MEMETERIA by Thomas May

Music & the Arts

The Devil Gets the Best Tunes

1702_cummings_no22_c_robert_workman

Laurence Cummings (Photo by Robert Workman)

Here’s a piece I wrote for this month’s Juilliard Journal about Agrippina:

In one of Agrippina‘s pivotal scenes, the Emperor Claudius—at first presumed dead at sea by the scheming title character, only to be inconveniently rescued—crows in triumph over “conquered Britain” as a “new subject” for the Roman throne. That wouldn’t exactly be music to Brexit supporters—but, then, international migrants like George Frideric Handel (né Georg Friedrich Händel) would have had a harder time in a Europe of zealously policed borders.

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Filed under: Handel, Juilliard

Mr Handel

gfhandelKeeping watch in his Brook St bedroom.

Filed under: Handel, photography

Alexander’s Feast: A Handelian Ode to the Power of Music

2016-04-16-alexanders-feastMy essay on Handel’s magnificent ode Alexander’s Feast has been posted on the LA Master Chorale Site:

It sounds strange to refer to George Frideric Handel as a neglected composer. Messiah is such a fixture that the holiday season would feel bereft   were it suddenly to disappear from the scene. (Never mind that its association with Christmas postdates the practice during the composer’s lifetime.)

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Filed under: choral music, Handel, Los Angeles Master Chorale

Hidden Handel

Director Trevore Ross on staging Handel’s oratorios for the LA Master Chorale. First in their five-season-long project is Alexander’s Feast.

Filed under: choral music, directors, Handel, Los Angeles Master Chorale

The Power of Musick

Filed under: Handel

Handel Discovey

In time for Handel’s birthday on Tuesday, Gramophone magazine reports on the upcoming premiere in April of a cantata by the composer from his early period in Italy. The score was recently discovered in the private collection of early-music figure Ton Koopman:

Koopman’s website explains: ‘It is an earlier but very different version of the cantata [‘Tu fedel? Tu costante?’, HWV 171]. Only the first aria is substantially the same, while the three remaining arias are entirely new. HWV 171a, as the cantata will be known, also differs from the later version in calling for an oboe in addition to two violins and basso continuo. There can be no doubt about Handel’s authorship, because of numerous motivic connections with his other works, including the opera Almira, performed in Hamburg in 1705, before the composer left for Italy.

Filed under: Handel, music news

Street Symphony’s Messiah Project

Street Symphony, the LA-based ensemble of musicians who bring their art to prisons, Skid Row, and other marginalized groups, has posted this story of homeless combat veteran Don Garza and how he was affected by Handel’s music (hat tip: Ayana Haviv):

Filed under: Handel, music news

Another View of Semele

The Birth of Bacchus, Giulio Pippi and Workshop

The Birth of Bacchus, Giulio Pippi and Workshop

For another angle on the Semele myth treated by Handel, here’s a painting by Giulio Pippi (called Giulio Romano) and Workshop (before 1499-1546), from the Getty Museum. The painting depicts the happy outcome of poor Semele’s demise. From the Getty’s description:

Originally part of a series of mythological love stories, this panel is a comment on passion’s perils. Semele, a mortal impregnated by Jupiter (Roman king of the gods), is consumed by fire after the god’s jealous wife, Juno (queen of the gods), tricks her into looking directly at him despite his warnings. Below is the newborn Bacchus (god of wine), Semele’s son by Jupiter. As the hapless father flees clutching his thunderbolts, Juno looks on apprehensively.

Filed under: Handel, painting, photography

A Ravishingly Entertaining Semele Alights in Seattle

Brenda Rae (Semele) and Alek Shrader (Jupiter); (c) Elise Bakketun

Brenda Rae (Semele) and Alek Shrader (Jupiter); (c) Elise Bakketun

My review of Seattle Opera’s latest production is now live on Bachtrack.com (Happy 330th, George Frideric!)

It’s amusing to imagine the pitch Handel must have used to convince the presenters of Covent Garden’s oratorio concert series for the 1744 Lenten season to back his latest creation. Why not schedule his theatrical treatment of a myth that portrays the head of the pagan gods setting his human mistress up in a pleasure palace? After all, the moral is clearly stated at the end: “Nature to each allots his proper sphere”. Still, you can’t send your audience home on a such a grim choral note, so all the more reason to end things with a cheerful ode to the powers of Bacchus!

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Filed under: directors, Handel, review, Seattle Opera

What Is It About Messiah?

Messiah-score

My recent essay on the unusual (if most popular) of Handel’s oratorios:

Handel’s masterpiece has long been at the heart of the repertory, but it marked an unusual departure for the composer

If you could do the time warp and choose a few of the legendary premieres in music history to be teleported back to, what would make your list? Likely contenders might be Beethoven’s Ninth, Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring, perhaps Berlioz’s Symphonie fantastique and Monteverdi’s L’Orfeo, and — surely Messiah?

This list forms the basis for Thomas Forrest Kelly’s lecture series, published as First Nights, which teems with fascinating factoids to help us reimagine what the scenes of said premieres may have been like. Following the public rehearsal of Messiah on April 9, 1742, the official world premiere occurred on April 13, 1742, at the Great Music Hall in Dublin, having been postponed a day to allow for “several persons of distinction” to be able to attend; the “ladies who honour this performance with their presence” were requested to attend “without hoops” so as to make room for others. All told, the Great Music Hall would have accommodated about 700 (hoopless) people — though of course a seat would be reserved for our prospective time-traveler.

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(c)2014 Thomas May. All rights reserved.

Filed under: choral music, essay, Handel, oratorio, sacred music

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