Purcell, Handel, Haydn, and Mendelssohn: Anniversary Reflections
New College, Oxford
27-29 March 2009
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Abstracts A-F - click on speaker's name to see timetable

Martin Adams
Trinity College, Dublin

"That what took least, was really best":  tensions between the private and public aspects of Purcell's compositional thought.
Roger North remembered that Purcell "used to mark what did not take for the best musick, it being his constant observation that what took least, was really best." Purcell's penchant for complexity has been discussed widely; and Alan Howard has recently said that aspects of the composer's practice set him "somewhat apart from contemporary composers and, even more importantly, from the expectations of his audiences." They also set him somewhat apart from the other composers in this conference.
My paper will argue that this apartness is rooted in a tension between expectations - those towards himself and towards his paying audience. It is a tension between the private and the public, the private epitomised in music of a "highbrow" kind (whatever its intended audience), and the public epitomised in his theatre music. Via a comparison of works private (especially songs from Harmonia Sacra) and public (mainly theatre songs), the paper will define the thinking and practice that differentiates the two spheres. It will also suggest that the private sphere was so deeply embedded that Purcell's reputation inevitably rests on a small number of works. In that respect too, he makes a revealing comparison with the other composers in this conference.

Maria Teresa Arfini
Milan and Aosta University

Music as Autobiography: Mendelssohn between Beethoven and Schumann

There are some compositions where Mendelssohn shows actually autobiographical traits. In June 1827 he composed a love song, "Frage", which he wrote also the verses. The Lied would be a love effusion for Betty Pistor, a maid one year older than Felix who sang in the Berlin Singakademie. Next month the thematic material of this Lied was used in the string quartet in A minor, op. 13, stylistically similar to Beethoven's late quartets. Probably Betty Pistor recurs also in next Mendelssohn's quartet,
the string quartet in Eb op. 12. There is a secret dedication: in the autograph appear the initials B. P. (perhaps Betty Pistor?), successively corrected by Ferdinand David, on Felix's instruction. And, most important, the first theme begins with a rising fourth, Bb - Eb, that in German sounds B - Es. These letters are the three "musical" letters of Betty Pistor's name, extractable with the  old "soggetto cavato" technique. In Larry Todd's opinion, all three compositions are related with a love affair and Betty
Pistor, but I perceive some more complicated relationship. Maybe there is a cultural sense of autobiography: all these compositions are connected to Beethoven and with a concept of unreturned love, and there is an use of "soggetto cavato" also in Beethoven's Great Fugue op. 133 - on the name of BACH. Moreover the old "soggetto cavato" technique is the central feature of the Robert Schumann's  "autobiographical" first piano compositions, like ABEGG-Variations op. 1, or more subtle encoding of the name "Clara". There are not only old sources for this technique, but some extra-musical source common to Mendelssohn and Schumann too, like the beloved writer Jean Paul Richter, that could explain a such peculiarity in Mendelssohn's music.

Amanda Babington

University of Manchester

The autograph of Messiah: a case-study in Handel's methods of construction
Handel is well known for his lack of pre-compositional sketches.  This means that his autographs can provide particularly tantalising insights into the several initial creative stages of his works.  In order to gain these insights, however, we need to be able to interpret the language and vocabulary of the autographs.  Burrows's and Ronish's work on the watermarks and gatherings of the autographs provides an invaluable starting point for the investigation that forms this two-part paper detailing the findings of my research into Handel's construction of the autograph score of Messiah.  Dissection and cross-referencing of the calligraphic elements of the autograph have revealed a compositional code by which it is possible to discover the surprisingly wide scope of Handel's intentions as he initially composed the work.  These findings form the first part of this paper; the second part illustrates the potential benefit of such information by using it to investigate Handel's intentions towards the pacing and division of the work in performance.  

Matthew Badham
University of York

Handel, Haydn and dappled aesthetic of light and dark: new perspectives on L'Allegro, il Penseroso ed il Moderato and Die Jahreszeiten

Handel's L'Allegro (1740) and Haydn's Die Jahreszeiten (1801) demonstrate both composers engaging not just with nature in general, but with the idea of light and dark, one of the most elemental of artistic contrasts.  Symbolism of light and darkness is a timeless musical theme and yet it seems particularly recurrent in art throughout the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, gaining important new aesthetic power representational of current religious, political or philosophical ideals in many seminal musical works (eg. The Magic Flute, The Creation, Fidelio).  This paper will focus on Handel's setting of John Milton's imaginative, youthful companion poems 'L'Allegro' and 'Il Penseroso' which, although written during the early 1630s, remained popular and influential throughout the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.  Haydn's Die Jahreszeiten, was a German adaptation of The Seasons by James Thomson, a lengthy poem which was a pan-European bestseller of late 1720s.  The influence of Handel upon Haydn's mature choral style is well documented, and yet the two works are rarely compared - perhaps because there are no direct musical allusions or quotations.  A comparison of the moonrise of 'Sweet bird that shuns't the noise of folly' (L'Allegro) and the sunrise of 'Die steight herauf' (Die Jahreszeiten), will act as springboard into a wider examination of the darkness versus light dialectic of both works.  In the libretto of L'Allegro, mirrored imagery heightens the dialogue of Milton's companion poems and, although dark and light imagery are counterpoised, neither is presented as being valued above the other.  Handel's music notably retains much of this ambiguity.  Conversely, The Seasons reflects more cyclical patterns of darkness progressing to light represented firstly as a yearly cycle, and secondly, within the course of one day.   This paper will actively compare both compositional responses, focusing on how they reflect ideology related to imagery of light versus darkness, suggesting how the works situate themselves within wider questions about eighteenth-century aesthetics.

Olive Baldwin and Thelma Wilson
Brentwood, Essex

Purcell's Mad Songs in the time of Handel, Haydn and Mendelssohn

Purcell's two great soprano mad songs, 'From silent shades' (Mad Bess) and 'From rosy bowers', were republished and performed in the theatre and at concerts throughout the 18th century.  Their influence can be seen in Handel's mad scenes, and when Haydn was visiting England in the 1790s they were enjoying a resurgence in popularity.  At this time, too, the bass mad song 'Let the dreadful engines' provided James Bartleman with his greatest triumph.  The 'cantatas' Mad Bess and 'From rosy bowers' continued to feature in concerts in London and the provinces in the 1830s and 1840s.  These mad songs were received by critics not as antiquarian revivals but as a part of the current repertoire for good dramatic singers.  This paper will look at the reputation, performance and publishing history of the three mad songs between the deaths of Purcell and Mendelssohn, and suggest why it was that so many leading English singers introduced them into their concerts.

Chiara Bertoglio
University of Birmingham

Hidden verses in Haydn's "Seven Last Words" and in Mozart's Piano Concertos

In his setting of The Seven Last Words, Haydn actively tried to express spiritual meanings through a complex and manifold approach.
Although originally conceived as instrumental "sonatas", they had to be real meditations on the mystery of Christ's passion, death and resurrection; so he thoroughly analysed the Gospel fragments, as concerns biblical exegesis, mystical experience and theological insight, and he used of his whole compositional palette: onomatopoeic imitation (e.g. Sitio's water drops), creation of atmospheres, insertion of seemingly incoherent musical situations (e.g. dance-like movements within tragic moments, conveying however a deep theological significance), dramatic use of harmony and counterpoint.
Moreover, the Seven Words constitute the main themes of their respective sonatas: so instrumental music receives the evoking power of words, and themes become the musical and dramatic equivalent of the phrases they allude to. This process can be compared with Mozart's "hidden verses", i.e. his use of the rhythmical structures of (mostly Italian) verses within instrumental music: as a "secret code" ("Rose Cannabich", "Sophie and Constanze"), for establishing the piano as a character (dialogue with soprano in KV 505), and - at a probably unaware level -, as a rhythmical pattern (in Piano Concertos). Their "hidden verbal settings" can thus be compared, to reveal the similarities and differences between the "instrumental operas" by the former (i.e. his Piano Concertos) and the "instrumental oratorio" by the latter (The Last Seven Words).

Lorraine Byrne Bodley
National University of Ireland, Maynooth

Lux Perpetua: Goethe's Presence in Mendelssohn's Journeyman Years

'Apart from the young Felix Mendelssohn, who according to the judgment of established musicians is a musical wonder and can become a second Mozart, I know not a single musical genius amongst the current natives of Berlin', reported Heinrich Heine in 1822. Goethe would have been a position to judge such a comparison having attended performances given by both child prodigies: Mozart at seven and Mendelssohn at twelve. Goethe's response to the twelve-year old's virtuosity, his improvisational gifts and ability to perform an orchestral manuscript by Mozart at sight is contained in the poet's correspondence with Zelter. What impressed Goethe most was Mendelssohn's immense historical knowledge and ability to grasp music history as a process. Mendelssohn's musical gifts combined with his cultural education, refined social graces and the multifaceted nature of his talent, which included his abilities as a water-colourist and writer of letters, led the poet to recognize in him a perfect fulfillment of humanistic ideas.
Zelter's letters to Goethe provide a fascinating account of Mendelssohn's musical education and development. Without any trace of jealousy, Zelter recounts Mendelssohn's 'admirable industry' and openly recognizes his musical gifts as superior to his own. This paper reinterprets the portrayal of Mendelssohn by Goethe and Zelter, two artists actively engaged in the musical developments of their time. Both men consciously handed down a wide spectrum of letters, both casual and thoughtfully composed, some spontaneous and others written for publication, all rich with the details of Mendelssohn's musical development: valuable because they preserve the immediacy of Mendelssohn's existence.

Michael Burden
New College, Oxford University

Fox and Pitt as Grimbald and Philidel; an 18th-century political use for King Arthur

That Purcell's opera King Arthur can be read as a political document, or at least, can be given a political reading, is not in doubt; it is also known that on its revival in the 1730s, it gained yet another political reading, this time in encompassing to Queen Charlotte. But what happened when it was revived later in the century? Arne's version - now one of a number of works (including masques and other pieces) which glorified the monarch using a version of the Arthurian topos - seems to lack the political punch of the 1730s staging. However, its effect was far greater than might be thought. When crisis overwhelmed the Fox-North administration, the story of Purcell and Dryden's King Arthur was deemed to be an appropriate way of representing the protagonists and their ambitions.

Donald Burrows

Open University, Milton Keynes

Chasing the Royal Music Library - a lot of Handel and a little Mendelssohn

In November 1957 Queen Elizabeth II presented the Royal Music Library to the British Museum, in commemoration of King George II's gift of the Old Royal Library to the newly-founded Museum in 1757.  It was probably the largest musical deposit ever received by a British library.  Many aspects of the history of the Royal Music Library - its provenance, and even its location - are surprisingly obscure, and nearly all of the descriptions of the royal music collection in the period between 1780 and 1911 are from people who gained access in order to see the collection of Handel's autographs.  During the last year I have pursued various sources of documentation in order to discover what is known about the history of the Library, including the period of 46 years when it was deposited at the British Museum but remained royal property.  This paper will review what is known, and what remains unknown, about the Royal Music Library, and particularly its collections of Handel's music.

Jen-yen Chen

National Taiwan University

The Social Dimensions of Haydn's Late Oratorios:  Aristocratic Patronage, Bourgeois Reception, and the Sociological Theory of Norbert Elias

Central to the modern reception of Haydn's The Creation and The Seasons is a sense of their humanist universality:  to cite one example, Friedrich Blume asserted that "with the unique exception of The Magic Flute, there are simply no other works of the time in which the universal language spoke in such degree to all mankind."  Counterbalancing this notion are the circumstances of the oratorios' patronage by the aristocrats of the Gesellschaft der Associierten Cavaliere.  The expenditure of nearly 2,500 florins by a single member of the Associierten, Joseph von Schwarzenberg, provides an indication of the intensive involvement of the Austrian elite in these two projects.  In this presentation, I shall draw upon sociological theory to illuminate the striking conjunction of aristocratic and bourgeois dimensions that characterizes these works.  In particular, Norbert Elias' The Civilizing Process and The Court Society will provide the theoretical framework for understanding the entanglement of interests of the two social classes.  Elias' conceptual categories of prestige consumption and aesthetic sensibility and his arguments concerning their transfer from aristocracy to bourgeois can help to clarify essential aspects of the bourgeois ideology that arose around the time of the oratorios' first performances and remains influential today, including the canonical status of a repertory taken to represent a high point of civilization and modernity.

Ilias Chrissochoidis

Stanford University

Handel as a transitional figure

The view of Handel as the last giant of Baroque music rests primarily on stylistic grounds.  Against this view stands one based on socio-historical realities: the half-century Handel spent in Britain and the extent of his achievements there place him squarely within modernity.  If anything, the two conflicting perspectives help us understand Handel as a transitional figure who exchanged the fixed hierarchies of the Baroque with the self-affirmation (and anxieties) of a modern artist. This paper explores the composer's life and career as sites of transition.  An artist of exceptional will power and adaptability, Handel managed to transform himself from a prestigious agent of foreign taste to a paragon of British values; and from a representative of an aging style to the classic exponent of the sublime in music.  This change involved biographical details like his attachment to the Hanoverian dynasty and the devotion he received from influential admirers.  Far more important, it was inscribed in the social dynamism of early Georgian Britain, and defined by the Hanoverian Succession, the Jacobite Rebellion of 1745, London's entrepreneurial theatrical scene, the explosion of print culture, and the rise of charitable institutions.  Their combined force enabled Handel to advance socially and achieve a degree of independence hitherto unavailable to members of his profession, thus becoming the culturally fortified artist whose music and status would inspire the Viennese Classics.

Caryl Clark

University of Toronto
"Haydn's Others: Staging Ethnicities"
As a medium reflective of broader social, political and cultural realities, opera is an important vehicle for communicating the concerns of the day. And Haydn's operas are no exception. This paper brings Haydn's theatrical works into mainstream operatic criticism by examining the ways in which representations of "difference" and "otherness" were staged in the composer's first and last operas for Eszterháza-Lo speziale (1768), and Armida (1784). A comparison of the penultimate scenes in each opera offers fascinating perspectives on the interplay of gender, religion, race, and ethnicity on the operatic stage.  Near the end of Lo speziale, a confrontation between a faux Turk and an "othered" apothecary, whose identity is continuously inflected with traces of Jewishness, demonstrates how peoples at the margins of society were exoticized on the eighteenth-century stage. Similarly, in Armida, the alluring yet frightening Muslim "femme fatale," who is increasingly orientalized over the course of the opera, is presented as succumbing to patriarchal Christian authority. By aligning court theatrical performances with dominant western cultural values, Prince Nicolaus was able to establish his superiority over both "inside" and "outside" Others, projecting a hegemonic power that reached well beyond Eszterháza.  The manipulation of that power dynamic in the German language adaptation of Lo speziale as Der Apotheker (1895), the first opera by Haydn to be revived in the modern era, demonstrates how the "cultural work" performed by opera continually changes from one era to the next.

Joseph Darby
Keene State College

Subscription Proposals and the Early Marketing of Handel's Twelve Grand Concertos

An examination of London newspapers, 1739-40, demonstrates that G.F. Handel's efforts to market his newly completed Twelve Grand Concertos, op. 6, were substantially greater than existing documentary studies suggest.  In the nine-month period that followed the set's completion, Handel and his agent John Walsh, Jr., purchased nearly 300 newspaper advertisements - subscription proposals, concert ads, publication announcements, and retail sales ads - with references to these concertos.  (By contrast, Deutsch's documentary biography cites fifteen such ads and the updated revision in Händel-Handbuch IV contains two additional ads.)  This paper presents data collected from these advertisements, with a focus on Handel's subscription proposals.  These sources shed important light on the early publication history of Handel's op. 6 and its relationship to the practice of issuing large instrumental works by subscription in eighteenth-century Britain.

Patricia Debly
Brock University, Ontario

From Handel to Haydn:  Magic, madness, and love in Orlando

Originally found in Ariosto's epic poem, Orlando furioso, the narrative of the crazed Orlando was a popular source of inspiration for librettists in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries since it contained a rich variety of intensive dramatic scenes and justified the use of extensive spectacle.  Handel created three Italian operas based on Ariosto's poem, the first being Orlando, which was premiered in January 1733 in London.  Almost half a century later, Haydn's dramma eroicomico, Orlando Paladino, was first performed in December 1782 at Eszterháza, but was based on a libretto by Porta, rather than Capeci's, which was used by Handel.

While a comparison of these two operatic settings would undoubtedly illustrate many characteristics of Baroque operatic style versus the Classical period's, this paper will focus on exploring and contrasting similar scenes, emotions, and characters.  Both operas use a combination of opera seria and buffa arias in their discussion of the various aspects of love in the intrigues and relationships of the characters.  The portrayals of "magic" and "magical powers" in Handel's work by the magician Zoroastro (bass) and, in Haydn's by Alcina (soprano) create some interesting questions concerning musical characterisation and plot development.  And finally, the paper will conclude with an analysis of the concept of "madness" as a musical and literary device.

Sinéad Dempsey-Garratt
University of Manchester

Odious Comparisons?  The roles of Handel, Haydn and Purcell in Mendelssohn's Nineteenth-Century Reception

A constant in the nineteenth-century reception of Mendelssohn's music is the tendency to compare the composer with a variety of artistic figures. Within the music criticism of this period, Mendelssohn is associated in this way with a wide range of contemporary and historical poets, playwrights, painters and other artists. Comparisons with earlier composers are common too: Handel and Haydn are crucial here, but on occasion, more surprising figures - even Purcell - crop up in discussions of Mendelssohn and his works. Thus, drawing together all four composers with significant anniversaries in 2009, this paper explores the functions and meanings of such comparisons, focusing in particular on their significance for Mendelssohn's reputation and how they relate to the dominant contemporary perceptions of his music's value and significance.
Comparisons with Purcell, to be sure, were restricted to the English musical press. But Handel and Haydn were invoked frequently in appraisals of Mendelssohn by both German and British authors. Such analogies by no means served the same functions in these two countries: exploring them sheds light on the distinct aesthetic and ideological agenda of a diverse selection of nineteenth-century critics. 

Colin Eatock
University of Toronto

Mendelssohn's Conversion to Judaism: An English Perspective

To many music-lovers today, Felix Mendelssohn is regarded as a prominent Jewish composer. Indeed, his Jewishness has, at various times, been treated as emblematic. When the Nazis came to power in Germany in 1933, they pulled down his statue in Leipzig and banned performances of his music. More recently, in 1993, when the African-American violinist Louis Farrakhan - better known as the leader of the Nation of Islam - decided to publicly perform a work by a Jewish composer (as a gesture of reconciliation towards the Jewish community), he chose Mendelssohn's Violin Concerto.

It may come as a surprise, therefore, to some people to learn that Mendelssohn did not consider himself Jewish, and did not wish others to do so. Baptized as a Lutheran at the age of seven, he presented himself to the world as a German Christian - and was (ironically) more readily accepted as such in England than in Germany, during his lifetime. Although Mendelssohn never lived in England, he visited the country ten times in his short life, where he was hailed by the English musical press as a "great German," an "illustrious German," and a "true German."

The goal of this paper is to trace the roots of the differing interpretations of Mendelssohn's ethnicity and religion in England and Germany during his lifetime, and also shifting perceptions in England in the second half of the nineteenth century. Following his death in 1847, changing attitudes about the significance of race in Victorian society led to a gradual re-interpretation of Mendelssohn's "true" identity, so that, by the end of the century, he was widely viewed in England as essentially Jewish. Not co-incidentally, this change was concurrent with a decline in Mendelssohn's popularity, especially in "progressive" artistic circles.

Specifically, this paper draws on both anti- and philo-Semitic ideas that influenced English intellectual thought in the nineteenth century, as well as such diverse factors as the impact of Darwin's theory of evolution, Wagner's essay Das Judenthum in der Musik, and the political career of Britain's only "Jewish" prime minister, Benjamin Disraeli.

Michaela Freemanova

Ethnological Institute of the Czech Academy of Sciences

Händel, Haydn and Mendelssohn have a special place in the music history of the Bohemian Lands

Händel's sacred works were performed here from the early 18th century, and enjoyed great popularity in the 19th century, being regularly performed not only by the Prague Society of Musicians, but also at the country seat of Count Heinrich Wilhelm von Haugwitz, strongly influenced in his music views by the controversial interpretation ideas of the Viennese musician Ignaz

Franz von Mosel Haydn's sacred and secular music found its place in the Bohemian and Moravian music collections since he was employed by Count Morzin in Dolní Lukavice; in the 18th century became especially popular his sacred works, symphonies and chamber music, in the 19th century his oratorios, performed by the Society of Musicians as well as other bodies. Mendelssohn's oratorios and other vocal works were performed by the Society of Musicians and the Cäcilien Musik-Verein, who were responsible for Prague premieres of Mendelssohn`s Elias, Paulus, Athalia, Antigone (first performance in the Austrian Empire) and Oedipus in Kolonos.

Wolfgang Fuhrmann

Humboldt University, Berlin

Haydn the Naïve

To call a composer or his works naïve - or to claim that certain compositions represent naïvité - would be considered somewhat crude today. This may have blinded us to the fact that many contemporaries considered Haydn's music to represent exactly this: naïveté. The term smacks of the typical nineteenth-century derogatory view of Haydn, and this might explain why there is no modern study of Haydn the naïve. But in the eightteenth century, the Naïve was a respected and perfectly serious aesthetic category, with pastorale undertones, brought to the fore by the typical Enlightenment admiration of simple nature. Moreover, the Naïve was one of several aesthetic concepts - wit, melancholy, the sublime and so on - which simultaneously served two purposes: by being applicable to all the fine arts, it forged a bond between them, and it also had certain extra-aesthetic (e. g. moral) implications. Both functions were, of course, especially helpful when it came to considering pure instrumental music. Starting from contemporary observations, the paper will try to explore the uses of naïvité in Haydn's music.
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