Page:A Dictionary of Music and Musicians vol 1.djvu/662

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HANDEL.
 


with the object of reconciling all parties, that it was arranged to produce 'Muzio Scævola,' an opera of which the first act was written by Ariosti (or, according to Chrysander, by a certain Mattei, alias Pippo), the second by Buononcini, and the third by Handel. Poor Ariosti had no chance in this formidable competition. With Buononcini, a man of distinguished talent, and able in some measure to support the rivalry with Handel, the case was different. Handel's act, however, was universally declared to be the best; but his victory only excited the enmity of his opponents more than ever. His stubborn pride and independence of character were ill suited to conciliate the nobility, in those days the chief supporters of the Opera; and all those whom he had personally offended joined the Buononcini faction. This fashionable excitement about the rival claims of two composers, like that which raged in Paris when the whole of society was divided into 'Gluckists' and 'Piccinnists,' gave rise to many squibs and lampoons, the best of which, perhaps, has been more often incorrectly quoted and erroneously attributed than any similar jeu d'esprit. The epigram, usually ascribed to Dean Swift, and actually printed in some collections of his works, is undoubtedly the work of John Byrom, the Lancashire poet, and inventor of a system of shorthand. He speaks in his diary[1], under date June 5, 1725 of 'my epigram upon Handel and Bononcini being in the papers.' It runs, correctly, as published in Byrom's 'Miscellaneous Poems,' as follows:—

'Some say, compar'd to Bononcini,
That Mynheer Handel's but a Ninny;
Others aver, that he to Handel
Is scarcely fit to hold a Candle:
Strange all this Difference should be,
'Twixt Tweedle-dum and Tweedle-dee!'

Handel worked on, unmoved, amid the general strife, and in 1729 entered into partnership with Heidegger, proprietor of the King's Theatre. He produced opera after opera; but, owing to the ever-increasing opposition, his later pieces met with less success than his earlier works. On the other hand, the oratorio of 'Esther,' and 'Acis and Galatea,' composed at Cannons, were now given in public for the first time; they were performed on the stage, with scenic effects, but without action, and were very well received. Several of Handel's instrumental works were written at this epoch. On the occasion of the performance of 'Deborah,' an oratorio, in 1733 the raised prices of seats at the theatre added to the rancour of the composer's enemies; and, to crown all, he quarrelled with Senesino, whose engagement was, therefore, broken off. Senesino was the spoiled child of the public; his cause was hotly espoused by all the partisans of Buononcini, and even those influential personages who had remained faithful to Handel insisted that their favourite should be retained at the theatre. Handel thought this condition incompatible with his dignity; he refused, and his friends deserted him for the enemy's camp. At this juncture, a charge was brought against Buononcini, that he had presented as his own to the Academy of Music a Madrigal, in reality the work of Lotti, the Venetian. This was very strange, as Buononcini might have been expected to compose almost as good a madrigal as Lotti: he quitted England, however, without defence or reply, and his party had to make Senesino their rallying-point.

Handel's partnership with Heidegger ended in 1734, and the King's Theatre was given up to the rival company. He now became an impresario on his own account, and first took the theatre in Lincoln's-Inn-Fields, but soon left it for Covent Garden, where, besides several operas, he produced the music to Dryden's Ode 'Alexander's Feast, or the Power of Music.' His undertaking proved, commercially, a failure; and in 1737 he became bankrupt. It speaks volumes for the low state of musical taste at the period, that at this time the rival house was also forced to close its doors for want of support; although its company included, besides Cuzzoni and Senesino, the wonderful Farinelli, who soon quitted England in disgust. Handel's health succumbed to his labours and anxieties; he had an attack of paralysis, which forced him to go to Aix la Chapelle. He returned, scarcely recovered, in November, and, between the 15th of that month and the 24th of December, wrote the opera of 'Faramondo' and the Funeral Anthem for the death of Queen Caroline. 'Faramondo' was a failure; so were also the pasticcio

  1. the Marlborough family he enjoyed for many years an income of 500l., and a home and an agreeable position in their house. His connexion with the Academy continued for 7 or 8 years, during which he composed the operas of Astarto (1720), Crispo (1722), Erminia (1723), Farnace (1723), Calfurnia (1724), Astyanax (1727), and Griselda (1722)—though that is suspected to be really his brother's. All these pieces were well received, and Astarto ran for 30 nights. An episode of his operatic career was the joint composition of the 3 acts of Muzio Scevola, in 1721, by Ariosti—or according to Chrysander (ii. 56) Filippo Mattei, or Pippo—Buononcini, and Handel. Buononcini's act was superior to Mattei's, but the judgment of the public was so unmlstakeably in favour of Handel's as to allow of no appeal. On the death of Marlborough, June 16, 1722, Buononcini was commissioned to write the anthem for his funeral in Henry VII's Chapel (Aug. 9), to the words 'When Saul was king over us.' It was afterwards published in score, and has fine portions, though very unequal. About the year 1731 the discovery that a madrigal to the words 'In una siepe ombrosa,' which had been submitted to the Academy some years previously as his composition, was a mere transcript of one by Lotti, led to a long correspondence, and caused a great deal of excitement and much irritation against Buononcini, and was the first step in his fall. It is difficult to understand why a man of his abilities, whose own madrigals were well known and highly thought of (see Hawkins's testimony) should have borrowed from a composer whose equal he certainly was, if indeed he did borrow Lotti's music at all—which is by no means certain (Hawkins, ch. 185). The pride and haughty temper of the man, which closed his lips during the whole contest, was probably a chief reason for the feeling against him. It is certain that it led to the severance of his connexion with the Marlborongh family, which took place shortly after this affair. He then attached himself to a certain Count Ughi, who professed to hare the secret of making gold, went to France, and remained there for some years. There we catch sight of him once more, playing the cello to a motet of his own in the Chapel of Louis XV. In 1748 he was sent for to Vienna to compose the music for the Peace of Aix la Chapelle (Oct. 7), and soon after left Vienna to be composer to the Opera at Venice, where we leave him.

    Besides the operas ascribed to him—22 in all—and the other works mentioned above, before leaving Bologna he published 4 symphonies, 2 masses for 8 voices each, duetti di camera, and an oratorio 'Il Giosue.' Another oratorio, 'Intercio,' a Te Deum, etc., etc., remain in MS. at Vienna and elsewhere. A third oratorio, 'S. Nicola di Bari,' and a Psalm, 'Laudate pueri,' are in the Sacred Harmonic Society's Library. The Fttzwtlliam Collection, Cambridge, contains an opera, 'Etearco,' Madrigals, and Motets, a Mass, sine nomine, à 8, and many Cantatas, Duets, and Divertimenti. Novello, in his 'Fitzwilliam Music,' has published 4 movements (see p. 530), of which the Sanctus and Pleni sunt, from a mass, are the finest, and they are very fine.

    [ G. ]

  2. Printed for the Chetham Society, 1854, vol. i. p. 150.