Page:Romain Rolland Handel.djvu/79

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71
HIS LIFE

This was the principal epoch of his life. Between 1717 and 1720, whilst he was in the service of the Duke of Chandos,[1] he made a careful examination of his own personality, and created a new style in music, and for the theatre.

The Chandos Anthems or Psalms[2] stand, in relationship to Handel's oratorios, in the same position as his Italian cantatas stand to his operas: they are splendid sketches of the more monumental works. In these religious cantatas, written for the Duke's chapel, Handel gives the first place to the choruses: it is the exact words of the Bible which they sing. Strong heroic words, freed from all the commentary and sentimental effusions with which German Pietism had loaded them. There is already in them the spirit and the style of Israel in Egypt, the great monumental lines, the popular feeling.

It was only a step from this to the colossal Biblical dramas. Handel took the step with Esther, which in its first form was entitled Haman and Mordecai, a masque.[3]

  1. The Duke of Chandos was a Crœsus, enriched in his office of Paymaster-General to the army in the reign of Queen Anne, and by his vast speculations in the South Sea Company. He built a magnificent castle at Cannons, a few miles from London. He had the entourage of a prince, and was surrounded by a guard of a hundred Swiss soldiers. His ostentation, indeed, was a little ridiculous. Pope made fun of it.
  2. The Anthems occupied three volumes of the Complete Handel edition. The third is reserved for the later works of this epoch, with which we are concerned here. The two first volumes contained eleven Chandos anthems, of which two have a couple of versions and one has three. Handel wrote at the same time three Te Deums.
  3. Masques were secular compositions very much in the fashion in England at the time of the Stuarts. They were part played and part danced, as theatre plays, and partly sung as concert pieces (see Paul Reyher: Les, etc., Paris, 1909).

    Handel took up his Esther in 1732 and recast it. The first Esther had a single part, it comprised six scenes. The second Esther had three acts, each preceded and terminated by a full chorus in the ancient manner. Some have asserted that the poem was by Pope.