In recent decades singers of Handel’s music have made great strides in recapturing the art of embellishing his music, thus breathing new life into forms such as the da capo aria. Yet Handel’s own “variations”—his development and transformation of musical material in his vocal music, important for understanding his compositional practice with borrowed as well as (presumably) original music—are not yet fully explored or appreciated. Admittedly, scholars have discussed musical procedures such as inserting, deleting, and reordering musical materials, as well as other Baroque combinatorial practices in Handel’s arias, but the musical transformations I discuss here are closer to a specifically Handelian brand of developing variation. To my knowledge, the concept of developing variation has never before been applied to early eighteenth-century music. I explore the relation of developing variation to drama (also rarely done) in two of Handel’s arias, providing a close examination of “Ombre, piante” from the opera Rodelinda and new thoughts about “Lament not thus,” originally intended for the oratorio Belshazzar. Although these arias belong to different genres and different stages of Handel’s career, they both exhibit material that undergoes a kind of progressive variation process that has tangible musical and dramatic ramifications, of interest to opera specialists and performers. Furthermore, both arias have a complicated compositional history; I offer fresh insights into the aesthetic qualities of each version, thereby throwing light on Handel’s possible compositional intentions. This article also discloses for the first time some recurring musical passages shared between “Lament not thus” and other pieces that could influence the listener’s interpretation of certain musico-dramatic gestures.
Handel’s Transformative Compositional Practices: A Tale of Two Arias
David Ross Hurley is emeritus professor of music at Pittsburg State University. He has explored Handel's compositional practice in his book Handel's Muse: Patterns of Creation in his Oratorios and Musical Dramas, 1743–1751 (Oxford University Press, 2001). His articles have appeared in various books and journals, including, among others, The Cambridge Companion to Handel, the Cambridge Opera Journal, and most recently the Journal of the American Musicological Society and the A-R Online Music Anthology.
David Ross Hurley; Handel’s Transformative Compositional Practices: A Tale of Two Arias. Journal of Musicology 1 October 2021; 38 (4): 479–502. doi: https://doi.org/10.1525/jm.2021.38.4.479
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