Thursday, 4 April 2013

Was Handel an English Composer?

Whilst considering Sir Herbert Brewer’s ground breraking experiment in allowing the audience to sing the Hallelujah Chorus in the December 1927 performance of Messiah at the Bristol Colston Hall I came across this short note attached to the review of the oratorio.  It is interesting and deserves to be rescued from obscurity.
Handel is now typically regarded as a German-born British Baroque composer.

There are still people about who consider that Handel (1685-1759) must be counted among the great German composers. although he left his native country as a young man at an age when many men have done nothing of note. Even among those who claim him as an English composer, who point out that he changed his name and took out letters of naturalisation [1] and that he owed many of his ideas and still more of his style of writing to Purcell, Blow and other British composers do not always seem to realise that for nearly half a century, so far as can be ascertained, he did not write one note of music to German words. [2] It is true that he wrote many works to other words than English, that is to Italian opera libretti, but this was the fashion of the time. Opera that was not Italian was scarcely known. All his greatest choral works, however, were written to English words, and although he never spoke English very well, in his setting of English words his accent was as good as that of almost any Englishman of his time, and a good deal better than that of some of them.
Western Daily Press Friday 09 December 1927

[1] Handel became a permanent resident in 1712 and became a naturalised British subject on 20th February 1727. Handel died in his house in Brook Street, London on April 14 1759.
[2] The last work composed to a German text was probably the second German Passion based on the poem by Brockes which was written in 1716. Handel was at this time only 31 years old. 

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