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Curiously Handel never published any of his cantatas, unlike his other genres, although cantatas by other composers were being published and the large amount of borrowings from them suggest Handel valued the cantata form highly. Perhaps this was due to the more personal nature of patronage and the private or secular performance of the cantatas as covert political and social messages and references to patrons and other figures are rife throughout the cantata texts. Furthermore Handel’s cantatas are neatly contained in the period 1706-1723 when he lived and worked in the houses of Aristocratic patrons. Before 1706 he lived in Germany and in 1723 he moved into his own house on Brook Street, in London.
Poichè giuraro amore (HWV148) is a solo cantata for soprano and continuo with a standard structure: two recitatives and two da capo arias beginning and ending in G minor. It originates from Ruspoli’s household copied 16th May 1707 (Rome) and again in 1709. Ruspoli himself did not write poetry so one of his house poets, houseguests or fellow Arcadians possibly wrote the text. Nearly half of Handel’s cantatas were composed for Ruspoli for whom Handel served between 1707-1709, whilst others were written for Roman patrons including Benedetto Pamphilli and Pietro Ottoboni.
The majority of Handel’s cantatas were written for solo voice and continuo (unlike a lot of his contemporaries) with soprano being the most popular. These cantatas offered Handel a preliminary stage and way to learn to write for the female voice pertaining to the complexity of psychology and emotions associated with his characters, who often included the various Cloris, Amarilis, Fillis, Armidas, Lidias, Licoris and Dianas. These female roles were later developed in his operas often speaking with impassioned voices and a feminine viewpoint.
The cantatas most often were based on pastoral poetry and mythological stories reflecting the Arcadians. Poichè giuraro amore is typical in its depiction of an unrequited lover in an idyllic pastoral setting and the imagery of wind, rocks and hard stones abounds. The opening sorrowful recitative speaks of a sad heart caused by the unfaithful Clori and sets the scene depicting the harsh cruelty of treacherous love and resulting heartache. The first lyrical aria suggests perhaps one day fate will change and Clori will become stronger and be released from this fury of time and death.
The second recitative brings us back to the suffering and loneliness of the weary heart caused by infidelity leading to a more active final aria which begins with the madrigalian use of a rest linked to a form of word painting. This dramatic silence depicts the catching of a breath or a sigh as an act of respiration as indicated in Basterebbe a tor di vita mille cori, il duol ch’io sento which paints the powerful phrase ‘it would suffice to take from life a thousand hearts’. The more active nature of this aria which contains dotted movement in the bass line displays a strength of character Né sì fiero aspro tormento al mio cor morte non dà (‘such fierce and bitter torment does not cause my heart to die’) before its final conclusion in G minor. This is rounded off with strength after such bitter torment as neither Handel nor his anonymous librettist would have wanted to send the Roman public home with complete melancholic thoughts of memento mori.
from notes by Bridget Cunningham © 2016