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Handel and the confus'd shepherdess: a case study of stylistic eclecticism

Cummings, Graham (2005) Handel and the confus'd shepherdess: a case study of stylistic eclecticism. Early Music, 33 (4). pp. 575-590. ISSN 0306-1078

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The aria ‘Son confusa pastorella’ was possibly the most popular number from Handel's operatic success of 1731, Poro, Rè dell'Indie, whose libretto was an altered version of Alessandro nell'Indie by the distinguished Italian poet, Metastasio. Through the text of this aria the poet presents the perhaps confusing image of an Indian princess ‘playing at pastoral’. To convey this complex picture to his London audience, Handel composed a beguiling set-piece with strong French connections, through his use of the musette and allusions to the fêtes galantes, combined with borrowings from Telemann. Handel's multi-layered response will be examined and contrasted with that of Metastasio's chosen composer, Leonardo Vinci.

Item Type: Article
Additional Information: UoA 67 (Music)
Subjects: M Music and Books on Music > M Music
M Music and Books on Music > ML Literature of music
Schools: School of Music, Humanities and Media
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1 The first performance of Poro, at the
King’s Theatre, Haymarket, London,
was on 2 February 1731. It is a measure
of Poro’s popularity that there were
20 performances alone in 1731, across
two seasons (1730–31, 1731–2), and a
further four in the 1736–7 season. The
other popular aria from Poro—or,
rather, two brief linked solos and a
duet—was ‘Caro, vieni al mio seno’
(Act 3, sc. ult.). See W. C. Smith,
Handel: a descriptive catalogue of the
early editions (Oxford, 2/1970), p.52:
Smith nos.11, 12, 14.
2 W. Dean, The New Grove Handel
(London, 1982), p.81.
3 The river Hydaspes is the modern
Jhelum, one of the five tributaries of the
4 See G. Cummings, ‘Reminiscence
and recall in three early settings of
Metastasio’s Alessandro nell’ Indie’,
Proceedings of the Royal Musical
Association, cix (1982–3), pp.80–104.
5 PORO/Re dell’ Indie/DRAMA/Da
Rappresentarsi/ Nel REGIO TEATRO/DI/
HAY-MARKET. Done in English by
Mr.Humphreys. LONDON:/. . . MDCCXXXI.
London: British Library, 639.d.19(2),
pp.62–3. See also E. T. Harris, The
librettos of Handel’s operas (New York,
1989), vi, pp.62–3.
6 D. Posner, Antoine Watteau
(London, 1984), p.163.
7 There are many instances in
18th-century opera librettos where, in
the course of the drama, royalty or
members of the nobility disguise
themselves as pastoral figures. This
central dramatic ploy is introduced in,
for example, Handel’s Atalanta (1736).
See R. Strohm, Essays on Handel and
Italian opera (Cambridge, 1985), p.72.
8 Metastasio’s librettos (1726–30) with
the composer of their first setting: Siroe,
re` di Persia (L. Vinci, Venice, carnival
1726); Catone in Utica (L. Vinci, Rome,
19 Jan 1727); Ezio (P. Auletta, Rome,
26 Dec 1728); Semiramide riconosciuta
(L. Vinci, Rome, 6 Feb 1729); Alessandro
nell’ Indie (L. Vinci, Rome, 2 Jan 1730);
Artaserse (L. Vinci, Rome, 4 Feb 1730).
9 Strohm, Essays on Handel and Italian
opera, p.97.
10 Strohm, Essays on Handel and
Italian opera, pp.233–4.
11 Pier Jacopo Martello, Della tragedia
antica e moderno (Rome, 1715), as
quoted in K. Markstrom, ‘Vinci,
Leonardo’, New Grove dictionary of
opera, ed. S. Sadie (London, 1992),
iv, p.1015.
12 L’Alessandro nell’ Indie/Opera
recitata nel Teatro delle Dame in Roma/
L’anno 1730/Musica del Signor Leonardo
Vinci. London, British Library RM.
23.c.8–10, iii, ff.37–40v.
13 Smith, Handel: a descriptive
catalogue, p.50: Smith nos.1 and 2.
14 Smith, Handel: a descriptive
catalogue, p.52: Smith no.13, Son confusa
pastorella. The celebrated Song in Porus
sung by Signora Merighi (London,
c.1731). Smith no.15, When fearful
Pastorella strays. Ye Bagpipe song in
Porus. Ye Words by T.Brerewood junior
(London, c.1731). Smith no.16, ditto
(London, c.1735).
15 Thomas Brerewood junior was listed
as one of the 57 subscribers to Cluer’s
published score of Handel’s opera
Admeto, 24 June 1727. See O. E.
Deutsch, Handel: a documentary
biography (London, 1955; R/1974), p.211.
16 Deutsch, Handel, p.273.
17 26 March 1731 marked the first
public performance of Handel’s Acis
and Galatea in London, at the Lincoln’s
Inn Theatre, ‘for the benefit of the tenor
Philip Rochetti’. The title roles were
sung by Rochetti and Mrs. Wright, with
Richard Leveridge as Polyphemus. See
W. Dean, Handel’s dramatic oratorios
and masques (Oxford, 1959; R/1990),
p.171. The Daily Journal in its advance
notice for this event specifically
mentioned that ‘Mr. Rochetti will sing
the Song, Son Confusa Pastorella, being
the Favourite Hornpipe in the Opera of
Porus’. See Deutsch, Handel, p.272.
18 Strohm, Essays on Handel and
Italian opera, p.99.
19 Strohm, Essays on Handel and
Italian opera, p.99.
20 Posner, Watteau, p.151.
21 Posner, Watteau, p.151.
22 Posner, Watteau, p.151.
23 Posner, Watteau, p.128.
24 Posner, Watteau, p.163.
25 The 17th-century French theorist
Pierre Trichet observed that playing the
musette ‘produces no grimaces on the
player’s face and in no way hinders
freedom of the voice or speech’. Le
Traite´ des instruments de musique
(c.1630), as quoted in R. Leppert,
Arcadia at Versailles : noble amateur
musicians and their musettes and
hurdy-gurdies at the French court
(c.1660–1789) (Amsterdam, 1978), p.46.
26 Posner, Watteau, p.163.
27 See Handel’s saleroom purchases in
1749–50 in Sale catalogues of the
prominent collections, 1711–59, now in
the Victoria and Albert Museum
Library, London [86.00. 18–19], as
quoted in Handel: a celebration of his
life and times, 1685–1759, ed. J. Simon
(London, 1985), p.289.
28 D. Burrows, Handel (Oxford, 1994),
29 The sale catalogue is known
through a unique copy now in the Frick
Art Reference Library, New York. This
is reproduced in the following sources:
Handel, ed. Simon, p.290; H. McLean,
‘Bernard Granville, Handel and the
Rembrandts’, Musical times, cxxvi
(Oct 1985), p.599.
30 A Conversation was painted in 1713
(Posner, Watteau, p.111). It is ‘closer to
Watteau’s military pictures than to his
feˆtes galantes. It lacks the air of fantasy,
of idealized social life, that was an essential component of the main body
of his work’ (Posner, Watteau, p.148).
Although Watteau occasionally painted
two versions of the same subject matter,
it is unclear in this case to which
painting the phrase ‘its companion’
might refer.
31 There the owner and manager, John
Rich, had also engaged a French dance
troupe led by the celebrated danseuse,
Marie Salle´. The presence of Madame
Salle´, and Handel composing a specific
French dance, cannot be unconnected.
The four operas in the 1734–5 season
that contained musettes were revivals of
Il pastor fido (version 3) and Arianna in
Creta, and the new operas Ariodante
and Alcina.
32 While Telemann was musical
director of the Goose Market Opera
House in Hamburg, he performed 12 of
Handel’s London operas between 1722
and 1736, including Poro in 1732. This
was presented under the title Der
Triumph der Grossmuth und Treue, oder
Cleofida, Ko¨nigen von Indien. For the
Hamburg performances Telemann
would probably have obtained copies of
the libretto (February 1731) and Walsh’s
published score (March 1731), which
would have contained ‘Son confusa
pastorella’. See G. Cummings, ‘Handel,
Telemann and Metastasio, and the
Hamburg Cleofida’, Ha¨ndel-Jahrbuch
(2000), pp.335–73.
33 J. H. Roberts, ‘Handel’s borrowings
from Telemann: an inventory’,
Go¨ttinger Ha¨ndel-Beitrage, i (1984),
pp.147–71, at p.147. The first aria in
Poro, ‘E ` prezzo leggiero’, borrows from
Telemann’s Harmonischer
Gottes-Dienst, Cantata no.71
(‘Unverzagt in allem Leide’ : aria 1).
See Roberts, ‘Handel’s borrowings from
Telemann’, p.157.
34 Roberts, ‘Handel’s borrowings from
Telemann’, p.148.
35 Roberts, ‘Handel’s borrowings
from Telemann’, p.157. For the music
of the aria ‘Wandelt in der Liebe’,
see G. P. Telemann, Musikalische
Werke (Kassel, 1959–), iii,
36 M. Ruhnke, ‘Georg Philipp
Telemann’, The New Grove North
European Baroque masters
(Basingstoke, 1980/1985),
37 Charles Burney, A General History of
Music (London, 1776–89), ed. F. Mercer
(London, 1935; R/New York, 1957), iv,
p.770. The air ‘Beneath the vine’ in
Handel’s oratorio Solomon (1749) also
contains three borrowings from the
first aria in Telemann’s cantata
‘Wandelt in der Liebe’. See D. R.
Hurley, Handel’s Muse: patterns of
creation in his oratorios and musical
dramas, 1743–1751 (Oxford, 2001),
38 Burrows, Handel, p.x.

Depositing User: Sara Taylor
Date Deposited: 16 May 2008 14:54
Last Modified: 19 Jan 2010 04:48


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