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The words are adapted from the epilogue of John Milton’s Maske, in which the attendant spirit relishes the idylls of the heavenly realm to which he is to return. This Maske was presented at Ludlow Castle (1634) and was later adapted by John Dalton in the early eighteenth century to become known as Comus, set to music by Thomas Arne.
In 1745, and at the age of 60, Handel was invited to spend his summer recuperating from poor health at the country seat of the Earl of Gainsborough at Exton in Rutland. This invitation may have come through Lady Gainsborough, a sister of the Earl of Shaftesbury, one of Handel’s keenest supporters. For the pleasure of other guests, the family decided to put on an open air performance of Arne’s Comus and invited Handel to write a new musical epilogue of three songs with a chorus at the end of each.
The original performers of Handel’s freshly composed Comus were presumably Gainsborough singing bass and his daughters singing the soprano arias. Not long after this, Handel reused much of this music for his Occasional Oratorio.
The Arcadian idylls described in John Milton’s works inspired Tyers’s vision for Vauxhall Gardens with arched walks, sweet music, revelry and feast. The group chorus singing in Handel’s Comus, ‘Happy, happy, happy plains’, may well have ended an evening’s concert at Vauxhall Gardens.
from notes by Bridget Cunningham © 2017