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He was, by this time, an experienced stage performer and was probably substantially trained by Handel. He had taken part in the 1736 revival of Alcina, Giustino in 1737 (singing the significant role of La Fortuna), Faramondo in 1738 (the small role of Childerico) and Israel in Egypt in 1739. In this latter he probably sang as an alto. In fact, what is remarkable is that he kept on singing throughout his voice change. We can presume that his voice dropped in or around 1738 as his role of Childerico is a small one. But there is some confusion about what exactly what voice Savage sang; soprano, alto, tenor and bass parts are all ascribed to him. In all probability he sang alto from 1735 to 1739 and then descended to bass and, as we have seen, passing through the tenor register briefly. He was undoubtedly versatile as Childerico is a high alto part, but Savage also sang the tenor part in the final ensemble.

Savage continued to sing for Handel, as a bass including singing Manoa in the first performance of Samson in 1743 and in the first London performances of Messiah that same year. After the date he does not seem to have sung for Handel again though he could be regarded as a friend. In 1744 he became a Gentleman of the Chapel Royal and in 1748 the Master of the Choristers at St Paul's Cathedral. He wrote anthems and services as well as the catches and rounds which were the fruits of his membership of the Gentleman's Catch Club and the Beefsteak Club. Perhaps his most curious composition is the Hallelujah of 1770 which was 'written in imitation of the singing of the Jews Synagogue on Dukes Place'.

The historian Charles Burney, who was six years younger than Savage, described his adult voice as 'powerful and not unpleasant'. So Savage would seem to be one of that unfortunate breed of outstanding trebles who develop into merely adequate adult singers. But his connection with Handel has two interesting codas.

In 1757 his 'boy' sang the soprano part in Messiah at the Foundling Hospital performance. 'Mr Savage's celebrated boy' is also referred to as appearing in performances of Esther and L'Allegro in Oxford; so it looks as if Savage was succeeded by his equally talented son.

On his death, in 1789 Savage left a significant collection of Handel manuscripts to his pupil RJ Stevens. Stevens went on to leave them to the Royal Academy on his death in 1837. The volumes are principally presentation manuscripts; they unfortunately do not seem to be Savage's working copies, so we must put aside all ideas of pencilled marginalia in a Messiah, 'Mr Handel said'. (When he performed the bass solos in Messiah at the foundling Hospital, Savage probably used one of the standard chorus copies.) But bound into the group is the manuscript of the Gloria setting which was recently re-attributed to Handel.

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Copyright © 28 December 2003 Robert Hugill, London UK


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