Book Reviews - Winter 2019

Making Himself at Home

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A German-born composer and his English oratorios

By Sudip Bose | December 3, 2018
Flickr/Kent Wang
Flickr/Kent Wang

One of the great assimilation stories in the history of music involves the transformation of Georg Friedrich Händl, fledgling German composer from the city of Halle, into George Frideric Handel, naturalized British subject and unrivaled master of the English oratorio. Although Handel was never quite fluent in the language of his adopted land, his ability to adapt the poetry of John Milton, John Dryden, and Alexander Pope, to say nothing of the King James Bible, resulted in an output that was as magnificent as it was extensive. By the time of his death in 1759, no one, with the possible exception of Henry Purcell, had done more to invigorate English music—a status unchallenged until the advent of Edward Elgar well over a century later.

As Jane Glover, a noted English conductor and the author of a previous book on Mozart, writes in her new work, Handel arrived in London in 1710, at the age of 25, having spent four apprentice years in Italy. He had enjoyed his first operatic triumph—Agrippina—in Venice, and he was eager to continue in this theatrical vein. His first London opera, the extravagant, brilliantly scored Rinaldo, was in Italian. The language barrier aside, the work was an unqualified success, vaulting its composer into the city’s cultural elite and bringing him enduring favor with the British royal family.

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