Page:A Dictionary of Music and Musicians vol 1.djvu/663

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HANDEL.
651
 

'Alexander Severus' and the opera of 'Xerxes,' performed in the spring of 1738. He had, however, a number of faithful friends who remained loyal to him in his adversity. They persuaded him to give a concert for his own benefit; and this was a complete success. It shows what, in spite of his unpopularity with the great, was the public appreciation of his genius and high character, that a statue of him, by Roubilliac, was erected in Vauxhall Gardens; the only instance on record of such an honour being paid to an artist during his lifetime. From 1739 he did little in the way of opera-composing. With the exception of 'Imeneo' in 1740, and of 'Deidamia' in 1741, he thenceforward treated only oratorio, or similar subjects. He said that 'sacred music was best suited to a man descending in the vale of years;' but it was with regret, and only after reiterated failures, that he quitted the stormy sea of operatic enterprise. The world has no reason to be sorry that he did so, for there is no doubt that in Oratorio he found his real field, for which Nature and education had equally and specially fitted him.

The series of works which have immortalised Handel's name only began now, when he was fifty-five years old. In 1740 [App. p.664 "1738"] were composed and performed 'Saul' and 'Israel in Egypt.' 'Saul' (says Chrysander) 'fulfils in the highest degree every condition of a perfect historical picture; reflecting, as it does, the historical object at once faithfully and in its noblest aspect.' It was successful. 'Israel,' which contains some of the most colossal choruses that Handel ever wrote, was so ill-received that, at the second performance, it was thought necessary to lighten the work by the introduction of operatic songs between the choruses. After the third performance, it was withdrawn. 'Israel' was followed by the music to Dryden's 'Ode on St. Cecilia's Day,' and that to 'L' Allegro' and 'Il Penseroso' of Milton, and to 'Il Moderato,' which was a third part added by Charles Jennens, who afterwards compiled the words of the 'Messiah.'

In 1741 Handel received from the Duke of Devonshire, then Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, a pressing invitation to visit that country. Accordingly, in the month of November he went there, and was warmly received, his principal works (not operatic) being performed in Dublin and enthusiastically applauded. On April 18 [App. p.664 "April 13"], 1742, for the benefit of a charitable society, he produced the 'Messiah,' his greatest oratorio, and that which has obtained the firmest and most enduring hold on public favour. Signora Avoglio and Mrs. Cibber were the principal singers on the occasion of its first performance. After a sojourn in Ireland of nine months, during which he met with worthy appreciation and also somewhat repaired his broken fortunes, he returned to London; and the 'Messiah' was performed for the first time there on March 23, 1749 [App. p.664 "1743"]. It is related that, on this occasion, the audience was exceedingly struck and affected by the music in general, but that when that part of the Hallelujah Chorus began, 'For the Lord God omnipotent reigneth,' they were so transported that they all, with the king, who was present, started at once to their feet, and remained standing till the chorus ended. The custom of rising during the performance of the 'Hallelujah Chorus' originated from this incident.

The 'Messiah' was followed by 'Samson,' and the Te Deum and anthem written to celebrate the victory of Dettingen; by 'Joseph,' 'Semele,' 'Belshazzar,' and 'Hercules.' But the hostility of the aristocratic party which he had provoked by refusing to compose music for Senesino, was still as virulent as ever. They worked against him persistently, so that at the end of the season 1744–5 he was again bankrupt, and seems to have been, for the time, overwhelmed by his failure, for during a year and a half he wrote scarcely anything. He began again in 1746 with the 'Occasional Oratorio,' and 'Judas Maccabaeus;' and these were followed by 'Joshua,' 'Solomon' (which contains an unrivalled series of descriptive choruses), 'Susanna,' 'Theodora' and the 'Choice of Hercules.' His last oratorio was 'Jephtha,' composed in February, 1752. It was while engaged on it that he was first attacked by the disease which finally deprived him of sight. Three times he was couched for cataract, but without success; and for the remainder of his life he was almost, if not entirely blind. He was at first profoundly depressed by his affliction; but after a time, with indomitable strength, he rose superior to it. His energy, though lessened, was not paralysed. He actually continued to preside at the organ during the performance of his own oratorios, and even to play organ-concertos. In 1757, one more work was produced at Covent Garden, the 'Triumph of Time and Truth,' an augmented version, in English, of the Italian oratorio of 1708, 'Il Trionfo del Tempo e del Disinganno.' Of the numerous additions in the later version many were new, some taken from former works. His fame and popularity steadily increased during these last years, and much of the old animosity against him died away. On April 6, 1759, he attended a performance of the 'Messiah' at Covent Garden: it was his last effort. On Saturday the [1]14th of April, he died, at his house in [2]Brook Street. He was buried in the South Transept of Westminster Abbey, where a monument by Roubilliac was erected to his memory in 1762. His gravestone, with his coat of arms, his name, and the two dates 'Born ye 23 February 1684, Died ye 14th of April 1759,' is below the monument. It was engraved as a frontispiece to the Book of Words of the Handel Festival, 1862.

Handel has left behind him in his adopted country a name and a popularity which never

  1. This data is supported by the entry in the Westminster Abbey Funeral Book, by the letter of James Smyth, the perfumer, Handel's most intimate friend, by all the contemporary journals and magazines, and by the date on the tombstone. Dr. Burney is alone in stating, on quite insufficient evidence, the date as the 13th; and it is a pity that he should hare altered the inscription of the tombstone in copying it for his book, so as to support his statement.
  2. Formerly No. 67, now No. 25. on the south side, four doors from New Bond Street.