Weekly Playlist #4: Working from Home with Handel’s Contemporaries
The next in our series of weekly playlists. This time we’re looking at some of the other Baroque composers with a direct connection to Handel.
Handel certainly did not compose in a bubble. He was surrounded by the work of other musicians and composers from all over Europe and beyond during his lifetime. Vice versa his music had an unparalleled influence on the other composers of the era.
In fact accusations of plagiarism against Handel were common both during his lifetime and by many music scholars since. We prefer to go along with Vincent Novello’s interpretation – that Handel, metaphorically speaking, “picked up a pebble and turned it to a diamond”.
You can listen to our selection of music by Handel’s contemporaries below or over on our Spotify account.
1. Henry Purcell
Henry Purcell, (1659-1695), was an English composer mainly remembered for his more than 100 songs; a tragic opera, Dido and Aeneas; and his incidental music to a version of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream called The Fairy Queen. Purcell, the most important English composer of his time, composed music covering a wide field: the church, the stage, the court, and private entertainment. Purcell had an alertness of mind and individual inventiveness that marked him as the most original English composer of his time, as well as one of the most original in Europe.
The taste for continental culture – brought on by the many wealthy, well-travelled young men or ‘Grand Tourists’ – convinced many artists and musicians, including Handel, to seek their fortune in Britain. This situation changed during the 1730s as many called for a revival of the English language in music. In 1732, Aaron Hill pleaded with Handel for a return to the spirit of Purcell as he asked him to “deliver us from our Italian bondage”. The native music tradition of which Henry Purcell was a major proponent once again became popular. Handel sensed this change and although he continued with Italian opera throughout the 1730s he started to introduce English oratorio and oratorio-type works into his programme. Any lingering doubt appears to have been finally resolved during his highly successful Dublin visit. On Handel’s return, the production of music set to English text continued in earnest.
Purcell’s Te Deum was performed every year at St Paul’s Cathedral from 1694, when it was composed, until 1712, after which it was performed alternately with Handel’s piece on the same theme before being replaced entirely by Handel. This clearly showed the musical mantle that in many ways Handel inherited from Purcell.
2. Georg Phillip Telemann
Georg Philipp Telemann, (1681-1767), was a German composer of the late Baroque period, who wrote both sacred and secular music but was most admired for his church compositions, which ranged from small cantatas to large-scale works for soloists, chorus, and orchestra. Telemann was a lifelong friend of Handel’s from their student years and in 1754 it is recorded that Handel sent his old friend a crate of exotic flowers. Although somewhat forgotten now, Telemann was revered during his lifetime. Even in the company of Handel and Bach the late-eighteenth century critic and poet Schubart regarded him as ‘the greatest figure in musical history’.
3. Elisabeth-Claude Jacquet de la Guerre
Elisabeth Jacquet de la Guerre (1665-1729), was a French composer, harpsichordist, and organist, who was the first woman to compose an opera in France.
Elisabeth Jacquet was born into a family of artisans that included both musicians and instrument builders. She emerged as a musical prodigy and made her debut as a singer and harpsichordist at the court of Louis XIV. At about age 15 she was taken into the court as a musician and placed under the care of the king’s mistress, Madame de Montespan. Jacquet left the regular service of the court in 1684 and that year married Marin de la Guerre, an accomplished Parisian harpsichordist, organist, music teacher, and composer from a well-established family of professional musicians. The fact that she dedicated nearly all of her published works to the king, however, indicates that she retained connections to the royal circle throughout her career.
4. Thomas Arne
Thomas Augustine Arne, (1710-1778), was an English composer, chiefly of dramatic music and song. Arne was one of the chief movers against Italian opera in the mid-18th century with his patriotic masque, Alfred (1740) and its rousing finale, Rule Britannia. Whilst many of Handel’s contemporaries accepted his superiority once he applied himself to the English form, Arne continued to consider him a ‘tyrant’. Sir John Hawkins described Arne as having ‘always regarded Handel as a tyrant and usurper, against whom he frequently rebelled’.
5. William Croft
William Croft, (1678-1727), was an English organist and composer of church music in the Baroque style.
Educated under John Blow, he was organist of St. Anne’s, Soho (1700–12), of the Chapel Royal from 1707, and of Westminster Abbey from 1708. In 1700 he collaborated with Blow, Jeremiah Clarke, Francis Piggott, and John Barrett in a Choice Collection of Ayres for the Harpsichord or Spinnet. His Musica sacra (1724) contains 30 anthems and a setting of the Church of England burial service that is still in use. He also wrote incidental music and works for violin, voice, and harpsichord.
Both William Croft and Handel are buried at Westminster Abbey the place where so much of both their compositions were performed during their lifetimes.
6. François Couperin
François Couperin (1668 – 1733) was a French composer, organist and harpsichordist. He was known as Couperin le Grand (“Couperin the Great”) to distinguish him from the other members of the musically talented Couperin family. After the death of his father in 1679 when Couperin was aged 11, he began to be prepped to take over his father’s former position as organist at the Church of Saint-Gervais. He went on to publish a book ‘The Art of Harpsichord Playing’, at least one collection of organ music and four volumes of harpsichord music, in 1713, 1717, 1722 and 1730. Couperin was admired by Bach, Ravel and Brahms amongst others. Many of Couperin’s keyboard pieces have descriptive and picturesque titles, such as ‘The Little Dairymaids of Bagnolet’ from Pieces de Clavecin III, 17th Ordre in E Minor.
7. Jean-Philippe Rameau
Jean-Philippe Rameau (1683 – 1764) was, alongside Couperin, considered to be one of the leading French composers for the harpsichord of his time as well as becoming a prominent composer of French Opera in his later life. Rameau is also well-known as a music theorist and although little is known of his early years, he won fame in the 1720s for his publication the ‘Treatise on Harmony’. Divided into four books, the Treatise describes music and how to write it based on the tonal system used today in classical music. It uses the modern major and minor keys to teach readers what to do to achieve good sounding music based on the 12 tone music scale. Rameau’s operatic work was at first considered to be revolutionary due to his departure from the established composition style of his predecessor Jean-Baptiste Lully. However the tide changed and he was later accepted as a master of his trade. Perhaps similarly to Handel, Rameau was somewhat misunderstood as a person and his enemies were quick to seize on his supposed miserliness and lack of fashion sense. What we can be certain of is his technical musical prowess, which also like Handel, inspired and influenced many later composers.
8. Arcangelo Correlli
We now take a break from French composers to visit Italy, and the work of Arcangelo Correlli (1653 – 1713), a Baroque composer and violinist. His music was key in the development of the modern genres of sonata and concerto and in establishing the pre-eminence of the violin. Similarly to Rameau, very little is clear of Correlli’s childhood and formative musical education. What does seem to be factual is that he arrived to live in Bologna, then a centre of music, in around 1670 and he appears to have joined the Accademia Filarmonico of Bologna at the young age of 17. He moved to Rome around five years later and further established himself as a popular violinist-composer and teacher. Correlli influenced many violinists and musicians of the Baroque era, including Bach, and Handel. Handel’s Opus 6 Concerto Grossi take Corelli’s own older Opus 6 Concerti as models, rather than the later three-movement Venetian concerto of Antonio Vivaldi favoured by Bach.
9. Domenico Scarlatti
Domenico Scarlatti (1685 – 1757) was born in the same year as Handel, into a large family in Naples which was then under Spanish rule. He was the son of Alessandro Scarlatti, a renowned composer, and brother of the musician Pietro Scarlatti. Although he is classified primarily as a Baroque composer Scarlatti’s work was influential in the development of the classical style and he was one of few Baroque composers to transition into this new period of music. Scarlatti was influenced by Iberian and folk music and Spanish guitar music due to his time spent in Portugal and Spain at the royal courts of Lisbon and Madrid, where he spent the last 25 years of his life. Scarlatti was a prolific composer who commanded a great deal of respect from his peers and later musicians. It is thought that he encountered Handel whilst at the palace of Cardinal Pietro Ottoboni, also frequented by Correlli, who held musical concerts every Monday known as the academies. Scarlatti and Handel were said to have been compared in skill, with the former judged superior on the harpsichord but inferior on the organ.
10. JS Bach
Johann Sebastian Bach (1685 – 1750) was also born in the same year as Handel, into a large and musical German family. He would have begun his musical education as a young child, and after being orphaned at the age of 10 went to live with his eldest brother, Johann Christoph who was then working as organist. He received a thorough education and went on to hold musical positions in the court of Augustus, Elector of Saxony and also composed music for the Lutheran churches of Leipzig from 1723 onwards. Bach is considered to be one of the greatest composers all time and is perhaps most well-known for his instrumental compositions, such as the Brandenburg Concertos and the Goldberg Variations. Bach and Handel were born just 80 miles apart from each other but it is not thought that they ever met. This was not for want of trying though; Bach was said to have been in Halle in 1719 at the same time that Handel was visiting his home city. Bach attempted to contact Handel but unfortunately he had already left by that point and the pair did not get the chance to meet again. Similarly to Handel, Bach suffered complications with his vision but carried on working until his eyesight failed him.
Listen to our one-hour selection below: