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Prof resurrects English opera penned nearly 300 years ago

FORT WORTH, Texas (BP)–An award-winning opera by a little-known 18th-century English composer is seeing the light of day nearly 300 years later because of the efforts of a church music professor to reconstruct the score for the piece and have the opera published.
David Music, a professor at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, was a student at the Fort Worth, Texas, seminary in the 1970s when he first happened upon John Weldon’s opera, “The Judgment of Paris.” No copy of the score was known to exist, and the only complete manuscript of the opera resided at the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington.
Music said he was interested in illuminating the period of English musical history represented by Weldon, which extends from the death of Weldon’s teacher, Henry Purcell, in 1695, to Handel’s arrival in England in 1715.
The opera, Music said, was entered in a contest held in 1701. All the entries were based on the same material, and though Weldon won first prize, his work was never published, and eventually he turned to church music.
The opera itself is based on the Greek mythological account of Paris, who had to judge which of three Greek goddesses was most beautiful, a decision that, according to the legend, triggered the Trojan War.
Though the Folger manuscript is the only complete version of Weldon’s work, there are movements of the opera in other manuscripts, and Music has made use of those as well as of the Folger document to piece together a score for the opera.
The effort to publish the opera was the musical equivalent of textual criticism of ancient Bible manuscripts, he said.
At the time “The Judgment of Paris” was written, composers would normally be present as a piece was performed and would make corrections along the way and decide on the spot how the score would be played. As a result, composers would make notations on the manuscripts.
Music worked on the project on and off for 15 years, doing most of the concentrated work during a six-month period of his recent sabbatical.
The opera was published in the spring 1999 “A-R Editions,” a series that publishes scholarly and performance editions of pieces that have not received wide currency.
Music said that working on “The Judgment of Paris” took him outside his normal parameters. Most of his work is in hymnody, while Weldon’s piece was strictly secular.
“This was a stretch for me and one I enjoyed very much,” he said.
Music added he has not heard of any plans to perform the opera.
Music has served at the Fort Worth, Texas, seminary since 1990. He received both his master’s degree in church music degree and his doctorate from Southwestern.

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  • Cory Hailey