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Hyperion Records

CDA66071/2 - Handel: The Triumph of Time and Truth

Recording details: November 1982
Unknown, Unknown
Produced by Martin Compton
Engineered by Antony Howell
Release date: December 1986
DISCID: 3B0E0016 930F071C
Total duration: 123 minutes 29 seconds

'Much recommended' (The Daily Telegraph)

'Enchanting music, performed with warmth and insight. An important addition to the current list of Handel recordings' (The Sunday Times)

The Triumph of Time and Truth
The Triumph of time and Truth was brought out by Handel on 11 March 1757 at Covent Garden Theatre, London. It was performed three times that year, and in a slightly enlarged form Handel presented it twice in 1758, the last complete season over which he presided. But to trace its history, which is as fascinating as its music is attractive, one must go back fully fifty years.

When, late in 1712, Handel arrived in London – to settle there, as it turned out, for the rest of his life – he still had before him the most notable achievements of his maturity: instrumental music, operas and (most distinctively) the dramatic oratorios. Nonetheless, in his twenty-eighth year he was already an accomplished composer of considerable renown, and in his baggage he brought with him the scores of some substantial and significant compositions. Most of them were products of his sojourn in Italy (Florence, Rome, Naples and Venice) from 1706 to 1710. In Rome his abilities and personality had drawn him into the cultivated patronage of the Cardinals Pamfili and Ottoboni and the Marchese Ruspoli. According to Mainwaring, Handel’s earliest biographer (1760), his music struck these cognoscenti as having unfamiliar qualities of ‘fire and force’. One of Handel’s first Roman works, written in 1707 when he just twenty-two, was an oratorio entitled Il Trionfo del Tempo e del Disinganno (‘Disinganno’ literally meaning ‘un-deceit’, thus ‘truth’). The text, a sort of allegory, was the work of Cardinal Pamfili and required four ‘characters’ (Beauty, Pleasure, Truth and Time) but no chorus. Probably the oratorio was privately performed in Rome.

Throughout his subsequent life in London, Handel, although enjoying a modest pension from the king, pursued the career – exceptionally for a composer of his period – of a freelance musician. He promoted performances of his own music, pouring forth a stream of new works and eventually organizing a regular Lenten series of oratorios at Covent Garden; here new compositions and revivals were intermingled.

For the season of 1737, when he was still performing both oratorios and Italian opera and using mainly Italian singers, his mind reverted to the Italian oratorio of thirty years before. In the space of a fortnight, he prepared a substantially revised version, closely based on Pamfili’s text but with several numbers wholly or partly set as choruses. Now entitled more directly Il Trionfo del Tempo e della Veritá (the character name ‘Disinganno’ was retained within the oratorio), it was given the first of four performances at Covent Garden Theatre on 23 March that year (there was a further one in 1739). It remained unpublished in Handel’s lifetime, but a printed book of words with an English (non-singing) translation was issued.

Twenty years later, with eyesight too cruelly impaired – if not completely lost – to allow further composition, he turned yet again to this music. He got Thomas Morell (1703–1784) to translate the Italian text of the 1737 work into versified form to fit the arias and choruses and to provide the necessary recitatives. (Though many strictures, some well deserved, others less so, have been passed on Morell’s work, Handel had already accepted five librettos from him, including those for Judas Maccabaeus and Theodora.) An extra character, ‘Deceit’, was introduced, ‘Disinganno’ became ‘Counsel’, and some further new numbers were supplied. For all of this Handel took over most of the music of 1737, revived a further two arias (one of these much modified) from 1707, and furnished eight other movements – seven of them increasing the role of the chorus – and a different overture. Though this last has not yet been identified among his other extant works, it is extremely unlikely that it could have been newly composed; all the other material comes from earlier works by Handel of one sort or another. The whole was announced as ‘Altered from the Italian with several new Additions’, and was brought out, as already stated, on 11 March 1757. No manuscript of it exists in the composer’s own writing, but the overture and arias were promptly published in April of the same year.

Even now Handel was not done. In February 1758 he presented the work again ‘With several New Additions’ – with five extra arias, four of which gave more substance to the part of Deceit. All draw to some extent on existing works, though often the music was significantly re-composed. It has been calculated by Winton Dean that in this eventual form The Triumph of Time and Truth draws on more than twenty of Handel’s compositions. The present recording follows the 1757 version (thus without the extra arias of 1758), but omits two brief recitatives deleted in 1758 and two choruses (‘Then shall I teach’ and ‘Comfort them, O Lord’) which were taken without change from anthems and seem at odds with their new context.

Though it is needless to comment in every instance, Handel’s derivations and methods in assembling the work are of much interest. Not all the additional music in 1737 was new, some being taken from his other compositions. Of the three choruses, those at the beginning of Act I and the end of Act II were derived from the large-scale anthem Sing unto God which he has written for the wedding of Frederick, Prince of Wales, in 1736, while the final chorus is the choral ending his fourth organ concerto, written for a revival of Athalia in 1735. In such instances he was recalling fairly recently composed music, and this is also true of his use of the melody from a dance from Terpsicore (1734) for ‘Lascia la spina’ (‘Sharp thorns despising’ in the English rendering). The Italian words are from the 1707 work, but there was good reason why different music was provided in 1737: in 1707 the air had been set to the beautiful melody which Handel had then used again in Rinaldo (1711) for the air ‘Lascia ch’io pianga’; in this form it had become so well known that it was no wonder Handel felt the time had come to find some different music.

When it came to the English work of 1757, one of the purposes of the further additions then made was to give rather more work to the chorus. For ‘Strengthen us, O Time’ and its continuation ‘Then shall I teach thy ways’ (omitted on this recording) Handel went to a Chandos Anthem. The music of ‘Pleasure submits to pain’ was written in 1732 for the mixed Italian and English version of Acis and Galatea and incorporated a considerable reminiscence of ‘Wretched lovers’ from the original English version of Acis, recognizable at the words ‘Throughout the whole revolving year’. A good deal of charming music as it now stands derives from the opera Lotario (1729) and the serenata Il Parnasso in festa (1734), the latter provided the hunting chorus ‘Oh, how great the glory’. Act III contains two very curious additions. The chorus ‘Comfort them, O Lord’ (omitted on this recording) is lifted directly, words and music together, untransposed, from the Foundling Hospital Anthem of 1749. Other than separating two consecutive airs for Beauty, this seems pointless, and is incongruous in its religious sententiousness – the one false note in the work. Was the idea of this chorus entirely Handel’s own, prompted by the concluding words of the preceding air (‘Nor sickness comfort give’) or, some might say, by his own poor health?

The use of material borrowed from other works worries some people who perhaps suppose that it amounts to false pretences or else violates some supposed sacrosanct integrity of musical conception. But the practice was sufficiently widespread in the Baroque period (and not unknown later) for it to be recognized as perfectly acceptable in principle, not calling for excuse on grounds, for instance, of ill health. It is only the extent of its application which may be thus accounted for in the case of the present work.

How, then, may we regard this ‘oratorio’ as a whole? An old idea was that it presented us with a conspectus of a great composer’s work, stretching from his youth to shortly before his death. This must be abandoned. Nothing was original in 1757, and apart from the curious borrowing from the Foundling Hospital Anthem there is little, if anything, here later than 1737. As to the character of the piece, it draws from Handel gentle, sometimes dream-like music as befits the unreality of the personages. The Triumph of Time and Truth does not indeed present a drama or penetrate deeply into character; rather it gathers together, in a manner authorized by the composer, a quantity of music of unfailing high quality and frequent delight which can be appreciated for what it is without predisposition to seek in it some exalted experience.


ACT I Beauty, admiring herself in a mirror, wishes she could arrest the passage of Time, whereupon Pleasure promises that her charms shall never fade. In return, Beauty swears loyalty to Pleasure, who sings of how sorrow spoils enjoyment, and Beauty, supported by the chorus, extols the delights of pleasure and youth. Counsel (Truth) now advises Beauty to follow Truth, warning that youth does not last. At this, Pleasure initiates a trial: who shall give the victory, Pleasure, Beauty, Time, or Counsel? In the midst of their arguments, which occupy the rest of Act I, Deceit intervenes to weaken the claims of Time, who, however, has the last word at this point.

ACT II After a moralizing sequence whose drift is unclear, we find ourselves in Pleasure’s court, and a brief masque-like sequence follows, Dryads, Sylvans and fair Flora gracing the festivities.

Thus encouraged, Beauty taunts Time to ‘Sweep away … joyous pleasures’, but unexpectedly he replies (from ‘lower regions’) advising her, if she wants to escape his power, to essay the ‘realms of light’, whither he cannot follow her. Counsel and Time now try once more to persuade Beauty to forsake Pleasure for Truth, profferring her Truth’s mirror which shows things faithfully. At this, Pleasure tries to prevent her looking in such a mirror, and is supported by Deceit with the advice that life ‘consists in the present hour’. Time rebuts this, and Beauty, now torn between sadness and gaiety, at last begins to have doubts.

Counsel follows this up by urging that without the sanction of Truth, pleasures, whether of age or youth, are vain; Time also urges her to be wise. But Beauty, still perplexed, declares that ‘though inclined’, she cannot yet resolve to ‘leave this scene for immortality’. Counsel and the chorus then bring Act II to an end with the adjuration to change her heart.

ACT III After Beauty has appealed for relief from temptation, Deceit makes a last assault on her: ‘Why seek you pleasures Mixed with alloy?’ Counsel advises Beauty to disregard this, and at last Beauty consents to look in Truth’s mirror and to take leave of Pleasure, ‘Lest, when my strength shall fail me, No sorrow can avail me’. She is about to throw away her old mirror when Pleasure attempts to prevent this; but Counsel throws it to the ground. At this point Beauty, after looking in the mirror of Truth, announces her intention to pass her days ‘in sacred solitude’. She appeals to Pleasure to espouse the cause of Truth, but he, declaring that Truth ‘drives me to despair’, disappears into the rocks. Beauty, raising here eyes to Truth, now invokes her guardian angels to direct her, and the chorus rejoins ‘Alleluja!’.

Watkins Shaw © 1983

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