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8.572587 - HANDEL, G.F.: 9 German Arias / Gloria (Craxton, From, Ydmark, Steffensen, Baunkilde, Meyer)

George Frideric Handel (1685–1759)
Nine German Arias, HWV 202–210 • Gloria, HWV deest


There is something paradoxical about Handel’s career. German by birth, he was invited to England as a composer of Italian opera and in the later years of his life created the English oratorio. George Frideric Handel was born in Halle in 1685, the son of a well-to-do barber-surgeon by his second wife. His early interest in music was discouraged by his father, but after the latter’s death and a short period at Halle University, he left to devote himself fully to music, at first as harpsichordist and then as a composer at the Hamburg Opera. From there he moved in 1706 to Italy, the source from which his musical style derived, and remained there for some five years, winning success with patrons and in the opera-house. A meeting in Venice with Baron Kielmansegge, deputy Master of Horse to the Elector of Hanover and husband of the Elector’s half-sister, led to Handel’s appointment as Kapellmeister to the Elector, from whom he sought immediate leave to visit London for the staging of his opera Rinaldo. Although he returned to Hanover in due course, by 1713 he was again in London, his home for the rest of his life.

In his earlier years in England, Handel, while contributing to the repertoire of English church music and other genres, was chiefly involved in Italian opera. During the following decades he took a leading part in the art, writing new operas, recruiting singers and directing performances. There were political rivalries and recurrent difficulties. Italian opera was the object of changing fashions and always had to contend with the strong tradition of spoken drama in the London theatre, as well as other national prejudices against what was to be described as an exotic and irrational entertainment. In the 1730s and more fully in the following decade, when he had virtually abandoned opera, Handel turned to the invention and development of a new form, the English oratorio. This, in his hands, had the advantage of Italianate melody, with English texts usually of sound Protestant origin, allowing audiences a sense of moral superiority, coupled with enjoyment. With royal patronage under Queen Anne and her successor George I, Elector of Hanover, Handel was a dominant figure in English music in his own lifetime and his posthumous influence was equally strong.

One is bound to speculate as to the course Handel’s career might have taken had he remained in Italy. In Hamburg he had met Prince Gian Gastone de’ Medici, brother of the Crown Prince of Florence, Ferdinando de’ Medici, who had urged him to move to Italy. It was probably in the spring of 1706 that Handel travelled south and he was to spend the following years in Italy, at a time of particular political conflict. It has been suggested that he went first to Venice, then briefly to Florence. By the beginning of 1707, at the latest, Handel was in Rome, where the papal prohibition of opera, later to be relaxed, had allowed the proliferation of pastoral cantatas, a genre to which Handel made a notable contribution during these years. In Rome Handel not only made himself known to leading musicians there, including Corelli and the Scarlattis, but also to leading patrons, to Cardinal Pamphili, Cardinal Colonna, Cardinal Ottoboni and the Marquis of Ruspoli. His compositions included liturgical settings, cantatas and the oratorio Il trionfo del Tempo. In the autumn of 1707 he visited Florence, where his opera Rodrigo was staged, and on Easter Sunday 1708, with Handel in Rome once more, his oratorio La resurrezione di Nostro Signor Gesù Cristo was performed before an elaborate stage setting at the Marquis of Ruspoli’s Bonelli Palace, attracting some critical papal attention that led to the immediate replacement of a female soloist, Margherita Durastanti, by a castrato as Mary Magdalene. Durastanti was to appear in Handel’s next opera and was to sing for him later in London. Summer brought a visit to Naples and a Serenata, Aci, Galatea e Polifemo, with a possible further excursion to Venice for the opera season. In the winter of 1709 his opera Agrippina had a successful staging in Venice, where Cardinal Grimani had proved a useful contact, and by the spring of 1710 Handel was on his way north again, this time to Hanover.

The years in Italy had allowed Handel experience at first hand of the major source of his musical language and brought a remarkable series of compositions, including two operas, two oratorios, cantatas and works for the Catholic liturgy. Among these last was a setting of the Gloria, written seemingly in the summer of 1707 for the Marquis of Ruspoli, to be performed at his country estate at Vignanello and scored for soprano, accompanied by first and second violins with continuo. A copy was found together with copies of Handel arias at the Royal College of Music in London, once apparently in the possession of the singer William Savage, who had taken part in a number of Handel’s operas and oratorios, and then of Savage’s pupil, R.J.S. Stevens. While widely enough known, the Gloria had seemed of doubtful authenticity. Since its rediscovery in 2001, however, it has become an accepted element in Handel’s Latin church music, having provided the English press at first an opportunity for unusual attention and musical hyperbole.

The first part of the Gloria, in B flat major, is introduced by the two violins in imitative entries and continuo, before the entry of the singer in similarly florid figuration. Et in terra pax is in 3/4 and the key of G minor, its final Phrygian cadence leading to the quadruple metre Laudamus te and change to triple time at the words Gratias agimus tibi. The Domine Deus is an Adagio, accompanied only by the continuo with its figured bass, modulating from D minor to G and followed by the C minor Qui tollis. Quoniam tu solus sanctus restores the original key of B flat, marked Andante before the Allegro of Cum Sancto Spiritu and the extended ornamentation of the Amen.

Handel’s Nine German Arias set poems by Barthold Heinrich Brockes. It is probable that Handel would have encountered Brockes in Halle, where, like Handel, he was a law student, in his case from 1702 to 1704, and held private weekly concerts. After the Grand Tour, a mark of his family’s importance and prosperity, Brockes settled in his native Hamburg, where he was able to indulge his literary interests at his leisure, until, in 1720, becoming a senator. His Passion text, Der für die Sünden der Welt gemarterte und sterbende Jesus (Jesus, who was martyred and died for the sins of the world), published in 1712, was set by various composers, including Keiser, Mattheson and Telemann, as well as by Handel, whose setting of the Brockes Passion in 1715 or 1716 was first performed at the Cathedral in Hamburg on 3 April 1719 under Mattheson. J.S. Bach included seven numbers from the Brockes Passion in his St John Passion, and Brockes also translated Thomson’s The Seasons, the basis of Baron van Swietens’ text later set by Haydn.

The nine poems by Brockes later to be set by Handel were taken from Irdisches Vergnügen in Gott, (Earthly Pleasure in God), the title used for the nine volumes of poems by Brockes to be published between 1721 and 1748, the year after the writer’s death. The poems set by Handel, scored for soprano with solo violin (the exact instrumentation unspecified in the surviving autograph) and basso continuo, seem to have come from the 1724 second edition of the Irdisches Vergnügen in Gott and the settings date from between that date and 1726 and were known to Brockes, who mentions Handel’s work in a further volume of his poems published in 1727. The nature of the poems, intended as parts of cantatas, and Handel’s settings are fully described in the edition of the arias by Donald Burrows¹. All the arias, except for the eighth, In den angenehmen Büschen (In the pleasant bushes), which ends with the return of the opening ritornello, are in da capo form, with the middle section in a contrasted key and generally containing the moral lesson of the poem. The original context and intention of each of these is clearly indicated in the 1724 publication.

Aria No. 1: Künftger Zeiten eitler Kummer (Idle worry over future times) is from Der Mittag (Midday), the title of which is followed by lines from Psalm cxlv, 15–16: Thou givest them their meat in due season: thou openest thine hand and fillest all things living with plenteousness. In a gentle triplet rhythm, it opens with a statement of the theme by the violin, before the entry of the voice. In the same key, Aria No. 2: Das zitternde Glänzen der spielende Wellen (The shimmering brightness of the sporting waves) is from Das Wasser im Frühling (The Water in Spring), with a superscription from Psalm civ, 10: He sendeth the springs into the rivers, which run among the hills. This also begins with the instrumental introduction of the principal theme. Aria No. 3: Süßer Blumen Ambraflocken (Sweet flowers’ amber petals) is from Der Garten (The Garden), a cantata with the biblical text from the Book of Ecclesiastes, ii, 5: I made me gardens and orchards, and I planted trees in them of all kind of fruits, its contrasting middle section, in the relative major key, illustrating the text, describing the fall of the flower and the rise of the soul towards heaven.

Aria No. 4: Süße Stille, sanfte Quelle (Sweet stillness, gentle source) is from Betrachtung des Mondscheins in einer angenehmen Frühlings-Nacht (Contemplation of Moonlight on a Pleasant Spring Night), with the text from Ecclesiasticus xliii, 6: The moon in all the world must shine in its season. Here the voice enters in the first bar, with the violin offering its brief and appropriate comment in the following bar. Aria No. 5: Singe, Seele, Gott zum Preise (Sing, soul, in praise of God), like Aria No. 3, is from Der Garten, and accompanied by characteristically Handelian instrumental figuration. Aria No. 6: Meine Seele hört im Sehen (My soul hears in seeing) is from Die unsere Sele, durchs Gesicht, zur Ehre Gottes aufmunternde Schönheit der Felder, im Frühling (The Beauty of the Fields in Spring, encouraging our Soul, through sight, to the Glory of God). The middle section starts with a call to attention, Höret nur! (Only hear!).

Aria No. 7: Die ihr aus dunkeln Grüften (You who from dark caves) is taken from Der Abend (Evening), with words from Psalm cxli, 2: Let my prayer be set forth in thy sight as the incense, and let the lifting up of my hands be an evening sacrifice, its text a rebuke to those who favour gold over the beauty of the earth. Again the middle section starts with a command, Sprecht nicht: es ist nur Farb und Schein (Say not that it is but colour and shining). Aria No. 8: In den angenehmen Büschen (In the pleasant bushes), like Aria No. 4, is from the Betrachtung des Mondscheins, and the final Aria No. 9: Flammende Rose, Zierde der Erden (Rose aflame, ornament of the earth) is from Die Rose (The Rose) and finds a place for relatively elaborate melismata for the word ‘bezaubernde’ (‘bewitching’), providing a splendid conclusion to a highly characteristic work.

Keith Anderson

¹ Donald Burrows: Preface to Händel: Neun deutsche Arien für Sopran, Violine (Flöte, Oboe) und Basso continuo, HWV 202–210, Wiesbaden, 2002.

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