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<<  -- 2 --  Robert Anderson    CLASSICAL ALLUSIONS

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Both the Milton poems delight in classical allusion, and we are instantly face-to-face with Cerberus, the three-headed dog of hell. But L'allegro abounds in numbers as entrancing as the tenor aria and chorus 'Haste thee, nymph, and bring with thee'. Handel makes delicious use of a carillon in the soprano aria 'Or let the merry bells ring round'. Jennens will not allow the cheerful man Milton's 'Spicy Nut-brown Ale', when young and old come out to play at the end of Part 1, but Handel packs them off to bed most tenderly.

In part 2 Jennens has Milton abandon the countryside for urban life. Handel marshals trumpets and drums, and the man of good cheer holds forth to the effect that 'Populous cities please me then', while the chorus relishes 'the busy hum of men'. It might be thought that L'allegro has all the best tunes. By no means. There is incomparable music for Il penseroso too, but nothing is finer than its final chorus, to the words 'These pleasures, Melancholy give'. At the premiere Handel gave an organ extemporisation on the fugal subject taken up by the choir. The same procedure is followed here, but whether to full Handelian effect we shall never know. The chorus is among Handel's grandest. In Part 3 Handel starts with the bass soloist as protagonist for moderation; but Jennens's main inspiration was to give Handel his one opportunity for a soprano/tenor duet to fine words partly filched from Shakespeare's Tempest, 'As steals the morn upon the night'. Thus Jennens reconciles joys that delude not with a melancholy by no means loathed.

 

Copyright © 8 October 2000 Robert Anderson, London, UK

 

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