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.