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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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References: 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 Indus. 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), p.333. 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, p.133–4. 36 M. Ruhnke, ‘Georg Philipp Telemann’, The New Grove North European Baroque masters (Basingstoke, 1980/1985), p.301. 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), pp.90–98. 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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