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George Frideric Handel (1685-1759)

Handel in Ireland, Vol. 1

Bridget Cunningham (harpsichord)
Download only
Label: Signum Classics
Recording details: January 2016
Royal College of Music, London, United Kingdom
Produced by Mark Brown
Engineered by Steve Harrington & Mike Hatch
Release date: March 2017
Total duration: 72 minutes 53 seconds

Bridget Cunningham takes her harpsichord to the Dublin of 1741, following in the footsteps of Handel as he sought to revive his fortunes away from London.

On the 17th November 1741, at the age of 56, George Frideric Handel arrived in Ireland to work in the city of Dublin, where he enjoyed a creative sojourn that lasted nearly nine months. During his time in Dublin, Handel worked with many of the city’s local musicians, actors and singers from the two cathedrals and also artists from England who sang in his concerts at the newly built Great Music Hall on Dublin’s Fishamble Street. This is located near the Barra an Teampaill area we know today, south of the River Liffey and not far from the evocative Ha’penny Bridge (see cover image)—although Handel would not have known it as it was constructed later in 1816.

In the 19th century some Irish musicologists in an overly enthusiastic manner, wrote some misleading information about historical musical events in Ireland. This has made it more difficult to investigate documentation about Handel’s visit. Also in 1922 during the Irish Civil War, the Public Record Office was burnt down which had housed many genealogical treasures including Irish census returns, originals wills dating to the 16th century, and more than 1,000 Church of Ireland parish registers filled with baptism, marriage and burial records.

Although first hand documentation and original source material is not now easy to find, our intrigue is still heightened and questions arise as to what did Handel do in Dublin and what were his reasons for going there?

In the 18th century, Dublin was a thriving musical city and desirable place to live for people of wealth, fashionable in every way, and due to the patronage of the arts by the colonial Protestant governing class. By 1750, Dublin was regarded as the second largest city in the British Isles after London and eleventh on the list of European cities in size, with music firmly established as an integral part of daily life and social hierarchy. Yet, despite the Kingdom of Ireland having an independent parliament, it was controlled by both the English Parliament and via local governance through members of the protestant established church known as the Protestant Ascendancy. Their domination infiltrated Ireland socially, economically, and politically.

It is unclear whether Handel received or even needed an official invitation from the third Duke of Devonshire, William Cavendish, Viceroy and Lord Lieutenant of Ireland to go to Dublin, but he would have needed permission to be excused from duties in London.

Horace Walpole (politician and art historian) described William Cavendish—the Duke of Devonshire, and his son as fashionable models of goodness. Despite many different opinions on his character, Devonshire expended his private revenue not just on splendid living but also on a philosophy of public utility. It was useful for Dublin to have acquired Devonshire as one of the leading masters of the age, and both he and Handel were seen by some as a great asset to the numerous charitable enterprises which characterised the life of the city.

The previous Viceroy, the Duke of Dorset had been depicted as being overly sensible and therefore the Duke of Devonshire was seen as one of the most magnificent Viceroys of the Irish Kingdom since the time of the great Duke of Ormonde. Indeed Devonshire may have been one of the reasons that attracted Handel to go to Ireland although there is no evidence that they knew each other previously as Devonshire did not subscribe to the opera in London. It is possible they knew of each other through the mutual acquaintance with James Brydges, 1st Duke of Chandos where at Cannons, Handel was resident house composer from 1717 to 1718.

On route to Ireland Handel stayed at Chester where the music historian Charles Burney, remembered “seeing him [Handel] smoke a pipe, over a dish of coffee, at the Exchange Coffee House” and was “extremely curious to see so extraordinary a man”. According to Burney, Handel wished to rehearse in Chester and find a local bass singer who could sight sing some “choruses he intended for Ireland”. Burney’s first music master and cathedral organist, Mr Baker, recommended Handel listen to a Mr Janson, one of the best musicians in the choir of Chester. After Mr Janson failed at several attempts to sight sing ‘And with his stripes we are healed’ from Messiah, Handel in great vexation swore in four or five languages and exclaimed; “You scoundrel! Did not you tell me that you could sing at sight?”. To which poor Janson replied, “Yes, sir, and so I can, but not at first sight.”

The state of the country of Ireland in 1741, when Handel arrived, was at a low ebb and had seen a reversal in its fortunes due to the Great Frost and devastating famine which followed.

Previously, the post-Williamite period in Ireland (after William III won the Battle of the Boyne, 1690) had seen the creation of a system of estates leading to a rural landscape of demesnes, farms, and fields. Agriculture was reorganized on a fully commercial basis, and with a rapidly developing market economy came improvements in trade and communication.

Against these endeavors, nature dealt a savage blow with the Great Frost of 1739-41, just before Handel arrived, leading to marked declines in harvests, food riots, famine and the death of some 400,000 Irish people. This devastating famine of 1740 to 1741 known as the Bliain an Áir (Year of Slaughter) was due to extremely cold and rainy weather in successive years, resulting in a series of poor harvests. Hunger compounded a range of fatal diseases and the effects of the cold extended across Europe.

Coal dealers and shippers could not ferry coal due to the ice-bound quays and frozen coal yards. The mill-wheels in several pre-industrial towns froze and affected the water powered machinery used for grinding wheat, making cloth for the weavers and rags for the printers. As a result, the abrupt weather change disrupted craft employment and food processing. The intense cold put out the oil lamps lighting the streets of Dublin, plunging it into darkness. By summer 1740, the Frost had destroyed the potato crops and the drought had decimated the grain harvest, herds of cattle and sheep. Severe blizzards swept along the east coast of Ireland in late autumn 1740 depositing snow and a heavy downpour of rain occurred in December causing widespread flooding. A day after the floods, the temperature plummeted, snow fell, and rivers and other bodies of water froze. Warm temperatures followed this cold spell lasting about ten days and large boulders of ice swept down the River Liffey through the heart of Dublin, overturning light vessels and causing larger vessels to break anchor.

The inflated food prices caused mass starvation across Ireland and so poverty relief schemes were initiated to raise money. In 1741, Handel was invited to perform a whole season of subscription fundraising concerts for the Charitable Musical Society to raise money for the Mercer’s Hospital in Stephen’s Street, the Charitable Infirmary on the Inns Quay and the Relief of Prisoner’s in the several Gaols, which held people who were imprisoned solely because of their financial debts after the famine rather than from other crimes committed.

This invitation and resulting contact and conversation with the three charities involved would have helped established Handel’s links to Ireland. He was also offered the use of a new concert hall that was being built on Fishamble Street, and a whole series of concerts, rather than just the one he would have been offered in London for his new oratorio Messiah, which he was taking with him to Ireland.

Handel’s decision to work in Ireland at this point appears to have proved both sensible and advantageous considering how business was at low ebb for him in London, due to the earlier backlash against Italian opera and his rivalry with other musicians such as Giovanni Bononcini. In London, fashions had turned against Italian opera and Handel was out of favour with the London public following the failure of his last two operas in the Italian style—Imeneo and Deidamia. Ballad operas such as The Beggars Opera of 1728 by John Gay, had added to the demise of Italian opera as they used familiar tunes, with characters that were ordinary people and were sung in English.

Handel had given up a business in 1741 as a concert promoter and lost money so his financial situation also suggests that he would have found it useful to go somewhere where his music was still commercially in demand, albeit behind the London trends. Dublin was a thriving musical city second only to London where he could try out his music to a new audience. He possibly knew his music was already popular in Dublin before he arrived, as some of his music had already been performed including Acis and Galatea, Utrecht Te Deum, Jubilate and the Coronation Anthems.

Handel probably knew that other prominent musicians were already working in Dublin at the time and would have known of them already from earlier days in London or even Italy.

His Anglo-Irish friends included the Earl of Egmont, whose brother the composer Philip Percival was on the board at Mercer’s Hospital in Dublin with his wife Martha, and Frances, the wife of John Christoph Smith junior. Handel’s friend and neighbour from Upper Brook Street in London, Mary Pendarves had also spent several years in Dublin in the 1730s and later married an Irish Anglican cleric, Reverend Patrick Delaney.

Handel also knew the Irish violinist John Clegg (c1714-c1746) who played in his band and Matthew Dubourg (1703-1767), who was originally from London and both would have assured him of the high quality of players and singers available in Dublin. Despite being known as a violinist rather than a composer, Dubourg wrote the royal birthday ode for the Lord Lieutenant at Dublin Castle and in 1728 became the Master of State Music and Trumpets in Ireland following on from Johann Kusser. Dubourg led Handel’s orchestra in Dublin and appears to have been a brilliant performer and fond of showing off his skill. Charles Burney related that on one occasion Dubourg introduced a cadenza of extraordinary length into the ritornello of an air. When at last he finished, Handel, who was conducting, exclaimed “Welcome home, Mr Dubourg” (An Account of the Musical Performances … in Commemoration of Handel (London, 1785), ‘Sketch of the Life of Handel’, p 27).

Dubourg was taught by the composer, violinist and theorist Francesco Geminiani (1687-1762) who had also worked in London and later worked in Dublin from 1733. Geminiani had been passed over as Master of the State Music due to his Catholicism so his pupil Dubourg was given the role. Although Geminiani departed Dublin in 1740 before Handel arrived, he left behind him a legacy of fine music making in Dublin and a great music room, known as ‘Geminiani’s Great Room’, in Spring Gardens off Dame Street where he had put on concerts and used it for the selling of paintings. He left Dublin for Paris during the famine when his patron Lord Tullamore departed and returned again to Dublin in 1759. The high standard of string playing in Dublin, which was remarked upon by Handel in a letter to his friend and librettist Charles Jennens, was undoubtedly due to the influence of both Dubourg and his teacher Geminiani.

The Roseingrave family of musicians were well represented in Dublin as Daniel Roseingrave (died 1727) was organist at St Patrick’s Cathedral and Christchurch Cathedral being succeeded by his son Ralph, (c1695-1747) who was organist at the same time as Handel’s visit. The brother of Ralph, Thomas Roseingrave (1690/1-1766) was so promising a musician and composer that the Dean and Chapter of St Patrick’s gave him a grant to study in Italy in 1709, where he became a friend of Domenico Scarlatti. At a similar time, Handel and Geminiani also were in Italy so they would have known of each other and Geminiani studied with Alessandro Scarlatti and Arcangelo Corelli, who led Handel’s band in Rome. (See Handel in Italy Vol 1 & Vol 2).

Handel and Domenico Scarlatti were reported to have had a harpsichord and organ contest in Rome and after such became great acquaintances. After settling in London in 1717, Thomas Roseingrave popularized Scarlatti’s music in England and made an important edition of 42 of his Sonatas which several musicians such as Arne, Pepusch and Stanley subscribed to.

Francesco Geminiani and Thomas Roseingrave had also both worked in London prior to 1741 when Handel was living there. Roseingrave was the first organist of Handel’s fashionable parish church, St George’s Hanover Square from 1725 through to his retirement in 1737, and had an outstanding reputation as player and teacher. He won a competition for the best improvisations on the newly installed Gerard Smith organ at St George’s. However, his promising career at St George’s came to an end when he was denied permission to marry a young lady with whom he had become infatuated. Her father would not allow her to marry a musician. The disappointment affected Roseingrave psychologically and “render’d [him] incapable of playing the organ”. Eventually he returned to Dublin where he continued to work and perform his opera Phaedra & Hippolitus, an Organ Concerto and other pieces. The Vestry of St George’s Church continued to pay half of his salary until his death in 1766 and he was buried in his family’s grave in the churchyard of St Patrick’s Cathedral Dublin.

Handel only initially brought over the soprano Mrs Christina Maria Avolio, organist Mr Maclaine and a few assistants to Dublin, but the Lord Lieutenant’s court at Dublin Castle provided a small orchestra of local musicians and numerous professional singers who sang in the Dublin theatres and the city’s two cathedrals including the countertenors William Lamb(e) and Joseph Ward, tenors James Baileys and John Church and basses John Hill and John Mason. Several other actors and musicians also travelled to Ireland for work at the time including Dr. Thomas Arne, his wife Cecilia Arne, his sister Susannah Cibber, Peg Woffington, David Garrick, James Quin and the dancer Signor Barbarini. There were other bands also working in Dublin at the same time—enough to give a musical porter employment. The instrument porter, George Hendrick ‘Crazy Crow’ was notoriously fined and imprisoned for stealing dead bodies from St Andrew’s Church in 1742, after Handel returned to London. Nevertheless, with the two Cathedrals—St Patrick’s and Christ Church—Dublin was a flourishing musical city.

Several organ builders were based in Dublin including John Byfield, and the Hollister family and Ferdinand Weber who also built harpsichords and spinets. It is still a mystery as to which keyboard instruments Handel used although it was reported he had two organs in Dublin, one was his own which he had transported in. Handel may have known the local keyboard makers and played their instruments and also played the decorated organ at St Michan’s Church, Northside built by John Baptiste Cuvillie, installed from 1723 to 1725.

The Neal(e) family publishing business—known as Neal’s, Neill’s, or O’Neill’s—was located in Christ Church Yard from where the musical family, John Neal and his son William, were the first principal music publishers and music sellers in Dublin. They were involved in all of the important musical matters of their day, including the management of entertainments and ridottos in the city. William Neal, who, as treasurer of the Charitable Musical Society was responsible for building the Great Music Hall on Fishamble Street, also known as Mr Neal’s Great Musick Hall where Handel put on a series of several concerts funded by subscription between the December of 1741 and the following February—including L’Allegro, Il Penseroso ed Il Moderato, Acis and Galatea and Esther. Due to the success of the first season, another series of concerts was created from February to March 1742 which included the serenata Hymen or Imeneo, (despite its earlier failure in London) the only Italian operatic work directed by Handel in Dublin. This was followed by the premiere of Messiah on the 13th April and a performance of Saul and another of Messiah.

For a period, Handel advertised tickets for concerts from his lodgings at a house at the Abbey Street corner of Liffey Street in Dublin, where he worked on his music, but also organized and promoted performances. It is still a mystery as to whether Handel actually composed any music in Ireland differing greatly from when he was younger and travelled to Italy where he composed prolifically (See Handel in Italy Vols.1 & 2, Signum Records). Earlier Irish musicologists suggested that Handel wrote a piece called the Forest Music, which is recorded on this album, but the provenance and links directly to Handel are still unfounded. Handel was in good health in Ireland and enjoying the warm hospitality he received when in December 1741 he wrote to Charles Jennens:

‘I cannot sufficiently express the kind treatment I receive here, but the Politeness of this generous Nation cannot be unknown to you, so I let you judge of the satisfaction I enjoy, passing my time with Honour, Profit and Pleasure’.

Handel expressed the contentment he felt in Ireland to Jennens, librettist of Messiah, as Jennens had been unhappy that Handel had taken Messiah to Ireland to premiere it in Dublin, rather than in London. Handel obviously was happy being in Dublin and commented on being in good health, although it is unclear if this was the case for the whole of his stay as he had been previously unwell. He certainly spent his time reworking and performing his music for Dublin performances, which perhaps was the main reason he did not compose much, if any, new material.

The Music Hall itself was still a very new concept in the 18th century and as such attracted the prosperous society of Dublin. Oratorio had attracted a big following using the English language which adhered to current musical taste. The newly opened Great Music Hall in Dublin enabled people to hear this art form, as well as functioning as a performance arena in which Handel could work and try out his music. These concerts established themselves in the social calendar as a venue for the influential to meet for conversation and debate. Various events and assemblies were postponed when the concerts were taking place. As a result, the charity or benefit concerts in Dublin became hugely significant, marrying social morality, concern, conscience, fashionable living, and an opportunity to be “seen.”

There were several other popular concert venues in Dublin as well as the Great Music Hall on Fishamble Street such as the Crow Street Musick Hall, Theatre Royal at Smock Alley, Aungier Street Theatre and Dublin Castle. Charitable concerts were held at St Andrew’s Round Church, including ones organized by the Mercer’s Hospital, to raise money for the work of the hospital. In December 1741, Handel attended a benefit concert for Mercer’s Hospital at St Andrew’s Church, whether he performed or not we do not know but the hospital benefited financially from the performance of the Te Deum, Jubilate and two anthems.

Jonathan Swift, author of Gulliver’s Travels, was the foremost prose satirist in English ‘the greatest Wit that ever lived among the Tide of Time’ and was a founder governor of Mercer’s hospital and the Dean of St Patrick’s Cathedral in Dublin. He had initially objected to the cathedral singers performing the premiere of Handel’s Messiah and disapproved of them singing sacred music in a non-consecrated building and working with Dubourg’s Dublin State Band, “a club of fiddlers,” but which Charles Burney described as “very respectable.” Due to the charitable aims of the concert to raise money for several worthy causes, Dean Swift withdrew his opposition.

On the 13th April 1742, the premiere of Handel’s new oratorio Messiah at Fishamble Street was a huge success with the preface of the Word Book stating … And without Controversy, Great is the mystery of Godliness … Over six hundred people attended after gentlemen were advised to remove their swords, and ladies were asked not to wear the hoops in their dresses in order to seat everyone.

According to accounts, Susannah Cibber, the great tragic actress who fled to Dublin to escape marital scandal performed the aria ‘He was despised and rejected’ so beautifully that it caused the Dublin clergyman, Reverend Patrick Delaney to leap to his feet and cry: “Woman, for this, be all thy sins forgiven”.

The performance of Messiah earned unanimous praise from the assembled press and a report from the Dublin Journal stated:

‘Words are wanting to express the exquisite Delight it afforded to the admiring crouded audience. The Sublime, the Grand and the Tender, adapted to the most elevated, majestic and moving Words, conspired to transport and charm the ravished Heart and Ear’.

Despite his initial objections to Messiah, in his dying days Dean Jonathan Swift called Handel, ‘A German! A Genius! A prodigy!’ The contention that Messiah aroused was still considerable enough to persuade Handel that the London premiere, a year later, should be advertised under the title “A Sacred Oratorio”, to avoid any charge of blasphemy.

During Handel’s absence from London, Alexander Pope an avid supporter of Handel reworked his fourth book of The Dunciad, for Jonathan Swift, in which Pope directs a battery of satire against Handel’s enemies. The Dunciad has very few heroes as most characters are archdunces. The poem describes the fluttering form or personification of the Italian opera as the Goddess Dulness and the progress of her chosen agents as they bring decay, imbecility, and tastelessness to the kingdom of Great Britain. Handel stands as a bold historical obtrusion in the allegorical speech of the prostitute muse Opera, who sees Handel as a threat to her influence over the arts in Dulness’s new order. After mimicking the attractive Italian singers and with a pathetic plea for the “chromatic tortures” of the opera, it concludes with the following lines:

O Cara! Cara! Silence all that train:
Joy to great Chaos! Let Division reign:
Chromatic tortures soon shall drive them hence…..
But soon, ah soon, Rebellion will commence,
If Music meanly borrows aid from Sense:
Strong in new arms, lo! Giant Handel stands,
Like bold Briaereus, with a hundred hands;
To stir, to rouse, to shake the soul, he comes,
And Jove’s own thunders follow Mars’s drums.
Arrest him, Empress, or you sleep no more!
She heard, and drove him to th’ Hibernian shore.

Pope explained his thoughts on this and referred to the grand orchestral effects that were characteristic of Handel’s music:

‘Mr. Handel had introduced a great number of Hands, and more variety of Instruments into the Orchestra and employed even Drums and Cannon to make a fuller Chorus, which prov’d too manly for the fine Gentlemen of his age, that he was obliged to remove his Music into Ireland’.

Although Handel arrived in Ireland wearied from disappointments in London, his long visit was an important and influential event in his own life, as well as for the musical, social, and financial world of the changing Dublin as a city;

‘Famous for the gaiety and splendor of its court, the opulence and spirit of its principal inhabitants, the valour of its military and the genius of its learned men’. (John Mainwaring—Handel’s first biographer.)

The Irish audience’s response was a huge boost to Handel and their extremely warm welcome would have been a great comfort to the composer. He seemed to have been delighted to have spent time in Ireland and lie low and recover from disappointments in London and to give many successful performances of works to esteemed audiences and ‘the Flower of Ladies of Distinction and other People of the greatest quality’.

Despite his return to Brook Street in London in August 1742, Handel’s fame and his music continued to spread throughout Ireland and was documented in several newspapers and records in Dublin throughout the 18th century. In 1748, the composer and musician John Frederick Lampe and his wife Isabella, the sister in law to Dr. Thomas Arne arrived in Dublin to perform more of Handel’s music. Dr. Mosse, the founder of Dublin’s Rotunda Hospital, pioneered much more corporate entertainment in Dublin and his popular benefit concerts included much of Handel’s music and helped to raise money in a city where there was still much poverty and wretchedness after the Great Frost and resulting famine.

All of the three nominated Irish charities gained significantly from Handel’s concerts and secured the release of many indebted prisoners and therefore Handel gained mutual and eternal admiration from the Irish people.

The Irish nation who had welcomed Handel expected him to return, but he did not visit Ireland again, possibly due to a heavy workload, renewed success and later ill health. In London Handel gradually found his audience appreciated him again both on the London stages and also with continued success at Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens (See Handel at Vauxhall Vol 1).

When Alexander Pope asked the writer Dr. John Arbuthnot for his opinion of Handel’s worth, he was reported to have replied:

‘Conceive the highest that you can of his abilities and they art much beyond anything you can conceive’.

The music and the musicians
The harpsichord music on this recording explores the myths and mysteries surrounding Handel’s visit from London to Dublin in 1741 and includes music by Handel and his contemporaries. It sets out to encapsulate the Irish influences that Handel experienced from being in Dublin and also the inspiration he gave to others through his music and his masterly skills of directing and improvising music from the keyboard.

During Handel’s performances in Ireland, Handel directed the orchestra and singers from the harpsichord whilst Mr Maclaine played the organ. Often keyboard concertos, possibly arrangements and improvisations were inserted between parts of oratorios to keep the audience entertained.

The keyboard arrangement of the Overture to Messiah (Smith, catalogue, 284, No 17) is found in a collection of Handel’s Overtures published by John Walsh in 1743 and thought to have been arranged by Walsh or by one of his editors. Handel is known to have performed arrangements of his own works on the harpsichord and some of these transcriptions of his overtures from oratorios and operas survive in his own hand. John Walsh published 60 arrangements of Handel’s overtures in a single book in the 1750s and they are of varying quality as they are transcribed by different people.

Walsh’s publications clearly indicates that this keyboard arrangement is called an ‘Overture’ rather than a ‘Sinfony’ which is found in Handel’s autograph copy and conveyed through manuscript copies of Messiah and drew upon the success of the triumphant premiere of Messiah at the Great Music Hall on Fishamble Street.

The keyboard arrangement of the Overture to Esther is from a version in the British Library, written between 1737 and 1739 by John Christopher Smith, Handel’s musical assistant and amanuensis and pupil of Thomas Roseingrave. This transcription differs in quality as it is much more likely to be in Handel’s own hand as according to Handelian scholar and editor, Professor Terence Best suggests, ‘because of the extensive re-composition, particularly in the first and last movements’. Handel directed a successful performance of his oratorio Esther with organ concertos in 1742 at Fishamble Street, Dublin.

These keyboard arrangements of Handel’s music were aimed at connoisseurs, including professional musicians with sufficient income and an interest in the music and or some who saw themselves as patrons, personal supporters of Handel who would collect memorabilia of Handel. This music was also sold to concert-giving groups, public and private, who would perform the arrangements as items in their programmes and also to amateur musicians who would play the music at home, either for domestic performance or for their own private interest.

Two pieces on this recording focus on the importance of improvisation at the time, Vo’ far guerra and Lascia ch’io pianga from Handel’s opera Rinaldo arranged by William Babell or ‘Babel’ (1689/90-1723). The violinist, harpsichordist and composer William Babell received his musical training from his father, Charles Babell, who was a bassoonist in the Drury Lane orchestra, and Johann Christoph Pepusch and also possibly from Handel. Babell was a royal violinist in the private band of George I and became involved with Lincoln’s Inn Theatre after the orchestra at the Haymarket Theatre was disbanded in 1717. From 1711, he also appeared as a harpsichordist, often performing with Matthew Dubourg who became the Master of State Music and Trumpets in Ireland in 1728.

Babell wrote numerous virtuosic keyboard arrangements of arias from the popular operas of his time. His slow movements are considered a valuable insight into early 18th-century practices of ornamentation and extemporisation. These became the basis of his musical reputation and were published in France, the Netherlands and Germany, as well as in England.

Handel’s opera Rinaldo, composed and first performed in 1711 was Handel’s first Italian opera written specifically to be performed for the London stage. Handel’s operas were vocally elaborate, with long arias designed to display the virtuosity of the castrato stars and reigning castrati Nicolini Grimaldi (Nicolino) first performed in the title role.

Another myth relating to Handel’s visit to Ireland encompasses the anecdotal reports suggesting that Handel’s opera Rinaldo was also the first Italian styled opera to be performed in Dublin in 1711 as well as in London and therefore caused the popularity of the Italian style of opera to spread throughout Ireland. Handel’s famous castrato, Nicolini Grimaldi did perform in Dublin in the summer of 1711 at a benefit concert at Blue Coat Hall and it is unknown if he performed arias from Rinaldo although he had previously performed the title role at the premiere in London earlier on that very same year. It is highly unlikely he introduced Italian opera to Ireland or a whole performance of Rinaldo as this would have attracted a lot of press reports which are lacking but certainly Rinaldo was a great inspiration for the Italian style and improvisation to musicians.

Handel’s works were full of complicated arias that thrilled audiences. Handel conducted Rinaldo from the harpsichord, and improvised instrumental interludes with bravura of that same aria. Due to Rinaldo’s popularity, William Babell saw this opera as being a prime subject for virtuosic arrangements and to extend harpsichord technique to its limits.

Babell’s transcriptions of arias from Rinaldo includes Vo’ far guerra, which Handel meant as a showpiece for his harpsichord playing and is quite remarkable and florid in its virtuosity and more like a fantasy. This transcription is strongly influenced by Babell’s close acquaintance with Handel and made from his memory of how Handel improvised in performances and is similar to Handel’s own obbligato part in the aria. Lascia ch’io pianga is also taken from ‘Suits of the most celebrated lessons fitted to the Harpsicord or Spinnet’ published by John Walsh and is an elaborately ornamented version of the aria and again gives a good idea of performance practice at the time.

Handel’s Suite No 7 in G minor from his Eight Great Suites HWV432 was written and published in 1720, many years before going to Ireland and showcases some of his finest keyboard writing. The texture of the instrumental lines owes its character to its key, which Charpentier refers to as being severe and magnificent. The Ouverture sets the scene with orchestral colour, followed by an energetically dotted fugal section as a Presto before returning to the grandeur of the opening. After the highly theatrical opening, the Andante and Allegro are closely linked in style as a variation suite and are in two parts, one in each hand with canonic imitations. The Sarabande is more harmonic in texture and lyrical and is followed by a good humoured Gigue before the Passacaille. This very famous set of variations rests over a chord sequence beginning in diatonic harmony becoming more chromaticised into diminished sevenths and is the operatic ‘chord of horror’ with two interlinked and rootless tritones underpinning the virtuosic figuration which magnificently increases to the end.

Anecdotal reports suggest that Handel composed the Forest Music whilst staying in Dublin in 1742 for Lady Dorothy Vernon at Clontarf Castle. Although the piece is attributed to Handel, the composer of it is currently still unknown. The three movement suite originated in Walsh’s publication, Forest Harmony, 2nd book which is a collection of 60 minor pieces, none ascribed to a specific composer although it does contains three movements from Handel’s Water Music.

This intriguing keyboard arrangement is entitled Handel’s Forest Music and is from a 19th century manuscript housed at the Royal College of Music, London, which contains keyboard pieces, psalms, concerti and choral works. The arranger of this version is unknown and the provenance linking it to Handel is unconfirmed. The first section is in common time, a cheerful reveille as if it represents hunters going out in the morning—whilst the second part blends the character of the jig, used in Irish folk music as well as Handel’s works, interweaving national music and perhaps complementing the nation who had so warmly welcomed Handel.

The Vivement in D minor by Francesco Geminiani (1687-1762) is a movement from his Pièces de clavecin, published in Paris in 1743. It is a jig style movement again reflecting the dance of both the concert and folk worlds which were both prominent musical traditions working side by side in Ireland.

Although Geminiani departed Dublin for Paris in 1740, before Handel arrived, he left behind him a legacy of fine music making in Dublin and returned again to Dublin in 1759. Whilst he was away, his pupil Matthew Dubourg as Master of State Music continued to maintain high levels of string playing in Dublin. Geminiani’s reasons for leaving Ireland and going to Paris, as well as for his dealings with the art world and that his patron Lord Tullamore was leaving, it also included his need to make a submission for a printing privilege which he gained in Paris and in 1743 published his Pièces de clavecin.

Like Handel and Roseingrave, Geminiani had previously worked in both London and Italy, and he himself was inspired by the music of Corelli. During the last fifteen years of his life, Geminiani published no fewer than six treatises and a story suggests a seventh was stolen from the composer during his final stay in Dublin. According to Charles Burney, some of Geminiani’s music was much more masterly and elaborate than Corelli’s and very few players were able to perform it. Burney, wrote in a letter to Thomas Twining in 1781 that Handel, Geminiani and Corelli had been the sole “Divinities of my youth”.

Thomas Roseingrave’s Suite No 8 in G minor from his Suites of Lessons includes three movements, an Allemande, Sarabande and Gigue. Like Handel and Geminiani, Roseingrave also had experience of working in both Dublin and London and also in Italy, where he had been inspired by the music of Domenico Scarlatti although surprisingly his own harpsichord and organ music shows very little influence of Scarlatti’s style.

In London, Roseingrave became organist of Handel’s parish church, St George’s, Hanover Square in 1725, where a new three-manual organ had just been completed by Gerard Smith. Roseingrave was very well known for his brilliant skill of improvisation and his accomplished fugal extemporizations were the result of his enthusiasm for contrapuntal textures. He won a prestigious organ competition for the best extemporizer at St George’s after Handel had sent in a theme upon which the candidates were to improvise. Charles Burney wrote that Roseingrave’s playing; “treated the subjects given with such science and dexterity, inverting the order of notes, augmenting and diminishing their value, introducing counter-subjects, and turning the themes to so many ingenious purposes that the judges were unanimous in declaring him the victorious candidate”.

Burney also wrote that Roseingrave “had a power of seizing the parts and spirits of a score and executing the most difficult music at sight beyond any musician in Europe”.

Charles Thomas Carter’s Sonatina No 10 in E flat, Op 6 is from a set of Twelve Familiar Sonatinas for Harpsichord or Pianoforte and includes many pieces such as the variations on Carillons de Dunquerque. This Sonatina has two movements—a lyrical first movement marked andante larghetto—and a humorous Rondo marked allegretto.

Charles Thomas Carter was born in Dublin c1735 and probably grew up hearing Handel’s music which continued to remain popular in Dublin even after Handel’s departure. According to John O’Keefe’s Recollections, Carter was ‘brought up in the choir of Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin, and was organist at St Werburgh’s Church … any music he had never seen before, placed before him, upside down, he played it off on the harpsichord.’

Carter remained at St Werburgh’s Church from c Dec. 1751 to Sept. 1769. In 1772 he left Dublin for London and made a name as a composer of songs for the public pleasure gardens, such as Vauxhall (See Handel at Vauxhall, Vol 1). He began to write for the stage including the librettos of a comic opera The Rival Candidates, Isaac Jackman’s two-act opera The Milesian and Pilon’s The Fair American. The first collection of his Vauxhall songs came out in 1773 and contains the well-known O Nanny Wilt Thou Gang with Me and his final collection of Songs, Duos, Trios, Catches, Glees and Canons were published in 1801.

Later on after his death, a story appeared in the Gentleman’s Magazine about Carter having forged a Handel manuscript and having sold it for twenty guineas to cover his debts. This has been repeated by his biographers, again despite little evidence.

Der arme Irische Junge (The poor Irish boy) is a melody of an Irish folk tune that Handel wrote down in a manuscript on the same page as sketches of ‘He was despised and rejected’ and the ‘Amen’ Chorus from Messiah and may be seen in a manuscript housed in the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge. Underneath this tune Handel wrote the word ‘Ballet’ and perhaps was thinking of it as a dance tune with the intention to use it in a future composition, possibly even the enigmatic Forest Music.

Handel’s admiration for Irish folk music is indicated in various reports and he wrote this Irish air down in his manuscript which he most probably had heard in Dublin, even possibly at Dublin Castle. Traditional Irish folk music and dancing has always been an integral part of life in Ireland. Turlough O’Carolan (1670-1738), the blind travelling Irish harper, composer and singer and Cornelius Lyons c1670-c1740) the harp composer and Irish harper to the Earl of Antrim, would both also have left strong musical legacies and influences behind them.

Aileen Aroon, Eileen Aroon (Eib[h]lin A Ru[i]n) or Ducatu Non vanna tu Aileen aroon refers to, Eileen or Eveleen my secret love, and has the same tune as the Scottish piece called Robin Adair. It was first popularized in Charles Coffee’s ballad opera The Beggar’s Wedding, 1729 and was performed in both Dublin Smock Alley and London Haymarket Theatres.

Even before Handel arrived in Dublin, in July 1741, one of his friends, the singer-actress Kitty Clive (1711-1785) was in Ireland. Her father was from Kilkenny, and she first appeared at Aungier Street Theatre in Dublin in 1741. She was very well known for singing in several of Handel’s London performances including L’Allegro, Il Pensieroso ed il Moderato, Alexander’s Feast, Samson and Messiah. She was largely responsible for the popularity of this tune and learnt Elen a Roon—‘in Compliment to the Irish Ladies and Gentleman, for the Civilities which she hath received’ (Faulkners Dublin Journal) and she performed it on many occasions in London and Dublin from 1741.

This traditional Irish air, Eileen Aroon was performed alongside Handel’s and other composers’ music and became a regular feature in Dublin concerts in the 1740s and 50s. It was used in the Second Book of the Compleat Country Dancing Master published by John Walsh and also arranged for various instruments at the time, including for the Irish harp, bassoon, viola d’amore, German Flute and even the musical glasses. Matthew Dubourg wrote variations of this tune and Beethoven and Haydn also made arrangements of it. One anecdote went as far as to say that “Handel apparently declared that he would willingly resign the fame he had acquired by his most celebrated compositions for the glory of being the inventor of the air Aileen Aroon”. In this recording Eileen Aroon has been arranged for the baroque harp with the harpsichord to combine the two musical traditions.

To sum up the overriding appreciation of Handel’s visit to Ireland, in 1742, Laurence Whyte, a friend of the publisher Neales and a member of the Charitable Musical Society in Dublin, concludes:

Thus Devonshire, our Sorrows to allay,
Invites the Nation to hear Handel play;
Soon as his Grace appear’d on Irish Ground;
Our two Year’s Famine were in Lethe drown’d;
Contagions fly, and Plenty crowns the Field;
No more shall Lands lie barren and untill’d:
Since for our Wants his Grace was heard to moan,
In recommending Tillage from the Throne.
Long may he rule, to prop this sinking Isle,
And all her Foes to Reason reconcile,
Give Trade that Freedom formerly enjoy’d
That all industrious Hands may be imploy’d
This Blessing, cou’d Hybernia once obtain,
No more shou’d any murmur or complain.

Taken from the final stanza from ‘A poem on The general Effect and Excellency of musick, but now more particularly on the famous Mr. Handel’s Performance, and Compositions, who has been lately invited into this Kingdom, by his Grace the Duke of Devonshire, Lord Lieutenant of Ireland’.

Bridget Cunningham © 2017

This recording explores some of the myths and mysteries surrounding Handel’s visit from London to Dublin in 1741 and reflects on the influences that Handel experienced from being in Dublin and also the inspiration he gave to others through his music and skills of improvisation at the keyboard. Handel in Ireland Vol. 2 will include the glorious orchestral and vocal music performed by Handel during his stay in Ireland.

Signum Classics © 2017

Other albums in this series

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