The excerpts from the works written on the aftermath of George Frideric Handel’s death in 1759 in London are a commemoration of his life and art. The authors are generous in their appraisal of Handel’s unsurpassed skills and abilities and do not hesitate to put a special emphasis on his significance for English culture. Agreeing on the composer’s mastery and ingenuity, however, these authors seem to regard his influence from diversifying perspectives, which implies that they refer to different aspects of his life and work.
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Both opinions depict the reception of Handel’s works in the 18th-century England where the composer spent most of his life and died1. The ultimate message of these commemorations – and many other works written on the subject of Handel’s career in England – is that the composer’s contribution to the country’s culture was inestimable2. The first one, for example, refers to Handel’s move to England which conveys an impression of a Messiah’s arrival and may be a reference to the composer’s success with the opera “Rinaldo” – the one that was written almost in haste but brought him fame with the British all the same3.
From that, one can concede that the arrival of Handel is regarded as a critical point in the English history that took English music to a new level. The other work echoes that viewpoint stating that it was Handel who demonstrated the full potential of an organ with his art. Thus, both works agree upon the composer’s unicity and his paramount significance to the culture of England in particular as the composer’s unique approach and the unprecedented talent he demonstrated in creating and performing his pieces touched a chord in the public consciousness. The aspect of disagreement here, and the most interesting implication in each of the quotations, is exactly what in Handel’s art had the most value to that public.
The differentiation of opinions becomes evident when one considers how these viewpoints are phrased. The patriotic inclinations of the 18th-century England are implied in the first quotation starting from the very first sentence where the author points out Handel was not a native Englishman. From that, the reader can get an impression that nationality had something to do with the composer’s success – moreover, that the success happened in spite of his nationality.
This subject, however, is not pressed further, although the position of England versus the rest of the world is stated clearly. With regard to that, the author speaks of the composer’s manner being congenial to that of the English people – a “manly” race, which gives an unambiguous idea of this author’s views. Another instance evidentiating the author’s patriotic inclinations is the way the French and German tradition are frowned upon for their supposed novelty.
Butt asserts that the conflict of Lutheran and pre-Enlightenment thinking was present at that, not allowing the former to fully embrace the unfamiliar features endorsed by the latter4. The other author supports this viewpoint but from a different perspective: the second quote quite openly mocks the lack of decent Italian-style composers in England at the time and regards Handel as a source of musical enlightenment to the English, not as a person “in service” of the people.
Besides, while the first excerpt practically claims the country’s rights to Handel and his art, the other one praises his work in the context of the global culture, not adopting him into England. About the only point the authors implicitly agree upon, except Handel’s genius, is not mentioning his work at the Royal Academy.
The varying perspectives of the authors hint at the different aspects of Handel’s life valued by the public. The first one acknowledges the fact that Handel spent the second half of his life in England, regarding it as the time he lived in “service” of the noble people. He refers to the organ music and oratorios, which were especially popular with the English driven by the desire to conquer the rest of the world. Although, factually, it was one of his operas that won him the public’s appraisals, this sudden homogeneity of the people’s moods and Handel’s manner in his organ pieces seems to stipulate the readiness to make Handel England’s own, in the author’s words.
The first author’s idea of adoption, despite the composer’s nationality, is backed up by the fact that Handel abandoned his Italian operas in favor of oratorios once he became naturalized as a contributor to English culture. The other author also discusses the idea, albeit in an anecdotal manner. Mentioning his Italian training, he discusses the readiness of the English to make Handel their own because he created masterpieces no one in England could produce.
The reception of Handel’s figure, therefore, is a conflict: although all parties seem to echo his irreproachable mastery, they refer to varying aspects of his life and appreciate different creations of his. While the factual canvas of adoption and repatriation of the composer into England and back to Germany is enigmatic, the matter is far from being solely based on the nationality.
Butt, John. “Germany – Education and Apprenticeship.” In The Cambridge Companion to Handel, edited by Donald Burrows, 16-23. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011.
Burrows, Donald. Handel. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012.
“George Frideric Handel – TimeLine.” University of Toronto. Web.
Parker, Mary Ann. “Reception of Handel operas, then and now.” University of Toronto Quarterly 72, no. 4 (2007): 850-857.
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- “George Frideric Handel – TimeLine,” University of Toronto. Web.
- Mary Ann Parker, “Reception of Handel operas, then and now,” University of Toronto Quarterly 72, no. 4 (2007): 850.
- Donald Burrows, Handel (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012), 83.
- John Butt, “Germany – Education and Apprenticeship,” in The Cambridge Companion to Handel, edited by Donald Burrows (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011), 23.