By Ruth Smith
During this wide-ranging and difficult booklet, Ruth Smith exhibits that the phrases of Handel's oratorios replicate the occasions and concepts in their time and feature some distance larger that means than has hitherto been learned. She sheds new mild at the oratorio librettists and explores literature, song, aesthetics, politics and faith to bare Handel's texts as conduits for eighteenth-century proposal and sensibility. This booklet enriches our realizing of Handel, his occasions, and the relationships among song and its highbrow contexts.
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Extra resources for Handel's Oratorios and Eighteenth-Century Thought
This new favour will greatly increase my Obligations ... (9 June 1744)76 At my arrival in London, which was Yesterday, I immediately perused the Act of the Oratorio with which you favour'd me, and, the little time only I had it, gives me great Pleasure. Your reasons for the Length of the first act are intirely Satisfactory to me, and it is likewise my Opinion to have the following Acts short. I shall be very glad and much obliged to you, if you 26 Introduction will soon favour me with the remaining Acts.
59 In 1732 Handel's theatre company, assembled to perform Italian opera, starred Italian singers (for musical and box-office reasons),60 and for some of his audience at least, this reduced the viability of works in English; the pamphleteer already quoted was quick to complain of Handel's first performances of Esther that 'Senesino and Bertolli made rare work with the English Tongue you would have sworn it had been Welch; I would have wish'd it Italian, that they might have sung with more ease to themselves, since, but for the Name of English, it might as well have been Hebrew''.
Nor, apparently, did a lack of named characters (which distinguishes Israel in Egypt, Messiah and the Occasional Oratorio from the other oratorios for some modern listeners): the appreciative critic of Israel in Egypt writing in the London Daily Post of 18 April 1739, who has read the libretto and urges patrons to read it in advance of a performance and take it with them, calls the work a drama (see below, p. 169). The sacred/secular distinction, which was clear enough to contemporaries, has been blurred in modern times by the delighted recognition of Handel's ability to portray human character and emotion.