Manchester, 14th-18th July 2004


Jennifer Cable (University of Richmond, Virginia, USA)

Alexis: a favourite cantata

In 1820 an English cantata was printed in London bearing the title "Alexis: A favourite Cantata" - an apt title, given that the cantata had appeared in 14 known printed versions following its original publication by John Walsh in 1710. "Alexis" was included in the volume titled "Six English Cantatas Humbly Inscribed to the most noble Marchioness of Kent", the first volume of English cantatas composed by Johann Christoph Pepusch, a German expatriate who settled in London in 1700.  Walsh issued a second edition c. 1720 (timed to coincide with the release of Pepusch's second volume of Six English cantatas), and a third edition c. 1731. Both sets of English cantatas were written for soprano and continuo, and most include obbligato instruments.

Pepusch used as a model the Italian chamber cantata structure of alternating recitatives and da capo arias. In composing these cantatas "after the Italian manner", Pepusch was appealing to the current English interest in Italian vocal music. Though the English cantata faded in popularity by the close of the 18th century, Pepusch's cantata "Alexis" continued to be performed well into the 19th century, and a 2-voice version of the first aria was published as late as 1959.  To date, I have identified 24 versions.

My presentation will trace the journey of "Alexis" from 1710 to the 20th century; explore various alterations to the cantata; and discuss how specific versions reflect the musical tastes of the period in which they appeared.

Last updated on 10 May 2004