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Celestial Music did the Gods Inspire

Ensemble Hesperi and Hesperi Voices

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Celestial Music did the Gods Inspire - Ensemble Hesperi and Hesperi Voices
Temple Church (©Chris Chrisdoulou)

“Celestial Music did the Gods Inspire”, now available as a full-length concert film, brings to life the extraordinary musical story of the Battle of the Organs, performed in the very building where the action took place, London’s historic Temple Church. Read the background in this "behind the scenes" article by Thomas Allery and Mary-Jannet Leith from Ensemble Hesperi, download the programme from Ensemble Hesperi's website - or sit back and watch the film here!

The programme for "Celestial Music did the Music Inspire" celebrates the historic 'Organ Battle' at the Temple Church in the 1680s. Following the refurbishment of the church by Christopher Wren, a dispute arose as to which of two leading organ builders of the day, Bernhard Smith and Renatus Harris, should furnish the church with a new instrument. The Benchers of Middle Temple had a strong preference for Smith’s organ, but those of Inner Temple favoured the challenger, Harris. In a matter of months, the two men erected two organs at opposite ends of the church, and vied with each other, showcasing their instruments on alternate Sundays. Each organ maker invited the most celebrated players of the day to showcase their craftsmanship to the astonished crowds gathered for the ‘trials’ to witness their virtuosic performances. As the societies of the Inner and Middle Temples struggled to choose a winner, a fierce rivalry developed, and each builder strived to outdo the other, rumours of sabotage never far away. Finally, Smith’s organ triumphed, preferred for its volume and tonal qualities.

The programme features music by the two organists who demonstrated Smith’s winning instrument, John Blow and his student Henry Purcell. The two men were leading musicians in late seventeenth-century London, particularly in the realm of church music. Sadly, Blow’s illustrious career is largely forgotten today, but he, together with Purcell, monopolised the high offices at the choral establishments of the Chapel Royal, St Paul’s Cathedral and Westminster Abbey during his lifetime.

The concert film of "Celestial Music did the Gods Inspire" was produced by videographer Tom Mungall, and was supported by a grant from Continuo Foundation.

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