Handel’s Concerto Grosso, Op. 6, No. 5 in D Major: “Arise! Arise!”

The tuneful Voice, was heard from high, Arise! Arise! Arise ye more than dead! – John Dryden (A Song for Saint Cecilia’s Day) Handel’s Concerto Grosso, Op. 6, No. 5 begins with a joyful musical “call to order.” A celebratory fanfare in the solo violin seems to be the “tuneful voice” from John Dryden’s 1687 poem, urging us to “arise!” In fact, the first, second, and sixth movements of this Concerto Grosso …

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Handel’s “Ode for St. Cecilia’s Day”: “From Harmony, from Heavenly Harmony”

Sunday marks Saint Cecilia’s Feast Day on the Roman Catholic calendar. Saint Cecilia, one of the most famous martyrs of the early church, is the patron of music and musicians. Her spirit is celebrated in George Frederich Handel’s cantata, Ode for St. Cecilia’s Day, which was first performed on November 22, 1739 at London’s Theatre in Lincoln’s Inn Fields. The cantata’s text is a setting of a 1687 poem by John Dryden based on the …

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Handel’s Oboe Sonata in F Major, Héloïse Gaillard and Ensemble Amarillis

Handel’s Oboe Sonata in F Major, HWV 363a unfolds as a vibrant musical dialogue between the solo voice and the accompanying basso continuo. Its five movements alternate in tempo between slow and fast, suggesting the Italian church sonatas of Arcangelo Corelli. The opening movement (Adagio) is both majestic and lamenting. Its expansive, singing melody might remind you of an aria from one of Handel’s operas or oratorios. The second movement (Allegro) erupts with …

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“Ombra mai fu” from Handel’s “Xerxes”

George Frederick Handel seems to have had an affinity for expansive, majestic melodies. Consider the stately opening movement of the Violin Sonata in D Major, HWV 371, or the regal splendor we encounter in so many movements of the Water Music and Music for the Royal Fireworks.  Perhaps there is no better example than Ombra mai fu (“Never was a shade”), the opening aria from Handel’s 1738 opera, Xerxes, or Serse as it was known in Italian. The aria’s setting is a lush garden …

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Handel’s “Trionfo del Tempo”: Amanda Forsythe and Voices of Music

In the aria, Tu del Ciel ministro eletto (“You, elected minister of Heaven”), George Frideric Handel evokes the continuous flow of time, melting into eternity. This is the cosmic concluding aria from Trionfo del Tempo (“The Triumph of Time and Truth”), Handel’s first oratorio, written in the spring of 1707. It is one of only two oratorios Handel set in Italian. (The twenty-two year old composer was living in Rome at the time). …

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Handel’s Musical Depictions of Birdsong

Sweet bird, that shun’st the noise of folly, Most musical, most melancholy! Thee, chauntress, oft the woods among, I woo to hear thy even-song. Or, missing thee, I walk unseen, On the dry smooth-shaven green, To behold the wand’ring moon Riding near her highest noon. -John Milton, Il Penseroso  George Frideric Handel set these lines to music in his 1740 secular oratorio, L’Allegro, il Penseroso ed il Moderato (“The Cheerful, the Thoughtful, and the …

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Remembering Soprano Heather Harper

The British operatic soprano Heather Harper passed away on Monday at the age of 88. Born in Belfast, Harper came to international attention when she stepped in at ten days notice for the world premiere of Benjamin Britten’s War Requiem at Coventry Cathedral in 1962. (Galina Vishnevskaya, for whom the part was written, was denied permission by Soviet authorities on the grounds that Britten’s work was too “political.”) Harper went on to perform …

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