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Quel fior che all' alba ride, HWV200

author of text

Whilst in Italy, one of the most important features of this period was the refining of Handel’s vocal style. Handel wrote seven chamber duets and two trios whilst there, possibly after the influence from his predecessor in Hanover, Agostino Steffani, who had established the chamber duet as a genre as well as Giovanni Maria Clari and Pietro Torri. In Italy during the seventeenth and first half of the eighteenth centuries, the chamber duet was a favourite form of vocal music alongside the solo cantata and was often used for compositional experimentation, innovation and for study and teaching purposes. They were performed at social occasions for smaller circles of connoisseurs and enthusiasts of the prosperous bourgeoisie and aristocracy.

Although Se tu non lasci amore is dated July 12, 1708 Naples, which locates it very close to the serenata, Aci, Galatea e Polifemo, these trios or solely Quel fior che all’alba ride, may well be assumed to belong to the circles of the Roman Arcadia and later revised for Handel’s visit to Naples. They are both written for two high voices and bass with continuo only without obbligato instruments. Influenced by the monody of the stile nuova and the polyphonic madrigal, they do not use the da capo form but rather are through-composed to convey closely the nature and expression of their texts in open-ended sequences. Within Handel’s oeuvre, these trios are particularly fascinating as they mix his native style with newly acquired skills together in some of his most sensual writing. All three voices sing the same Italian text as one persona rather than as individual characters, with very skillful counterpoint from Handel’s native Germany, interweaving beautifully with a new style of expression which transforms throughout and shows off the final flowering and heights of this style of writing. Within a controlled framework, the phrases exude pure pleasure from the consonant and dissonant juxtapositions of the intertwining voices, the vivid mix of sound colours and vocal registers and by the exquisite harmonies revealing sophisticated chromatic effects.

The lively opening phrase of Quel fior che all’alba ride, sung by the first soprano, is followed by completely different themes from the other voices rather than being treated and imitated successively as a fugal subject. The second soprano enters with a descending scale in crotchet values closely followed by a new brisk and rhythmic figure based on a quaver and two semiquaver groups in the bass. These three sequences are then skilfully used in ever-changing combinations demonstrating an extraordinary mastery of writing on the part of Handel, whilst at the same time absorbing the tri-dimensional and sensual expression of the vocal line. The framework of the counterpoint allows the same images to be represented with ever different nuances, colours and textures ending up in the relative minor key of D minor. The musical discourse created here encompasses light and shade, joy as well as omens of death advancing the same reminder of the transience of nature conveyed in the text that in the dawn the sunset is already present, in spring and in birth, death is already around the corner.

from notes by Bridget Cunningham © 2016


Handel: Handel in Italy, Vol. 2
Studio Master: SIGCD462Download onlyStudio Master FLAC & ALAC downloads available


Movement 1: Quel fior che all'alba ride
Track 18 on SIGCD462 [5'06] Download only
Movement 2: È'un fior la vita
Track 19 on SIGCD462 [2'40] Download only

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