A Dictionary of Music and Musicians/Handel, George
HANDEL, George Frederick, one of the greatest composers the world has ever seen, was born at Halle, Lower Saxony, February 23, 1685. His father, a surgeon, who was sixty-three years of age when this son was born, knew nothing of Art, and regarded it as a degrading pursuit, or, at best, as an idle amusement. Determined to raise his son in the social scale, he thought to do so by making him a lawyer, and to this end he strove in every way to stifle the alarming symptoms of musical genius which appeared almost in infancy, while he refused even to send the child to school, lest there, among other things, he should also learn his notes. In spite of this, some friendly hand contrived to convey into the house a dumb spinet (a little instrument in which the strings, to deaden their sound, were bound with strips of cloth); it was concealed in a garret, where, without being discovered, the boy taught himself to play.
When he was seven years old, his father set out on a journey to visit a son by a former marriage, who was valet-de-chambre to the Duke of Saxe Weissenfels. George begged to be allowed to go too; his request was denied, but, with the persistence of purpose which characterised him through life, he determined to follow the carriage on foot, and actually did so for a considerable distance, a proceeding which resulted in his getting his way. At Weissenfels he was not long in making friends among the musicians of the Duke's chapel, who gave him opportunities of trying his hand on the organ. One day, after the service, he was lifted on to the organ- stool, and played in such a mannar as to surprise every one, and to attract the attention of the Duke, who, on making enquiries, found out the state of the case, and sent for both father and son. He spoke kindly to the latter; to the former he represented that such genius as that of his son should be encouraged. The reluctant surgeon yielded to these arguments, and from that time the little Handel was emancipated.
He now became a pupil of Zachau, organist of the cathedral at Halle, under whom he studied composition, in the forms of canon, counterpoint, and fugue, and practised on the organ, the harpsichord, the violin, and the hautboy, for which last instrument he had a special predilection. After three years, during which time he composed a sacred motet each week as an exercise, his master confessed that the pupil knew more than himself, and Handel was sent to Berlin. Here he made the acquaintance of the two composers, Buononcini and Attilio Ariosti, whom in after years he was to meet again in London. Ariosti received him kindly, and warmly admired his talents; but Buononcini, whose disposition was sombre and harsh, treated him at first with scorn and then with jealous dislike. Handel's wonderful powers of improvisation on both organ and harpsichord caused him to be regarded here as a prodigy. The Elector wished to attach him to his Court, and to send him to Italy; but Handel's father thought this undesirable, and the boy was, therefore, brought back to Halle, where he set to work again with Zachau, 'copying and composing large quantities of music…, and working constantly to acquire the most solid knowledge of the science.' At this time he lost his father, and it became necessary for him to work for his own subsistence and the support of his mother. He went, therefore, to Hamburg, where the German Opera-house, under the direction of the famous composer, Reinhard Keiser, enjoyed a great reputation. Young Handel entered the orchestra as 'violino di ripieno,' and amused himself by affecting to be an ignoramus, 'a man who could not count five.' But it happened that Keiser was involved by his partner in some unsuccessful speculations, and was forced to hide for a time from his creditors. During his absence, Handel took his place at the harpsichord in the orchestra, and, his real powers being made manifest, he remained there permanently. He made here the acquaintance of the composer Telemann, and of Mattheson, a very clever young musician, a few years older than himself, who also had been an 'infant prodigy,' and was chiefly remarkable for the versatility of his powers. It is as a writer on music and kindred subjects that he is best remembered, and especially for his valuable reminiscences of Handel. Among other anecdotes, he tells us that in 1703 he and Handel went to Lübeck to compete for the vacant post of organist. They found, however, that it was necessary that the successful candidate should marry the daughter of the retiring organist. This condition seemed to them prohibitory, and the two young men thought it best to return to Hamburg. The friendship between the two young composers was, at one time, very nearly brought to a sudden and tragical conclusion. While Handel was acting as conductor at the Opera-house, it happened that there was given Mattheson's opera of 'Cleopatra' (1704), in which the composer himself played the part of Antony. After that point in the play where the hero dies, it had been Mattheson's custom to return to the clavecin and to conduct the remainder of the opera. To this Keiser seems not to have objected, but Handel was more obstinate, and refused to abdicate his place in favour of the resuscitated Antony. Mattheson was indignant, a dispute ensued, and a duel, in which Handel's life was only saved, and the loss to the world of this mighty master only averted, by the accidental circumstance that the point of Mattheson's sword was turned aside by coming into contact with a brass button on his antagonist's coat. At Hamburg, in Jan. 1705, was produced Handel's first opera, 'Almira,' followed in the same year by 'Nero.' These were performed in the barbarous manner universal at that time, partly in German and partly in Italian. The success of 'Almira' seems, however, to have been great enough to excite some jealousy in Keiser and other musicians. Mattheson says that, when Handel came to Hamburg, he composed 'long airs and interminable cantatas,' more scholastic than melodious or graceful; and he claims to have contributed not a little to the young composer's improvement. It is probable, at any rate, that the genius of Keiser, whose numerous compositions are full of a melody and charm till then unknown, did go far to counteract the influence of the crabbed teaching of Zachau. In 'Almira' is a Sarabande, consisting of the same air which Handel afterwards used for the beautiful song in 'Rinaldo,' 'Lascia ch'io pianga.' His other works at this time were the operas 'Daphne' and 'Florinda,' and a German Cantata on the Passion.
In 1706 he set off on a journey to Italy. He went to Florence, Venice, Rome, and Naples, producing during this time both operas and sacred music, and always with the greatest success. Among these works may be mentioned two Latin Psalms, 'Dixit Dominus' and 'Laudate Pueri;' two Operas, 'Rodrigo' and 'Agrippina;' two Oratorios, 'Resurrezione' and 'Il Trionfo del Tempo;' and the serenata 'Aci, Galatea, e Poliferno,' produced at Naples, and quite distinct from the subsequent English work of a similar name. This serenata is remarkable for an air, written for some Bass singer whose name has remained unknown, but whose voice must have been extraordinary, for this song requires a compass of no less than two octaves and a fifth [App. p.664 "sixth"]! [BASS.]
In 1709 Handel returned to Germany, where the Elector of Hanover (afterwards George I of England) offered him the post of Capellmeister, held till then by the Abbé Steffani, who himself designated Handel as his successor. The latter had already received pressing invitations from England, and he only accepted the Capellmeistership on the condition that he should be allowed to visit this country, whither he came at the end of 1710.
Italian music had recently become the fashion in London; operas 'on the Italian model,' that is, with the dialogue in recitative, having been first given in 1705, at Drury Lane, and afterwards at the King's [App. p.664 "Queen's"] Theatre. The opera of 'Rinaldo,' written by Handel in fourteen days, was first performed on February 24, 1711. It was mounted with a magnificence then quite unusual; and, among other innovations, the gardens of Armida were filled with living birds, a piece of realism hardly outdone in these days. The music was enthusiastically received, and it at once established its composer's reputation. He was obliged, at the end of six months, to return to his post in Hanover; but he had found in London a fitter field for the exercise of his genius; and in January, 1712, he was here again, nor had he yet made up his mind to leave England for Hanover, when the Elector of that State succeeded to the English throne. It was not to be expected that the new king should look with favourable eyes on his truant Capellmeister, who, for his part, kept carefully out of the way. Peace was, however, brought about by the good offices of the Hanoverian Baron Kilmanseck, who requested Handel to compose some music for the occasion of an aquatic fête given by the king. The result was the series of twenty-five pieces, known as the 'Water Music.' These, performed under Handel's direction by an orchestra in a barge which followed the king's boat, had the effect of softening the royal resentment, and Handel's pardon was sealed not long after by a grant to the composer of an annuity of £200.
In 1716 he accompanied the king to Hanover, where he remained till 1718, producing while there his one German oratorio, the 'Passion.' This work contains great beauties, but it is very different in style from his subsequent compositions of a similar kind, still strongly suggesting the influence of Keiser and of Steffani.
On Handel's return to England, he accepted the post of chapel-master to the Duke of Chandos. This nobleman, who from the magnificence of his style of living was sometimes called the Grand Duke, had a palace named Cannons, near Edgeware, and a chapel furnished like the churches of Italy. His first chapel-master was Dr. Pepusch, his countryman, who retired gracefully in favour of the younger master. Here Handel remained for three years, with an orchestra and singers at his disposal; and produced the two 'Chandos' Te Deums, the twelve 'Chandos' Anthems, the English serenata 'Acis and Galatea,' and 'Esther,' his first English oratorio. He also taught the daughters of the Prince of Wales, for whom he wrote his 'Suites de pièces pour le Clavecin' (vol. 1). Besides all this, he, in 1720, undertook to direct the Italian Opera for the society called the Royal Academy of Music. He engaged a company of Italian singers, including Durastanti and the celebrated sopranist, Senesino; and with these he produced 'Radamisto.' The success of this opera was complete; but a party, jealous of Handel's ascendancy, was forming in opposition to him. Buononcini and Ariosti had also been attracted to London by the Royal Academy of Music, and each of these composers had a following among the supporters of the Opera. It was, perhaps, with the object of reconciling all parties, that it was arranged to produce 'Muzio Scævola,' an opera of which the first act was written by Ariosti (or, according to Chrysander, by a certain Mattei, alias Pippo), the second by Buononcini, and the third by Handel. Poor Ariosti had no chance in this formidable competition. With Buononcini, a man of distinguished talent, and able in some measure to support the rivalry with Handel, the case was different. Handel's act, however, was universally declared to be the best; but his victory only excited the enmity of his opponents more than ever. His stubborn pride and independence of character were ill suited to conciliate the nobility, in those days the chief supporters of the Opera; and all those whom he had personally offended joined the Buononcini faction. This fashionable excitement about the rival claims of two composers, like that which raged in Paris when the whole of society was divided into 'Gluckists' and 'Piccinnists,' gave rise to many squibs and lampoons, the best of which, perhaps, has been more often incorrectly quoted and erroneously attributed than any similar jeu d'esprit. The epigram, usually ascribed to Dean Swift, and actually printed in some collections of his works, is undoubtedly the work of John Byrom, the Lancashire poet, and inventor of a system of shorthand. He speaks in his diary, under date June 5, 1725 of 'my epigram upon Handel and Bononcini being in the papers.' It runs, correctly, as published in Byrom's 'Miscellaneous Poems,' as follows:—
'Some say, compar'd to Bononcini,
That Mynheer Handel's but a Ninny;
Others aver, that he to Handel
Is scarcely fit to hold a Candle:
Strange all this Difference should be,
'Twixt Tweedle-dum and Tweedle-dee!'
Handel worked on, unmoved, amid the general strife, and in 1729 entered into partnership with Heidegger, proprietor of the King's Theatre. He produced opera after opera; but, owing to the ever-increasing opposition, his later pieces met with less success than his earlier works. On the other hand, the oratorio of 'Esther,' and 'Acis and Galatea,' composed at Cannons, were now given in public for the first time; they were performed on the stage, with scenic effects, but without action, and were very well received. Several of Handel's instrumental works were written at this epoch. On the occasion of the performance of 'Deborah,' an oratorio, in 1733 the raised prices of seats at the theatre added to the rancour of the composer's enemies; and, to crown all, he quarrelled with Senesino, whose engagement was, therefore, broken off. Senesino was the spoiled child of the public; his cause was hotly espoused by all the partisans of Buononcini, and even those influential personages who had remained faithful to Handel insisted that their favourite should be retained at the theatre. Handel thought this condition incompatible with his dignity; he refused, and his friends deserted him for the enemy's camp. At this juncture, a charge was brought against Buononcini, that he had presented as his own to the Academy of Music a Madrigal, in reality the work of Lotti, the Venetian. This was very strange, as Buononcini might have been expected to compose almost as good a madrigal as Lotti: he quitted England, however, without defence or reply, and his party had to make Senesino their rallying-point.
Handel's partnership with Heidegger ended in 1734, and the King's Theatre was given up to the rival company. He now became an impresario on his own account, and first took the theatre in Lincoln's-Inn-Fields, but soon left it for Covent Garden, where, besides several operas, he produced the music to Dryden's Ode 'Alexander's Feast, or the Power of Music.' His undertaking proved, commercially, a failure; and in 1737 he became bankrupt. It speaks volumes for the low state of musical taste at the period, that at this time the rival house was also forced to close its doors for want of support; although its company included, besides Cuzzoni and Senesino, the wonderful Farinelli, who soon quitted England in disgust. Handel's health succumbed to his labours and anxieties; he had an attack of paralysis, which forced him to go to Aix la Chapelle. He returned, scarcely recovered, in November, and, between the 15th of that month and the 24th of December, wrote the opera of 'Faramondo' and the Funeral Anthem for the death of Queen Caroline. 'Faramondo' was a failure; so were also the pasticcio 'Alexander Severus' and the opera of 'Xerxes,' performed in the spring of 1738. He had, however, a number of faithful friends who remained loyal to him in his adversity. They persuaded him to give a concert for his own benefit; and this was a complete success. It shows what, in spite of his unpopularity with the great, was the public appreciation of his genius and high character, that a statue of him, by Roubilliac, was erected in Vauxhall Gardens; the only instance on record of such an honour being paid to an artist during his lifetime. From 1739 he did little in the way of opera-composing. With the exception of 'Imeneo' in 1740, and of 'Deidamia' in 1741, he thenceforward treated only oratorio, or similar subjects. He said that 'sacred music was best suited to a man descending in the vale of years;' but it was with regret, and only after reiterated failures, that he quitted the stormy sea of operatic enterprise. The world has no reason to be sorry that he did so, for there is no doubt that in Oratorio he found his real field, for which Nature and education had equally and specially fitted him.
The series of works which have immortalised Handel's name only began now, when he was fifty-five years old. In 1740 [App. p.664 "1738"] were composed and performed 'Saul' and 'Israel in Egypt.' 'Saul' (says Chrysander) 'fulfils in the highest degree every condition of a perfect historical picture; reflecting, as it does, the historical object at once faithfully and in its noblest aspect.' It was successful. 'Israel,' which contains some of the most colossal choruses that Handel ever wrote, was so ill-received that, at the second performance, it was thought necessary to lighten the work by the introduction of operatic songs between the choruses. After the third performance, it was withdrawn. 'Israel' was followed by the music to Dryden's 'Ode on St. Cecilia's Day,' and that to 'L' Allegro' and 'Il Penseroso' of Milton, and to 'Il Moderato,' which was a third part added by Charles Jennens, who afterwards compiled the words of the 'Messiah.'
In 1741 Handel received from the Duke of Devonshire, then Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, a pressing invitation to visit that country. Accordingly, in the month of November he went there, and was warmly received, his principal works (not operatic) being performed in Dublin and enthusiastically applauded. On April 18 [App. p.664 "April 13"], 1742, for the benefit of a charitable society, he produced the 'Messiah,' his greatest oratorio, and that which has obtained the firmest and most enduring hold on public favour. Signora Avoglio and Mrs. Cibber were the principal singers on the occasion of its first performance. After a sojourn in Ireland of nine months, during which he met with worthy appreciation and also somewhat repaired his broken fortunes, he returned to London; and the 'Messiah' was performed for the first time there on March 23, 1749 [App. p.664 "1743"]. It is related that, on this occasion, the audience was exceedingly struck and affected by the music in general, but that when that part of the Hallelujah Chorus began, 'For the Lord God omnipotent reigneth,' they were so transported that they all, with the king, who was present, started at once to their feet, and remained standing till the chorus ended. The custom of rising during the performance of the 'Hallelujah Chorus' originated from this incident.
The 'Messiah' was followed by 'Samson,' and the Te Deum and anthem written to celebrate the victory of Dettingen; by 'Joseph,' 'Semele,' 'Belshazzar,' and 'Hercules.' But the hostility of the aristocratic party which he had provoked by refusing to compose music for Senesino, was still as virulent as ever. They worked against him persistently, so that at the end of the season 1744–5 he was again bankrupt, and seems to have been, for the time, overwhelmed by his failure, for during a year and a half he wrote scarcely anything. He began again in 1746 with the 'Occasional Oratorio,' and 'Judas Maccabaeus;' and these were followed by 'Joshua,' 'Solomon' (which contains an unrivalled series of descriptive choruses), 'Susanna,' 'Theodora' and the 'Choice of Hercules.' His last oratorio was 'Jephtha,' composed in February, 1752. It was while engaged on it that he was first attacked by the disease which finally deprived him of sight. Three times he was couched for cataract, but without success; and for the remainder of his life he was almost, if not entirely blind. He was at first profoundly depressed by his affliction; but after a time, with indomitable strength, he rose superior to it. His energy, though lessened, was not paralysed. He actually continued to preside at the organ during the performance of his own oratorios, and even to play organ-concertos. In 1757, one more work was produced at Covent Garden, the 'Triumph of Time and Truth,' an augmented version, in English, of the Italian oratorio of 1708, 'Il Trionfo del Tempo e del Disinganno.' Of the numerous additions in the later version many were new, some taken from former works. His fame and popularity steadily increased during these last years, and much of the old animosity against him died away. On April 6, 1759, he attended a performance of the 'Messiah' at Covent Garden: it was his last effort. On Saturday the 14th of April, he died, at his house in Brook Street. He was buried in the South Transept of Westminster Abbey, where a monument by Roubilliac was erected to his memory in 1762. His gravestone, with his coat of arms, his name, and the two dates 'Born ye 23 February 1684, Died ye 14th of April 1759,' is below the monument. It was engraved as a frontispiece to the Book of Words of the Handel Festival, 1862.
Handel has left behind him in his adopted country a name and a popularity which never has been, and probably never will be, rivalled by that of any other composer. He became a naturalised British subject (in 1726); but to claim him as an Englishman is as gratuitous as it would be to deny that the whole tone of his mind and genius were singularly attuned to the best features of the English character. The stubborn independence, the fearless truth and loyalty of that character, the deep, genuine feeling which, in its horror of pretence or false sentiment, hides itself behind bluntness of expression, the practicalness of mind which seeks to derive its ideas from facts, and not its facts from ideas,—these found their artistic expression in the works of Handel; beside which he was, beyond all doubt, intimately acquainted with the works of England's greatest composer, Henry Purcell: and no native composer could in these days be as truly English as he was, for in an age of rapid travelling and constant interchange of ideas, men and thought become cosmopolitan. Grandeur and simplicity, the majestic scale on which his compositions are conceived, the clear definiteness of his ideas and the directness of the means employed in carrying them out, pathetic feeling expressed with a grave seriousness equally removed from the sensuous and the abstract,—these are the distinguishing qualities of Handel's music.
Handel was a man of honour and integrity, and of an uncompromising independence of character. 'In an age when artists used to live in a sort of domesticity to the rich and powerful, he refused to be the dependent of any one, and preserved his dignity with a jealous care.' This, no doubt, irritated those great people whose vanity was gratified when men of genius lived by their patronage; but, on the other hand, it must be admitted that his temper was naturally irascible and even violent, and his fits of passion, while they lasted, quite ungovernable. Even when he was conducting concerts for the Prince of Wales, if the ladies of the Court talked instead of listening, 'his rage was uncontrollable, and sometimes carried him to the length of swearing and calling names … whereupon the gentle Princess would say to the offenders, "Hush, hush! Handel is angry."' It is to the credit of the prince and princess that they respected the real worth of the master too much to be seriously offended by his manners.
Handel never married, nor did he ever show any inclination for the cares and joys of domestic life. He was a good son and a good brother; but he lived wholly for his art, his only other taste being for pictures, of which he was a connoisseur. He seldom left his house, except to go to the theatre, or to some picture-sale. His tastes were simple, though he ate enormously; having a large, if not an unhealthy, appetite to satisfy. His charitableness and liberality were unbounded; he was one of the founders of the Society for the benefit of distressed musicians, and one of the chief benefactors of the Foundling Hospital.
He was 74 years old when he died; but, when we contemplate the amount of work he accomplished, his life seems short in comparison. Nor did he live in seclusion, where he could command all his time. Gifted with abnormal bodily strength, and with an industry truly characteristic of that nation 'which' (as says Chrysander) 'has laboured more than any other to turn into a blessing the curse of Adam, In the sweat of thy brow thou shalt eat bread,' he excelled in every branch of his art; but, beside this, he was a teacher, a chapel-master, an opera-director, and an impresario. He was, with the exception of J. S. Bach, the greatest organist and harpsichordist of his age. He never devoted much time to the violin; but, when it suited him to play, his tone was such that avowed professors of the instrument might have taken him as a model. He had but little voice, yet he was an excellent singer of such songs as required an expressive delivery rather than florid execution. With his singers he was sometimes tyrannical, and amusing stories are told of his passages of arms with recalcitrant prime donne; but he knew how to conciliate them, and how to preserve their respect; he would take any trouble, and go any distance, to teach them their songs; and all the principal artists resident in London, whom he employed, remained permanently with him to the end of his life.
The rapidity with which he composed was as wonderful as his industry; he may be said to have improvised many of his works on paper. 'Rinaldo' was written in 14 days; the 'Messiah' in 24! From his earliest years he was remarkable for this great readiness in extemporising; he was always teeming with ideas, to which his perfect command of all the resources of counterpoint enabled him to give instantaneous and fluent expression. It was his custom to play organ concertos between the acts or the pieces of his oratorios; but these written compositions were only of service to him when he felt that he was not in the vein; otherwise, he gave himself up to the inspirations of his genius. This, indeed, was almost always the case after he became blind, when all that was given to the orchestra was a sort of ritornel, between the recurrences of which Handel improvised away as long as it pleased him, the band waiting until a pause or a trill gave them the signal for recommencement. His instrumental compositions have, in many respects, such as their lucid simplicity and a certain unexpectedness in the modulations and the entries of the various subjects, the character of improvisations. He seems to have regarded these works as a storehouse for his ideas, on which he often drew for his more important compositions.
It must not, however, be supposed that the speed with which he worked argues any want of care in the workmanship, nor that he was content always to leave his ideas in the form in which they first occurred to him. The shortness of time occupied in the completion of his great masterpieces is to be explained, not merely by the ever-readiness of his inspiration, but also by the laboriousness and wonderful power of concentration which enabled him actually to get through more work in a given time than is accomplished by ordinary men. Those original sketches of his works that are extant, while bearing in their penmanship the traces of impetuous speed, yet abound in erasures, corrections and afterthoughts, showing that he brought sound judgment and stern criticism to bear on his own creations.
In gratitude for the pension allowed him by the king after Handel's death, Smith, his amanuensis, to whom Handel had left his MSS., presented them all to George III. They remain still in the Musical Library of Buckingham Palace, and are as follows:—Operas, 32 vols.; Oratorios. 21 vols.; Odes and Serenatas, 7 vols.; Sacred Music, 12 vols.; Cantatas and Sketches, 11 vols.; and Instrumental Music, 5 vols. Beside these, there is a collection of copies by Smith (the elder), forming a continuation to the original MSS., in 17 vols. There is also a collection of copies, partly in the hand of Smith (the elder) and partly in another hand, chiefly of the Oratorios, in 24 vols. large folio, in the same Library.
Another, smaller collection of original MSS. is to be found in the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge, consisting of 7 vols. of the greatest interest, containing rough draughts, notes, and sketches for various works, and one of the Chandos Anthems, entire, 'Praise the Lord with one consent.'
Very few compositions in Handel's writing are in private collections.
The original MS. score of the work alluded to above as achieved in 24 days, the 'Messiah,'—the greatest, and also the most universally known of all Handel's oratorios,—has been facsimiled in photo-lithography, and so placed within the reach of all who may wish to become familiar with Handel's mode of working. Here it can be seen how much the work differed in its first form from what it finally became,—the work as we know it. Some alterations are of comparatively slight importance, such as the substitution of one kind of choral voice for another in the 'lead' of a fugue-subject,—the alteration of the form of a violin-figure, and so on. But in other cases there are actually two, and sometimes even three, different settings of the same words, showing that Handel himself failed occasionally in at once grasping the true realisation of his own conceptions. Among many instances of change of purpose which might be given, it will be sufficient to quote two. In the 'Nativity music' there are two settings of the words 'And lo! the angel of the Lord came upon them,' the first of which is that now used, and the second an Andante in F major, which bears the traces of a good deal of labour, but which was finally rejected by the composer.
The second case is that of the air 'How beautiful are the feet,' and the subsequent chorus 'Their sound is gone out.' At first the air was written as it now stands, but afterwards its theme was taken as a duet in F minor for Alto voices (appendix), to which is added a chorus on the words, 'Break forth into joy,' after which the duet is resumed. As to 'Their sound is gone out,' these words were originally set as a second strophe to 'How beautiful are the feet' (in its first form as an air); they were then set as a tenor solo (appendix), which opens with the same theme as that of the chorus which afterwards took its place, and which was ultimately embodied in the work. We give a fac-simile of Handel's signature at the end of this MS.
His orchestration sounds, of course, scanty to modern ears. The balance of the orchestra was very different, in his time, from what it is now; some wind-instruments, such as the clarionet, not being yet in use, while others were then employed in greater numbers; and some stringed instruments were included that are now obsolete. The wind-instruments were certainly more prominent in the band than they now are; he used the hautbois freely, seeming to have a particular affection for them, and sometimes employed them in large numbers, as a 'wind-bund,' in 'The Fireworks Music,' etc. He made, in fact, abundant use of all the materials at his command, and, in his own day, was regarded as noisy and even sensational. He was said to sigh for a cannon (worthy, this, of Berlioz in later times); and there is extant a caricature of him, by Goupy, representing him at the organ, with a boar's head and enormous tusks (alluding to his passionate temper); the room is strewn with horns, trumpets, and kettle-drums; further off are visible a donkey braying, and a battery of artillery, which is fired by the blazing music of the organist! Mozart reinstrumented much of the 'Messiah,' to suit the more modern orchestra; and he, as well as Mendelssohn and other musicians, have written similar additional accompaniments to several of the other Oratorios and Cantatas. [See Additional Accompaniments.]
It is as a vocal and, above all, as a choral writer, that Handel is supreme. No one ever developed the resources of the chorus as he did; and his compositions of this class remain to this day unapproachable. No one, before or since, has so well understood how to extract from a body of voices such grand results by such artfully-simple means as those he used. As an example of the union of broad effect with science, the chorus 'Envy! eldest-born of hell!' in 'Saul' may be mentioned. On the unskilled hearer this produces the impression of a free composition in the rondo-form, with a strongly-contrasted second strain, and a very remarkable and telling accompaniment. Each phrase seems suggested by the words that are sung; while, in fact, the voices move, in strict canonic imitation, on a ground-bass which, itself one bar in length, recurs, at the outset, sixteen times without intermission. As specimens of descriptive choral writing, the grand chains of choruses in 'Israel' and in 'Solomon' are unmatched.
Handel's songs, though conventional in form, are so varied in idea, so melodious, and so vocally-expressive, that it is hard to believe Mattheson's statement, that in his early years, though unrivalled as a contrapuntist, he was deficient in melody. The vein must always have been present in him; but it is not unlikely that the influence of Keiser and, subsequently, of Steffani, gave a powerful and a happy impetus to his genius in this direction. It is nearly certain, too, that his experience of Italian music and singers, and his long career as an operatic composer, had the effect of influencing his subsequent treatment of sacred subjects, leading him to give to the words their natural dramatic expression, and to overstep the bounds of stiff conventional formality.
We have remarked that he often drew themes for his choruses from his instrumental pieces; beside this, he used portions of his earlier vocal compositions in writing his later works. Thus, four choruses in the 'Messiah' were taken from the 'Chamber Duets'; so was the second part of the chorus 'Wretched lovers!' in 'Acis'; the 'Magnificat,' furnished subjects for several choruses in 'Israel.' It is, however, an undeniable fact that, beside repeating himself, he drew largely and unhesitatingly on the resources of his predecessors and contemporaries. And yet his own powers of invention were such as must preclude the supposition that he was driven by lack of ideas to steal those of other people. In those days there were many forms of borrowing which were not regarded as thefts. When we find, for instance, that the chorus just mentioned, 'Wretched lovers,' has for its first theme the subject of a fugue of Bach's, that one of the most charming of the Chamber Duets was taken from a similar duet by Steffani, that the subject of the clavier-fugue in B♭ (afterwards used for the third movement of the second Hautbois-concerto) was borrowed note for note from a canon by Turini, that, among the subjects which form the groundwork of many of his choruses, themes are to be found, taken from the works of Leo, Carissimi, Pergolesi, Graun, Muffat, Caldara, and others,—it can only be urged that in an age of conventionality, when musical training consisted solely of exercise in the contrapuntal treatment of given themes, originality of idea did not hold the place it holds now. Such themes became common property; some of them might even have been given to Handel by Zachau, in the days when his weekly exercise consisted of a sacred motet, and he would have regarded them as a preacher would regard a text,—merely as a peg on which he or any other man might hang a homily. But Handel did not stop here. He seems to have looked upon his own work as the embodiment, as well as the culmination, of all existing music, and therefore to have employed without scruple all such existing material as he thought worthy to serve his purpose. 'It is certain' (to quote a distinguished writer of our own day) 'that many of the musical forms of expression which the untechnical man hears and admires in a performance of one of the works of Handel, the technical man may see in the written scores of his predecessors; and that innumerable subjects, harmonic progressions, points of imitation, sequences, etc., which the unlearned are accustomed to admire (and with reason) in Handel, are no more the invention of that master than they are of Auber or Rossini.' In some cases, passages of considerable length, and even entire movements, were appropriated more or less unaltered by Handel. Two compositions we may quote especially, as having been largely laid under contribution for some of his best-known works. One is the Te Deum by Francesco Antonio Uria or Urio. No less than nine movements in the 'Dettingen Te Deum' and six in the oratorio 'Saul' are founded wholly or in part on themes, and contain long passages, taken from this work. The other is a very curious piece by Alessandro Stradella, unpublished, and therefore inaccessible to musicians in general. It is a serenade, in the dramatic form, for three voices and a double orchestra (of strings). This has been largely used by Handel for more than one of his works, but chiefly for 'Israel in Egypt,' in which instances occur of large portions (in one instance as much as 27 bars) being transferred bodily to his score. 'Israel in Egypt' contains another still more flagrant appropriation, the transfer of an Organ Canzona by Johann Caspar Kerl to the Chorus 'Egypt was glad,' the only change being that of the key, from D minor to E minor. The Canzona is printed by Sir John Hawkins (chap. 124), so that any reader may judge for himself.
That such wholesale pilfering as this should have been possible or even conceivable, is a fact which points to a very different standard of artistic morality from that of the present day. Might, in fact, was right. After acknowledging this, it is, at first, hard to see why so great an outcry should have been made against Buononcini for his theft. The difference seems to be that the latter thought it sufficient to copy another man's work, without even attempting to set it in any framework of his own. In Handel's case, the greater part of the music he 'adopted' was, no doubt, saved from oblivion by the fact of its inclusion in his works. The only possible justification of the proceeding is afforded by success.
Among the minor instances of appropriation by Handel of other men's themes, it has been alleged that the popular air known as 'The Harmonious Blacksmith,' which figures (with variations) in Handel's 'Suites de Pieces,' was the composition of Wagenseil, or of some still older and less known composer. There was republished at Paris a version of it, adapted to words by Clément Marot, which was said to be its original form; but no copy of the air, in any form, is extant of an earlier date than the set of 'Suites de Pièces' in which it appears; there is, therefore, absolutely nothing to show that it is not the work of Handel.
In any case, musical plagiarism is hard to define. The gamut is limited; similarity of thought is frequent, and coincidence of expression must be sometimes inevitable between composers of the same period. Justification can only be afforded by success. We are irresistibly reminded of the passage in which Heine speaks of the philosopher Schelling, who complained that Hegel had stolen his ideas: 'He was like a shoemaker accusing another shoemaker of having taken his leather and made boots with it.… Nothing is more absurd than the assumed right of property in ideas. Hegel certainly used many of Schilling's ideas in his philosophy, but Schelling himself never could have done anything with them.'
One man there was,—J. S. Bach,—whose fertility was so inexhaustible that he invented his own fugal subjects, and did not draw on the common stock. In this he was,—with all his severe science and seeming formality,—the true precursor of Beethoven and the modern romantic school of instrumental music; while Handel, in spite of his breadth and flow of melody, and the picturesqueness of his grand yet simple conceptions, was the glorified apotheosis of the purely contrapuntal, vocal music.
No biographer of Bach or of Handel can refrain from drawing a parallel between these two gigantic, contemporary masters, who never met, but who, in their respective spheres, united in their own persons all the influences and tendencies of modern thought, which brought about the revolution from the art of Palestrina to the art of Beethoven.
Handel's influence over the men who were his contemporaries was great; yet he founded no school. All his works were performed as soon as they were written; and, thanks to the constant opportunity thus afforded to him of comparing his conceptions with their realisation, his growth of mind was such that he surpassed himself more rapidly than he influenced others. That which is imitable in his work is simply the result of certain forms of expression that he used because he found them ready to his hand; that which is his own is inimitable. His oratorios are, in their own style, as unapproached now as ever; he seems to have exhausted what art can do in this direction; but he has not swayed the minds of modern composers as Bach has done.
Bach lived and wrote in retirement; a small proportion only of his works was published in his lifetime, nor did he take into account their effect on the public mind, or feel the public pulse, as Handel did. It is strange that he in his seclusion should have preserved a keen interest in the music of other men, whereas Handel's shell of artistic egotism seemed hardened by the rough contact of the world and society; music for him existed only in his own works. Bach was very anxious to make the acquaintance of his famous contemporary; and, on two occasions, when the latter visited Halle, made efforts to meet him, but without success. When Handel went thither the third time. Bach was dead.
Bach's influence began to be felt some fifty years after his death, when the treasures he had left behind him were first brought to light. He was a thinker who traced ideas to their source, an idealist who worshipped abstract truth for its own sake. His works are close chains of thought and reasoning, prompted by profound feeling, and infinitely suggestive; from the various starting-points which they offer, we go on arguing to this day; but they appeal chiefly to the reflective mind. They are no less complete as wholes than the works of Handel, but they are far more complex; and to perceive their unity requires a broad scope of judgment, not possessed by every hearer.
Handel's works appeal to all alike. He was a man of action; what he felt and what he saw he painted, but did not analyse. The difference is the same as that which lies between a great philosopher and a great epic poet,—between Plato and Homer. Who shall say whether is greater? For traces of the influence of the one we must seek deeper and look farther, but the power of the other is more consciously felt and more universally recognised.
'The figure of Handel,' says Burney, who knew him well, 'was large, and he was somewhat unwieldy in his actions; but his countenance was full of fire and dignity. His general look was somewhat heavy and sour, but when he did smile it was the sun bursting out of a black cloud. There was a sudden flash of intelligence, wit, and good humour, beaming in his countenance which I hardly ever saw in any other.' 'His smile was like heaven.' To this Hawkins adds that 'his gait was ever sauntering, with somewhat of a rocking motion.'
Of portraits of Handel there is a multitude. Several were executed in marble by Roubilliac; one, a bust, presented to George III, with the original MSS. and Handel's harpsichord, by Smith; another, also a bust (1738), bought by Bartleman at the sale of the properties at Vauxhall, and bought at his sale again by Mr. Pollock, who presented it to the Foundling Hospital; another, a bust, in the collection of Mr. Alfred Morrison; fourthly, the Vauxhall statue (1738), now the property of the Sacred Harmonic Society, Roubilliac's first work, in which the association of the commonplace dress of the figure with the lyre and naked Cupid is very ludicrous; and lastly, the statue in the monument in Westminster Abbey, which, in spite of the French affectation of the pose, is one of the best portraits of the master, the head having been taken from a mould of his face taken after death by Roubilliac, and said to have been afterwards touched upon by him, the eyes opened, etc. A reproduction of this occurs in 'The Mirror' for July 19, 1834, from which it is here engraved.
Of pictures, the one by Denner, a very unsatisfactory portrait, was given by Lady Rivers to the Sacred Harmonic Society; another, hardly more trustworthy, by G. A. Wolffgang, is in the collection of Mr. Snoxell. Two by Hudson are in the possession of the Royal Society of Musicians, while another, said to be the original, was described by Forstemann (1844) as belonging to the granddaughters of Handel's niece, Johanna Friderica Flörchen, at Halle. It is doubtful if this latter exists. There is, however, an undoubted original by Hudson, signed, 1756, at Gopsall, and a duplicate of it, slightly different, in Buckingham Palace. Another, a capital little head, by Grafoni, is in the Fitzwilliam Museum at Cambridge, to which it was presented by the Rev. E. Ward [App. p.664 "Rev. A. R. Ward"]. A portrait by Thornhill is also in that Museum, and another by the same (1720), representing Handel at the organ, said to have been painted for the Duke of Chandos, was in the possession of the late Mr. Ellerton. Lastly, a little picture, signed 'F. Kyte, 1742,' which belonged formerly to Mr. Keith Milnes, who gave it to Mr. Rolfe, from whose heirs it passed into th possession of the writer, was the original of Houbraken's engraving, and probably also of that by Schmidt, which is very rare. It is reproduced by Hawkins, who pronounces it to be 'the only good one, but that the features are too prominent.'The Vauxhall statue was copied by Bartolozzi for Dr. Arnold's edition of Handel's works, for which Heath engraved an apotheosis for which the portrait was taken from another picture (said to be) by Hudson in Dr. Arnold's possession. The bust was copied by Chambars for Mainwaring's 'Life of Handel;' and the monument, by Delattre, for Burney's 'Commemoration.' Denner's picture was engraved by E. Harding for the 'Anecdotes of G. F. Handel and J. C. Smith.' Hudson's portrait at Gopsall was copied in mezzotint, and very badly, for Dr. Arnold's edition, and again engraved by Thompson, and others; the picture belonging to the Royal Society of Musicians was copied in mezzotint by J. Faber in 1748, and again in 1749, the first being now very rare. This was copied by Miller (of Dublin) and Hardy, and in line by W. Bromley, Sichling, and a host of minor artists. An engraved portrait published by Breitkopf and Härtel is also scarce. The picture by G. A. Wolffgang was engraved by J. G. Wolffgang at Berlin, the name being spelled (in the first state) HENDEL. published at Vienna by Künike, representing Handel without a wig. There is an unfinished plate, supposed to be unique, which represents him holding a scroll of music, and has a likeness to the portrait by Denner; and another, almost unique, 'Etch'd by D. C. Read from a Picture by Hogarth in his possession,' which is contemptible as a portrait and as a work of art.
Beside these, a picture said to be by Hogarth and to represent Handel, has been copied in mezzotint by C. Turner, which has no claim to consideration on either of those grounds.
The best are the two prints by Faber and Houbraken.
The following is a list of his works:—
2 Italian Oratorios; 'Il Trionfo del Tempo e del disinganno' (1707–8), and 'La Resurrezione' (1708).
1 German 'Passion' (1717–18).
19 English Oratorios: 'Esther'* (1720), 'Deborah'* (1733), 'Athalia'* (1733), 'Saul'* (1738), 'Israel'* (1738), 'Messiah'* (1741), 'Samson'* (1741), 'Joseph' (1743), 'Hercules'* (1744), 'Belshazzar'* (1744), 'Occasional'* (1746), 'Judas Maccabaeus'* (1746), 'Alexander Balus'* (1747), 'Joshua'* (1747), 'Solomon'* (1748), 'Susanna'* (1748), 'Theodora'* (1749), 'Jephtha'* (1751), 'Triumph of Time and Truth' (1757).
5 Te Deums: 'Utrecht'* (1713). 2 'Chandos'* (1718–20), Queen Caroline's* (?1737), 'Dettingen'* (1743).
6 Psalms; 'Dixit Domlnus'* et 'Gloria' (1707). 'Laudate'* et 'Gloria' (1707). 'Laudate' et 'Gloria' (1707–9), 'Nisi Dominus' (1707–9). Utrecht 'Jubilate' (1713), Arrangement of Utrecht 'Jubilate' (?1737).
20 Anthems; 12 'Chandos'(* 10) (1718–20). 4 'Coronation'* (1727), 1 'Wedding' (performed 1736), 1 'Funeral'* (1737), 1 'Dettingen' (1743), 1 'Foundling Hospital' (1749).
Arrangements of 4 of the 'Chandos' Anthems for the Chapel Royal (?1727).
Some Recits. in a Wedding Anthem (pasticcio) for the Marriage of the Princess Anne, taken from Athalia, and from the seventh Chandos Anthem (1734).
1 Motet: 'Silete, venti'* (1707–9).
Miscellaneous sacred: a 'Gloria'* (1707–9). 'Kyrie' (1707–9), 'Magnificat' (? 1707–9); 3 Hymns, 'The Invitation.' 'Desiring to love,' and on 'The Resurrection' (1742).
3 German Operas; 'Almira' (1704). 'Nero' (performed 1705), 'Florindo und Daphne' (1706).
39 Italian Operas: 'Roderigo'* (1706). 'Agrippina'* (1707), 'Silla' (1707–9), 'Rinaldo' (1711), 'Pastor Fido' (1712), 'Teseo' (1712), 'Amadigi' ('Oriana' at Hamburg) (?1715), 'Radamisto'* ('Zenobia' at Hamburg) (?1720), Muzio Scævola'* (1721), 'Floridante'* (?1721), 'Ottone'* (1722), 'Flavio'* (1723), 'Giulio Cesare'* (1723), 'Tamerlano'* (1724), 'Rodelinda'* (1725), 'Scipione'* (1726), 'Alessandro'* (or 'Roxana') (1726), 'Admeto' (?1727), 'Riccardo 1°.'* (1727), 'Siroe'* (1728), 'Tolomeo'* (1728), 'Lotario'* ('Judith' at Hamburg) (1729), 'Partenope'* (1730), 'Poro'* ('Cleofida' at Hamburg) (1731), 'Ezio'* (?1731), 'Sosarme'* (1732), 'Orlando'* (1732), 'Arianna'* (1733), 'Ariodante'* (1734), 'Alcina'* (1735), 'Atalanta'* (1736), 'Giustino'* (1736), 'Arminio'* (1736), 'Berenice'* (1737), 'Faramondo'* (1737), 'Serse'* (1738), Airs in 'Jupiter in Argos' (pasticcio) (1739), 'Imeneo'* (1738–40), 'Deidamia'* (1740).
Fragments of 'Flavio Olibrio,' an opera which Handel abandoned after the beginning. 'Lucio Vero' was a mere pasticcio (1747) containing not one note of new music.
Fragments of 'Titus' (?1731); Recits. to 'Semiramide,' 'Arbace,' and 'Calo Fabrizio' (pasticci, 1733–4); 5 pieces and an Overture to 'Orestes' (pasticcio, 1731); Overture to 'Alessandro Severo' (pasticcio, 1738); and fragments of an Opera without name or date.
1 English Opera, 'Alcestes' (1749) called 'Alcides' by Dr. Arnold, partly used in 'The Choice of Hercules.'
2 Italian Serenatas: 'Aci, Galatea, e Poliferno'* (1708), 13 Airs and Choruses for 'Parnasso in Festa' (performed 1734).
2 English Serenatas: 'Acis and Galatea'* (1721). 'Semele'* (1743).
1 English Interlude, 'The Choice of Hercules'* (1750).
1 Italian Intermezzo, 'Terpsichore' (performed, 1734).
4 Odes; Queen Anne's 'Birthday Ode'* (1712), 'Alexander's Feast'* (1736), 'Dryden's Ode,' on 'St. Cecilia's Day'* (1739), 'L'Allegro, il Penseroso, ed il Moderato'* (1740).
2 Chamber Trios: 'Se tu non lasci amore,' 'Quel fior che all' alba ride' (1708).
24 Chamber Duets: 13 called 'Hanover Duets' (1711); 2, 'Quel fior.' 'No, di vol' (1741); 3, 'Beato in ver,' 'No, di vol,' 'Fronda leggiera' (1742); 1, 'Qual seria' (1745); 5. 'Gio net Tartarei,' 'Caro autor' (1), 'Caro autor' (2), 'Ah, nella sorte,' 'Spero indarno' (n. d.).
1 Italian Duet, 'L'amore innocente.' unpublished and lost (performed March 28. 1738).
94 Cantatas: 1, 'Passion.' German (1704); 12, called 'Hanover' (1711); 79 written in Italy, unpublished (1706–12); 2, 'Cecilia. volgi.' 'Sei del cielo' (1736).
7 French Songs (1707–9).
19 English Songs (v.d.). found separate or in various Song-books (1715–1756).
1 English Air, unpublished. 'For ever let his sacred raptures' (n. d.).
16 Italian Airs and Canzonets, unpublished (n. d.).
6 Sonatas (Trios), lost, (1694).
12 Sonatas (Solos). Op. 1 (published 1732).
6 Sonatas (Trios). Op. 2 (published 1732).
6 Concertos (Hoboy). Op. 3 (published 1734).
1st Set.. 6 Organ Concertos* (7 parts). Op. 4 (published 1734).
7 Sonatas (Trios). Op. 5 (published 1735).
12 Grand Concertos.* Op. 6 (1739. Published 1739).
2nd Set. 6 Organ Concertos* (2 with 7 Instrumental parts) (published 1741). The Instrumental parts to these (published 1760).
3rd Set. 6 Organ Concertos* (7 Instrumental parts). Op. 7 (1740–51. Published 1761).
3 Organ Concertos (7 Instrumental parts) (published 1797) (Arnold).
Concertante in 9 parts (1735), 'Water Musick' in 7 parts (1715).
Tunes in the 'Alchymist' (1732), 'Forest Music' (1741–2), 'Fireworks Music'* (1749), Hornpipe (1740), Sonata for 2 Violins (1736), Sonata in 5 parts (1736); Sonata for Violin, Sonata for Hoboy, Violin, and Viola, and an Overture (n. d.).
MUSIC FOR HARPSICHORD.
4 Pieces, in Holland (?1710).
1st Set. Suites de Pièces (published 1720).
4 Minuets and a March (published 1720).
2nd Set. Suites de Pièces (published 1738).
6 Pieces (published 1798). 4 Pieces (published 1859 by the German Handel Society), Six Fugues for Organ or Harpsichord* (1720 Published 1735).
[ J. M. ]
[App. pp.664–5 "Among the Handel MSS. preserved in the Royal Library at Buckingham Palace is a 'Magnificat,' in the great Composer's own hand-writing, for eight Voices, disposed in a Double Choir, with accompaniments for two Violins, Viola, Basso, two Hautboys, and Organ. The work is divided into twelve Movements, disposed in the following order:—
- 'Magnificat anima mea.' (Chorus.)
- 'Et exultavit.' (Duet for two Trebles.)
- 'Quia respexit.' (Chorus.)
- 'Quia fecit mihi magna.' (Duet for two Basses.)
- 'Fecit potentiam.' (Chorus.)
- 'Deposuit potentes.' (Alto Solo.)
- 'Esurientes.' (Duet, Alto and Tenor.)
- 'Suscepit Israel.' (Chorus.)
- 'Sicut locutus est.' (Chorus.)
- 'Gloria Patri.' (Tenor Solo.)
- A Ritornello, for Stringed Instruments only.
- 'Sicut erat.' (Chorus.)
[ W. S. R. ]
- The name is always spelt Händel by German writers. It was spelt at first, in England, Hendel. The family-name had been spelt Händel, Hendel, Hendeler, Händeler, and Hendtler, but most correctly Händel (Förstemann. G. F. Haendel's Stammbaum, fol. Leipzig. 1844, very incorrectly quoted by Fétis).
- A woodcut of the house. No. 4 Grosser Schlamme, from a photograph by Klingemann, Mendelssohn's friend, was given in the Illustrated London News for June 25, 1859, and at a frontispiece to the Book of Words of the Handel Festival, 1877.
- BUONONCINI or BONONCINI, a family of musicians in the 17th and 18th centuries, whose name, having been omitted in its proper place, is added here. The father, Giovanni Maria, was born at Modena about 1640, and was chief musician to the Duke, Maestro di Capella of the Church of San Giovanni in Monte there, and a member of the Accademla del Filarmonici of Bologna. He was a competent and productive artist, who left compositions in many classes, vocal and instrumental, and a treatise on 'Musico prattico' (Bologna 1673, 1688), which was translated into German, and is a clear and sensible work, still of use to the student. He died Nov. 19, 1678. His son Antonio, or Marc Antonio, was born at Modena 1675. He appears to have travelled much, and to have been for some years in Germany—though this may be merely a confusion with his brother. In 1714 be was at Rome, in 1721 Maestro di Capella to the Duke of Modena, where he died July 8, 1726. 7 operas of his are mentioned as remaining in MS. His Camilla, which has been published, had an extraordinary popularity abroad: and in England ran 64 nights in 4 years (Burney iv. 210). He was apparently the best of the family, though his light is considerably obscured by his brother Giovanni Battista, on whom, rightly or wrongly, the fame of the family rests. He was born at Modena 1672, and instructed by his father and by Colonna. He was a musician of undoubted merit, though not of marked originality who suffered from too close comparison with Handel—as talent must always suffer when brought into collision with genius—and from a proud and difficult disposition very damaging to his interests. His first entrance into the musical world was as a violoncellist, in which capacity he was attached to the Court of Vienna at or about 1692. His earliest opera, Camilla (if indeed that was not his brother's), was given at Vienna about the same date: his next, 'Tullo Ostillo' and 'Serse,' at Rome 1694. In 1696 we find him and Ariosti at the Court of Berlin, when Handel, then a lad of 12, was there too for a time (Chrysander's Händel, i. 53). At Berlin he was court composer from 1703 to 1706, and a very prominent personage: but from 1706 to 1720 his time seems to have been divided between Vienna and Italy. In the latter year he received a call to London. A great impulse had recently been given to Italian opera by the establishment of the Royal Academy of Music. Handel was director, and Buononcini and Ariosti were invited over to place the new institution on the broadest possible basis. Buononcini was received with extraordinary favour, and there are perhaps few subscription-lists so remarkable as that to his 'Cantate e Duetti' (1721), for the large number of copies taken by individuals of rank. In England at that time everything was more or less political, and while Handel was supported by the Hanoverian King, Buononcini was taken up by the great houses of Rutland, Queensberry, Sunderland, and Marlborough. From the Marlborough family he enjoyed for many years an income of 500l., and a home and an agreeable position in their house. His connexion with the Academy continued for 7 or 8 years, during which he composed the operas of Astarto (1720), Crispo (1722), Erminia (1723), Farnace (1723), Calfurnia (1724), Astyanax (1727), and Griselda (1722)—though that is suspected to be really his brother's. All these pieces were well received, and Astarto ran for 30 nights. An episode of his operatic career was the joint composition of the 3 acts of Muzio Scevola, in 1721, by Ariosti—or according to Chrysander (ii. 56) Filippo Mattei, or Pippo—Buononcini, and Handel. Buononcini's act was superior to Mattei's, but the judgment of the public was so unmlstakeably in favour of Handel's as to allow of no appeal. On the death of Marlborough, June 16, 1722, Buononcini was commissioned to write the anthem for his funeral in Henry VII's Chapel (Aug. 9), to the words 'When Saul was king over us.' It was afterwards published in score, and has fine portions, though very unequal. About the year 1731 the discovery that a madrigal to the words 'In una siepe ombrosa,' which had been submitted to the Academy some years previously as his composition, was a mere transcript of one by Lotti, led to a long correspondence, and caused a great deal of excitement and much irritation against Buononcini, and was the first step in his fall. It is difficult to understand why a man of his abilities, whose own madrigals were well known and highly thought of (see Hawkins's testimony) should have borrowed from a composer whose equal he certainly was, if indeed he did borrow Lotti's music at all—which is by no means certain (Hawkins, ch. 185). The pride and haughty temper of the man, which closed his lips during the whole contest, was probably a chief reason for the feeling against him. It is certain that it led to the severance of his connexion with the Marlborongh family, which took place shortly after this affair. He then attached himself to a certain Count Ughi, who professed to hare the secret of making gold, went to France, and remained there for some years. There we catch sight of him once more, playing the cello to a motet of his own in the Chapel of Louis XV. In 1748 he was sent for to Vienna to compose the music for the Peace of Aix la Chapelle (Oct. 7), and soon after left Vienna to be composer to the Opera at Venice, where we leave him.
Besides the operas ascribed to him—22 in all—and the other works mentioned above, before leaving Bologna he published 4 symphonies, 2 masses for 8 voices each, duetti di camera, and an oratorio 'Il Giosue.' Another oratorio, 'Intercio,' a Te Deum, etc., etc., remain in MS. at Vienna and elsewhere. A third oratorio, 'S. Nicola di Bari,' and a Psalm, 'Laudate pueri,' are in the Sacred Harmonic Society's Library. The Fttzwtlliam Collection, Cambridge, contains an opera, 'Etearco,' Madrigals, and Motets, a Mass, sine nomine, à 8, and many Cantatas, Duets, and Divertimenti. Novello, in his 'Fitzwilliam Music,' has published 4 movements (see p. 530), of which the Sanctus and Pleni sunt, from a mass, are the finest, and they are very fine.
[ G. ]
- Printed for the Chetham Society, 1854, vol. i. p. 150.
- This data is supported by the entry in the Westminster Abbey Funeral Book, by the letter of James Smyth, the perfumer, Handel's most intimate friend, by all the contemporary journals and magazines, and by the date on the tombstone. Dr. Burney is alone in stating, on quite insufficient evidence, the date as the 13th; and it is a pity that he should have altered the inscription of the tombstone in copying it for his book, so as to support his statement.
- Formerly No. 67, now No. 25. on the south side, four doors from New Bond Street.
- The figure which immediately precedes the date is the old astrological or chemical sign for Saturn, denoting Saturday. Handel was in the frequent habit of introducing these signs into his dates.
- Cannons were used at the Crystal Palace, on one occasion, with no bad effect, and also at the Festival at Boston, U. S. On one occasion, Handel is said to have exclaimed, during the performance of one of his choruses, 'Oh that I had a cannon!' Sheridan, in an early burletta, 'Jupiter,' makes one of his characters say, when a pistol has been fired by way of effect, 'This hint I took from Handel' (Townsend).
- It has been doubted whether this 'Magnificat' was really the original work of Handel, on the ground of a MS. copy (very incorrect) in the library of the Sacred Harmonic Society, having the words 'del Rd Sigr Erba' at the head of the first page. This MS., however, is by an English hand; 'del' does not imply necessarily the authorship of Erba, as 'dal' would have done; and the MS. is on English (Whatman) paper, and later in date than the MS. of the same work, in Handel's autograph, which is in Buckingham Palace. The latter is not, as M. Schœlcher thought, on the thick paper used by Handel in Italy, but on English paper and in the hand he wrote about the time of the composition of the 'Messiah.' It is almost inconceivable that he, having an amanuensis, should, at that time, copy entire the unknown work of an almost unknown composer, though we may admit that he would have condescended to borrow from it. The work is among a number of sketches and rough draughts of Handel's own, ideas noted and compositions projected by him, some of which have, others have not, been carried out to completion. There are but two persons of the name of Erba, Dionisio and Giorgio, mentioned by the biographers of musicians. The former, a Milanese, flourished about 1690; but few of his compositions have been thought worthy of being chronicled. The latter, a violinist of Milan, according to some writers, or of Rome, according to others, was the author of some pieces for his own instrument. It is doubtful whether either of these artists deserved, as an ecclesiastic, the title of 'Rd.'
- See Dr. Crotch's Lectures, p. 122.
- See two papers by Mr. E. Prout in the Monthly Musical Record for Nov. and Dec. 1871.
- This disposes effectually of the claim of the harpsichord, now in the South Kensington Museum, to be considered as Handel's harpsichord, unless he had more than one.
- Where the date of composition is not even approximately known, that of publication has been given. An asterisk is added to the names of the works the autographs of which are preserved in Buckingham Palace. Some of the volumes in that collection contain Anthems, Duets, Sketches, Fragments, Sonatas, &c. impossible to designate with an asterisk in the above short list. The writer desires to r-xi>rr hi* obligation to M. Schœlcher for the first draft of this useful catalogue.