcriptions of Byrd adapting Emendemus in melius for new English words. His own anthems were written with an eye to improving the general state of English sacred music in the 18th century, using his predecessors as exemplars, and the anthems presented here are certainly worth exploring more, combining as they do interest with a certain 18th-century polite grace.

Matthew Martin, the choir of Keble College and the Instruments of Time and Truth give attractively engaged accounts of the music. Martin draws crisp and stylish playing from his orchestra and finely focused and beautifully blended singing from the choir. Martin is the lively soloist in the organ concerto with Edward Higginbottom and Rory Moules sharing the honours in the anthems.

The disc concludes with a charming piece which encapsulates Hayes' art, an arrangement of the Hundredth Psalm given a lively an charming accompaniment full of rhythmic felicity. Martin and his team are to be congratulated on their imagination in giving us this disc of Hayes' music and I hope that we might hear more. Planet Hugill