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Beauty and Pleasure, Time and Disillusion


WILFRID MELLERS examines Handel's oratorio
'Il Trionfo del Tempo e della Verità'

Handel is, with Mozart, the supreme humanist in European music, for all his work was dedicated to the god-like potential latent in every man and woman, given rational enlightenment and a decent respect for other people, as well as fanatical regard for ourselves.

His morality is ethical rather than religious, since it turns on how to live the Good Life that allies personal fulfillment with communal responsibility. He seems to have been aware of this from adolescence: certainly from the time when, in his early twenties, he lived and worked in Rome under the patronage of a bevy of cardinals who admired his precocious talents. Born in Germany, trained in Italy, nurturer of the theatrical arts, and soon established professionally in England, he was the quintessential European, celebrating human life here and now: which is why he was fundamentally an opera composer who told sung stories about human creatures in their personal, social, and political relationships.

Handel: Il Trionfo del Tempo e della Verita. Copyright (c) 2000 HNH International Ltd.The technical virtuosity of his music, even whilst he was still a teenager, is attested by his astonishing setting of the Dixit Dominus, which became famous, and slightly infamous, for the sheer physical energy that made it an early 18th century Rite of Spring. It's probably not fortuitous that in the same year (1707) Handel embarked on a large-scale oratorio describing Il Trionfo del Tempo e della Verità: for although this piece is cast as a dialogue between abstract personnifications of Beauty and Pleasure, Time and Disillusion, these abstractions have the immediate 'presence' of operatic characters in ever-shifting guises. Indeed, they make a quasi-philosophical statement of what all Handel's theatre music is 'about': namely, the simple but sublime paradox that our laudable courage must always be frustrated by our impermanence since willy-nilly, however god-like our pretentions, we grow old and die.

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Copyright © 18 May 2000 Wilfrid Mellers, York, UK







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