St Paul’s Cathedral
Handel – Te Deum for the Peace of Utrecht, HWV 278Adrian Thomas – The Idea of Peace (world premiere)
Handel – Jubilate for the Peace of Utrecht, HWV 279
Gillian Keith (soprano)Lucy Hall (soprano)
Kamilla Dunstan (mezzo-soprano)
Emily Kyte (mezzo-soprano)
Mark Wilde (tenor)
Martin Hässler (baritone)
Choristers of Utrecht Cathedral Chior School
Canon Michale Hampel (narrator)
English Chamber Orchestra
Jos Vermunt (conductor)
The 1713 Treaty of Utrecht, which established the Peace of Utrecht, concluded the long-running War of the Spanish Succession and signalled the final nail in the coffin for Louis XIV’s aspirations to universal monarchy. Accompanying commercial treaties – the Treaty itself actually a series of treaties – laid the way for economic expansion, so the ‘peace’ seems an especially appropriate settlement for the City of London Festival to be celebrating its tercentenary. Given the death toll, variously estimated at somewhere between 400,000 and 1.251 million, I could not also but help think of Voltaire’s Candide, in which the tradition of the military Te Deum joins the list of items for excoriation:
There was never anything so gallant, so spruce, so brilliant, and so well disposed as the two armies. Trumpets, fifes, hautboys, drums, and cannon made music such as Hell itself had never heard. The cannons first of all laid flat about six thousand men on each side; the muskets swept away from this best of worlds nine or ten thousand ruffians who infested its surface. The bayonet was also a sufficient reason for the death of several thousands. The whole might amount to thirty thousand souls. Candide, who trembled like a philosopher, hid himself as well as he could during this heroic butchery.
At length, while the two kings were causing Te Deum to be sung each in his own camp, Candide resolved to go and reason elsewhere on effects and causes. He passed over heaps of dead and dying, and first reached a neighbouring village; it was in cinders, it was an Abare village which the Bulgarians had burnt according to the laws of war. Here, old men covered with wounds, beheld their wives, hugging their children to their bloody breasts, massacred before their faces; there, their daughters, disembowelled and breathing their last after having satisfied the natural wants of Bulgarian heroes; while others, half burnt in the flames, begged to be despatched. The earth was strewed with brains, arms, and legs.
It is no coincidence that the eighteenth century was especially ripe with schemes for ‘perpetual peace’, from writers such as the Abbé de Saint-Pierre, Rousseau, and Kant. Not that any of them had the slightest chance of being considered as anything but wild utopianism, as the European states system continued to dictate foreign policy. (We might bitterly recall New Labour’s claim to have been adopting something called an ‘ethical foreign policy’ whilst launching a series of murderous invasions.)