Tuesday, 14 April 2009

A piece of Handel

Today marks the 250th anniversary of the death of my favourite composer, George Frideric Handel. Here's the great (and sadly late) Lorraine Hunt Lieberson with what is, for me, one of his most moving arias, As with rosy steps from Theodora. It comes from the famous Glyndebourne production directed by Peter Sellars.

It is a perfect example of the sublime emotional directness Handel managed to achieve using the simplest, most artless techniques. Baroque music (and baroque art generally) is often accused of vulgarity or over-complication, and Handel himself, due to the popularity of such pieces as the Music for the Royal Fireworks or See the Conquering Heroes Comes, has sometimes been seen as a purveyor of musical bombast or (more kindly) primarily as a writer of grand ceremonial music. But he was also among the most intimate of composers.

It was Beethoven, a great admirer, who summed up Handel's achievement as the creation of "great effects through simple means". One seeks in vain in his music the thick harmonic textures of his contemporary JS Bach; in fact, it was his practice, when revising his compositions, to strip out unnecessary layers of counterpoint. His focus is always on the voice. And if, as I believe, the true test of a composer is the ability to write memorable tunes, Handel is up there with the very greatest.


Cranmer's Curate said...

Thank you for this. Absolutely marvellous.

doesnotexist said...

Without wanting to buy into the fruitless Bach vs Handel debate, you have a point. And isn't Theodora a lovely work (despite the literally "fate worse than death" plot).

My own personal favourite (and another of this year's anniversaries) Haydn was also known to pare back "learned" passages - and he knew how to compose a really great two-bar rest.