Festival Te Deum

The Festival Te Deum is the popular name for an 1872 composition by Arthur Sullivan, written to celebrate the recovery of Albert Edward, Prince of Wales (later King Edward VII of the United Kingdom) from typhoid fever. The prince's father, Prince Albert, had died of typhoid fever in 1861, and so the prince's recovery was especial cause for celebration.

The Festival Te Deum was first performed on 1 May 1872 at The Crystal Palace in a special "Thanksgiving Day" concert organised by the Prince's brother, Alfred, Duke of Edinburgh, who was a friend of Sullivan's and commissioned the piece. Sullivan was allowed to dedicate the work to the prince's mother, Queen Victoria: an unusual honour.[1] The soloist was Therese Titiens, who had been the soprano soloist in Sullivan's earlier The Prodigal Son.[2]

The libretto uses an English translation of the traditional Te Deum, in praise of God, with the addition of a "Domine salvum fac" ("O Lord, save the Queen!"), divided up into seven self-contained sections. There are multiple choral fugues throughout, and the score calls for instrumentation on a grand scale, including the addition of a full military band to the orchestra, chorus, and organ in the final section.

At the original performance, the London contingent of the Handel Festival Choir of 2,000 performers constituted the chorus, and the audience numbered 26,000.[1][3][4] The Times wrote, "we are glad to be able to speak in terms of unqualified praise. It is not only, in our opinion, the most finished composition for which we are indebted to [Sullivan's] pen but an honour to English art."[5] Sullivan was "uproariously cheered" at the premiere.[6]

The first section begins with a reference to the hymn tune St. Anne, which is repeated in the final section, suggesting that divine intervention played a part in the recovery of the Prince. Handel's influence is heard throughout the piece, including in the fugues, and Sullivan uses key selection to emphasize sacred and secular sections of the piece. Soprano solo or choral sections alternate in a broad dynamic range to illustrate the text. The piece, in keeping with the spirit of the occasion, is often upbeat, even exuberant in places.[7]

While Sullivan was writing the Festival Te Deum, his first opera with W. S. Gilbert, Thespis, was still being performed. Sullivan was also busy composing The Light of the World (an oratorio for the Birmingham festival), and a cantata for the opening of a London exhibition.[3]

The BBC broadcast the piece in 1988 and later the recording was released on CD.[4][8]

The complete text of the Festival Te Deum is as follows, ignoring the repetitions:

When Thou tookest upon Thee to deliver man: thou didst not abhor the Virgin's womb.
When thou hadst overcome the sharpness of death: thou didst open the Kingdom of Heaven to all believers.
We therefore pray Thee, help Thy servants: whom Thou hast redeemed with Thy precious blood.
O Lord, save the Queen: and mercifully hear us when we call upon thee. Amen.