The Artistry of G.F.Handel
It’s hard today to speak about Handel’s life and works without mentioning the similarities between him and Bach; first of all they were born in the same year:1685, even if it’s not a case than the most geniuses of the late baroque era (Couperin, Telemann Scarlatti ) would have almost been all co-aged. Neverhless unlike Bach, Handel immortalised the name of a family of cheesemakers or of the Prince of Saxony’s barber/surgeon -his father. And really it was under the influence and the strong expectations of the latter that like many other aspirants gentlemen, the young Haendel enrolled the university of Halle as a law student.
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But after his father death he decided not to pursue the legal career and began instead to perfection those skills as a musician which some three years of lessons taken in his hometown from the reknown organ player Wilhelm Zachau had awakened in him When in 1703 Haendel eventually left Halle and went to Hamburg as a violino in ripeno (an ordinary violin player in an orchestra) his bad talent as a lawyer and good skills as an artist, both characterizing every sudden and proverbial decision taken by him in the future were both proved.
At those times Hamburg, the mercantile capital city of Northern Germany, was well known also for its Gansenmarkt Thater (literally: ‘Theatre at the goose market’), which workers were yet trying to create the millenary dream in advance of Goethe by combining Italian creativity with German methodology. And what better even if “oleographic” example can be brought to this aim if not the librettos of the operas represented at the Gansenmarkt Theater between 1700 and 1720 ehich appear to be written in German with the execption of the Italian “belcanto” arias.
A Ture master in this mixed and eclectic genre, neglecting the lutheran poetry (preferred by Bach) in favour of the Italian an Viennese writers (Zeno, Pariati, Pasquini etc. ) was Reinhard Keiser who, naturally, claimed to be the master to all the new-comers, including Haendel who far from accepting this rule, successfully sought the friendship and maecenatism by Gian Gastone de Medici (1671- 1737) , son of the Grand Duke of Tuscany: Cosimo III.
And in what it seems it was in this environment that The young Haendel met Johann Mattheson, the most reknowned and inspired musical critic of his time as well as the finest connoisseur of Telemann’s music . Also the Hamburghese poet Johannes Brockes , whose twxt in the next 1704 Haendel would have transcribed into the beautiful music of his “Brockes Passion” appeared to have been introduced to him by Mattheson.
So after this debout Haendel did not have to wait long for operatic success at the Gansenmarkt. nce yet in 1705, he directed there “Nero” and “Almira”, the latter being intentionally and mischievously based above the same libretto on which in during those weeks Keiser too was said to be working….. As if that wasn’t enough, before leaving Hamburg for his first Italienreise (which Bach never did), Handel composed two more operas: “Florindo” and “Daphne”and reached in outshining Keiser on his own territory but he had to leave under the motivation of an Italienreise which Bach never did.
Gastone de Medici was waiting for him at Florence where Haendel first successful “Italian” opera: “Rodrigo” was staged. The master neverthless meant to travel in Rome where as guest of Corelli’s sponsors, Cardinals Pamhilii and Ottoboni, he represented his first oratorios: “Il Trionfo del Tempo e del Disinganno” (lately re-represented in London as “The Triumph of Time and Truth”) and “La Resurrezione” played during the Easter of 1708 in the church of San Giovanni in Laterano in Rome. ere according to his biographers Haendel also improvised at the organ some of those Concertos which had to be lately included in his Opus IV and VIII. The greatest success ever, “il Sassone”as Haendel would have nciknamed by the Italian opera fans He had to achieve it 120 miles south of Rome, at Naples where the successful 27 replicas of his new opera: “Agrippina” made him to fully “graduate” as an operist.
Really Haendel had to be numbered among the most reknowed Italian operists if the Cardinal Vincenzo Grimani, the cousin of the last duke of Mantua and like him one of the greatest employers of singer both at his own Theatre in Venice and in Neaples of which by appointement od the Emperor’s he had become Viceroi, allowed Haendel’s Agrippina to be sung by many of his proteges: Santa Stella detta la Santini, and “Margherita Durastante” one of the master’s ever favourites.
As a further symbol of success also the reknowed composer and diplomat Agostino Steffani, whose “Enrico il Leone”(Hannover 1689) was perhaps the most famous opera represented in XVIIth century Germany, offered to Haendel his own succession as Kappelmesiter to the prince elector of Hannover. There neverthless the service had to be quite more boring than the activity of operist in the main capital cities of Italy so that Haendel preferred to escape in London instead than to sink in the province…
The two operas that in 1710 He represented in London were struncated by some critics forcing him to come back and to seek his master’s pardon. This eventualy came when some months later, Haendel left Hannover for London again, vowing never to come back…. Second Part London 1713-1759 In London, Handel filled the void left by the death of Purcell, with musical pieces suited to the monarchy’s weltanschaung, that is to say, with celebratory pieces such as Ode to the Birthday of Queen Anne (1716) and “Utrech Te Deum” (1713) -written in honour of the signing of the rather omonimous peace treaty.
Handel’s road to….. success under royal patronage was then suddenly interrupted by the death of the Queen, who was succeeded by the Prince Elect of Hannover, crowned George I of England in 1717. Sometimes vows are only “half the prize” and really thwe weaker among the two Saxons had to take refuge under the patronage of Lord Bridges, first Duke of Chandos, to whom between 1717 and 1720 he dedicated those Chandos Anthems (1717-1720), whose beauty, it was said, dispelled any doubts concerning the provenance of the Duke of Chandos wealth.
But But, even after all, good King George would live enough to see around 1730, all the German theatres either closed or taken over by Italian impressarios and could easily forgive Haendel who yet starting from 1719 was appointed ” Master of Arts to the King of England “. The main problem now would become to share that dignity with two reknown Italian operists Giovanni Maria Bononcini (1670-1747) and Attilio Malachia Ariosti, a priest from Bologna whom the Duke of Mantua had opened the doors of the Venetian and Theaters.
The fight was hard since if Handel’s: Coriolano (1723) and Vespasiano seemed to oustshinedAriosti ; Bononcini’s fame still had to reach its zenith with: Crispo and Griselda. The King then made them to compose each one Act of Muzio Scevola but done this Haendel concentrated against the abjective of outshining Bononcini which was achieved soon after after the representation of Floridante .
Rather simbolically while in Haendel presented to the London public his most reknown operistic triology: Giulio Cesare, Ottone and Tamerlano proving them not only to be the latest master of the italian “seicento” but also a composer opened to the new perspective of the fusion of national styles in an highly personal language, Ariosti left London and went to Madrid together with a clever impresario a certain Tarchi who eventually left him in a state of absolute indigence.
But a turmoil followed another and when Haendel assigned alternatively the first role of “Alessandro nelle Indie” to the famous soprano Faustina Bordoni and to a discovery of him Valeria Cuzzoni , two parties of noblemen acting “like drunken baker shop assistants” engaged long nightime duels which only the Kings death in 1727 could stop.
It’s not a case then that after so much ‘opera fever’, the London opera houses would experience a period of deep crisis, while the founder of London’s The Academy of Ancient Music invented the “Ballad Opera” cut on measure over the pre-Romantic English Folklore and nationalism. Haendel himself would compose some arias for the milestone itself of “Ballad Opera”: “The Beggars Opera” who, altghough being deeply satiric appeared to be loved both by the poors, finally undertanding its plot and the rich deserting the Haymarket Theatre, the stepping stone of Haendel’s fame during ther 20’s.
In Italy where in 1730 he came back to seek inspiration, Handel wrote something like thirteen more operas, including those: Partenope (1730), Poro Re d’Italia (1731), Orlando (1733) “Alcina” and “Ariodante” (1735), which also for the refined poetry of Pietro Metastasio are said to be among the most beautiful operas ever written by Haendel. Who couldn’t also remeber his “Orlando Furioso” and hommage to the renaissancial poetry of Ludovico Ariosto accompanied by Haendel’s lines nevermore so much lyrical.
In fact coming bacvk from Italy to London Haendel entered the so called period of the Masterate in which instead substantially than writing for the public he started to write only for himself reaching an equivalent of Bach’s Regulirte Kirckenmusik. Indeed the mean of this Katharsis didn’t have to be the opera but the Oratorio a kind of religious opera which in Italy and especially in Rome was usefully adopted during those times of the years in which like at Lent staging Theatre works was unsually accepted to be shameful.
But like in Bach’s Sacred Cantatas or even Corelli’s Opus V Haendel himself will de-characterize the Oratorio thus making of it a piece both to the church and the theatre where what is important is the sobriety and essentiality of espression sharing the true passions of the human heart and not just the needs of entertaining the upper society But ironically enoughtoday we tend to see Haendel Oratorios: Israel in Egypt, Saul (1739), Samson (1743), Belshazzar (1745) as the well-ordered firmament surrounding the Messiah (1742).
Here operistic techinques like that of “Aria grande col da Capo” concurr tio create an unique religious fresco which neverthless, paradoxically sharing the fate of Mozart “Il Dissoluto Punito ossia Don Giovanni” (represented only in Prague in 1787) could only be hosted by the Dublin Catholic Theatre and never saw the glories of the Covent Garden where at those times the Neapolitan composer Niccolo Porpora, together with his pupil Roberto Farinelli had come to triumph and to outhshine Haendel himself.