Jan 23

[first performance: 23 January]


[Caustic catechizes Tangent, his promiscuous nephew.]

Caust.  What will drive me mad.  ’Sdeath! what is talent without the will and means to exert it?  ’Tis Newton without his telescope, or Handel without his organ.—Remember, this is your last, last warning!

Tang.  He’s certainly right.  That Handel was a great man; and tho’ bereft of one sense, how amply was another gratified!  For what can strike more gratefully on the heart, than hearing the honourable applause of an impartial public?

[…] Tho’ Handel was blind, how I envy him his sensations, when, seated before an enraptured audience, he thus began, and charmed all hearts—[(]shuts his eyes and plays on the table)  Oh, charming! bravo![1]




[Richard Brinsley Sheridan to George Colman the Younger, {1796}]


The Proprietors of D[rury].L[ane]. Theatre present their [36] Compliments to Mr. Coleman.  They have always been desirous to accommodate him by closing their Season much sooner than has been the Practice at the other Winter Theatre, but having been prevented this Year performing Oratorios, they cannot consistently with what is due to their Renters shut up their House till 200 Nights of Performance have been compleated—which will be on Wednesday the 15th. of June [...][2]




Jun 29

[Anna Seward to Mrs Gell, 29 June 1796.]


                  Not less contemptible is the twin-degeneracy you mention in the public taste for music.  Shakespeare and Handel no longer excite the transports of a London audience. […][3]




Nov 29

[Thomas Twining to Richard Twining, Colchester, 29 November 1796]


[…] I was very agreeably disappointed to find, that my cold seems to have taken no coot.

[“Perhaps a Handelism?” 2:800][4]





                  AN old Gentleman long since deceased, the friend of Handel, told Dr. [Philip] Hayes, the present Professor of Musick at Oxford, that Handel sent five hundred pounds one hard winter to the Bishop of London, to distribute to the poor of the metropolis.

                  Handel once heard that a Gentleman had said that his Oratorios should be performed on Salisbury Plain, the Choruses of them being so very loud.  He smiled at the idea, as having something of truth in it, and confessed that the Theatres then in London were too small for them.

For the following short Essay on Handel’s Music the COMPILER is indebted to the ingenious Mr. JACKSON of Exeter.

                  “HANDEL’s Music, particularly his Oratorios, being still annually and occasionally performed in London and elsewhere, it may not be incurious to enquire from what causes this constant repetition arises, and why the works of this Master have had a fate so very different from [468] that of contemporary Composers, the greatest part of which seems consigned to oblivion*.

[* “Some Songs of Greene, Arne, Howard, Carey, &c. some considerable works of the two first mentioned, together with Boyce’s Solomon and Church-Music, although not often produced in public, have ever been highly esteemed by the best judges, and are exceptions to the above remark.”]

                  “This enquiry will naturally lead to the speaking of general principles, so far as they are applicable to the present subject; to the state of Instrumental and Vocal Music; and to a comparison between Handel and other Composers of note which flourished at this period.  Nothing more being intended than a few miscellaneous observations set down just as they occur, method will not be attempted, and of course must be excused.

                  “As the Compositions which are the subject of the following remarks were produced in England, and set to English words, the mention of foreign Musicians and their works is excluded, as not appertaining to the subject, unless so connected with it as to render the mention indispensable.

                  “Music, in its common application, is considered merely as an entertainment: when bad, it [469] disgusts; when good[,] it creates sensations unknown from other sources; and if it reach the sublime, our feelings are more powerfully excited than from the utmost perfection that Poetry alone, or Painting, has yet attained.

                  “With the latter, Music cannot be connected; but when joined, or, as Milton phrases it, wedded with Poetry*, it reaches the highest pitch of excellence, and soars a height which, disjoined from its powerful ally, was impossible to be obtained.

[* “There is no necessity for poetical measure; prose is just as proper for sublime effects, as we find from passages in the Psalms and Prophets; but it must be prose produced by a poetical imagination on a grand subject.”]

                  “Before Handel, I cannot recollect any instance of this perfection.  Our best Vocal Music was in the Church, and our best Composers were Purcell, Wise, Weldon, and a little later, Croft, whose merit, as far as it reached, will be ever felt and acknowledged.

“Instrumental Music was perhaps universally barbarous until the time of Corelli, whose Compositions seemed to open a new world.  Even in these our timers, when Instrumental Music is so much improved, Corelli is still a favourite, and not only with old-fashioned [470] people.  The reason why he is so would carry me too far from my subject.  What Corelli did for Bow-Instruments, Handel did for the Harpsichord.  We acknowledge the improvements of the modern Symphonists, but we still relish a Concerto of Corelli; and no great Performer on the Harpsichord but sits down with pleasure to the Suites des Pieces pour le Clavecin*.

[* “This was at least a half Century before the invention of the Piano-forte.  The Harpsichord at this time comprized four octaves, from [music: C2] to [music: C6]; of course there is no note in these Lessons beyond that compass.  But some instruments at this time had what is called short octaves, and some Organs went down to G G, but not higher than C.  The scale was then extended to D—E, F, and G in alt, brought back to F, and continued from thence downwards to F F in the bass.  This extent was for more than thirty years judged sufficient for all musical purposes, but of late a different opinion has prevailed and we have added another fourth. [471]

“The progress of Music for the Harpsichord from Handel’s first foundation, makes no improper addition to this Note.

“What was done for many years was chiefly in his style.  The succeeding Composers for this instrument which were original and new, as I can recollect, were Scarlatti, who invented some scattering passages and new applications.  Alberti, who first introduced divisions of the chord in the bass to a singing part in the treble.  Paradies composed for the double Harpsichord, and produced effects from the judicious use of the two rows of keys.  His Sonatas were never imitated, which is extraordinary, as they have been ever much approved.  Schobert, who composed about the same time that the German symphony was first noticed, endeavoured to produce the effect of that species of composition on the Harpsichord or Piano-forte, which latter instrument now began to be in vogue.  In this he has been successfully imitated by Composers of all nations.  The present style of performance and composition perhaps originated with Clementi.

“The Piano-forte has very justly superseded the Harpsichord, which is more and more disused.”]

                  “The Music for the Stage was thoroughly wretched, and continued so until the little [471] musical entertainments of Carey and the Beggar’s Opera, which made their appearance long after the time of Handel’s first residence in England.  Such was the state of our Music at the beginning of this Century, and long after.

                  “What are called Handel’s Hautbois Concertos, have so much Subject, real Air, and solid [472] Composition, that they always are heard with the greatest pleasure, and are undoubtedly the best things of their class.  I believe they were the first attempt to unite Wind-Instruments with Violins, which union was long reprobated in Italy.

                  “The Operas of Handel are confessedly superior to all preceding and contemporary ones.  His Oratorios, though called by a well-known name, may be justly esteemed original, both in design and execution.  These last being the pieces which are so frequently performed, I will with the utmost impartiality consider their merits and defects, and how far they deserve their continued approbation.

                  “Any works of a fashionable Composer, especially if exhibited by performers we are in the habit of applauding, will take a present hold on our attention, to the exclusion of works of superior merit not possessing the same advantages; but when they have had their day, they set to rise no more.  On the contrary, those Compositions which depend on their own intrinsic merit, may make their was slowly, or perhaps, by being cut off from a possibility of taking the first step, may never get forward at all; yet, if once they are presented to the Public, and their effect felt and understood, they are always heard with new [473] pleasure, and claim an equal immortality with Poetry and Painting.  Let us consider what are the essentials of good Music, and how far Handel’s Compositions possess them.

                  “The first essential (and without which all others are of no consequence) is what in popular music is called Tune; in more refined, is denominated Air; and in the superior class of composition, Subject*.  Music having this property alone, is entitled to a long existence, and possesses it.  The next essential is Harmony, the strongest ally by which Air can be assisted but which receives from Air more consequence than it communicates. To these must be added Expression, giving a Grace to the former; and Facility, which has the effect of immediate emanation, and, as the term imports, seems to accomplish with ease what from its apparent difficulty should be rather sought for than found. [474]

[* In a few remarks published some time since on this subject, unfortunately I was led to mention Tune in its collective sense.  My Critic in a monthly publication understanding it only in its popular application, convicted me of much ignorance, and in course condemned me to as much punishment as his scourge could inflict.  Profiting by my correction, I am now careful to divide properly, and hope (for this time at least) to escape misrepresentation.”]

                  “If words are to be connected with Music, they ought like that to be light and airy for Tune, passionate for Air, and both passionate and sublime for Subject; but in every case (except particular applications) must appeal to the heart.  The Accent and Emphasis must be expressed, and whatever effect the reading of the words is to produce, must be increased by the Music.

                  “There are but few examples of Handel’s possessing Tune in the popular sense.  He seldom is without Air in its more refined application, and most commonly has an exuberance of Subject for greater purposes.  His Harmony is in general well-chosen and full; his Expression sometimes faulty, but frequently just; and his Facility great from so much practice, sinking now and then to carelessness.

                  “In consequence of this general character, we find no Songs of his in the style of Carey’s Tunes and the real English Ballad.  Most of his Oratorio and Opera Songs have Air in them, some very fine.  His Chorusses are as yet unrivalled, and those from the broad base on which his fame is built.

                  “They posses Subject and Contrivance, frequently Expression, and most commonly Facility, altogether producing a superior effect to any other Chorusses yet known to the Public.  Their [475] great number and variety shew his invention, that strong criterion of genius.  It will be found to hold true as a general remark, that where the words are most sublime, the Composition has most Subject and Expression; and this ought to be considered by those who hold words of no consequence: If they have no other than exalting the fancy of the Composer (which effect they certainly produce), we should for the sake of the Music, independently considered, make choice of works [?words] of imagination.

                  “Besides the advantages of superior genius and knowledge, Handel possessed another, without which his genius and knowledge might have remained for ever unknown.  He had an opportunity of presenting his works to the Public performed by the best Band of the times, and of repeating his pieces until they were understood, and their superior merit felt.  By these means they were impressed upon the mind, and at last became so congenial to our feelings, as almost to exclude the possibility of other Music being performed—but I have touched on this subject elsewhere*.

[* The Present State of Music in 1790.”]

                  “Handel’s Music, then, having the great essentials of Genius, Skill, and Facility, and being at first performed often enough to have its [476] intention comprehended, and its merit felt and acknowledged, it necessarily keeps possession of the public favour, and its annual performance is expected with pleasure, and always considered as an entertainment of a superior kind.

                  “After this unequivocal and heart-felt praise, I may venture to point out what appear to be defects in this great Musician.

                  “The first thing that an enlightened modern Composer would notice, is an inattention to the fort of the different Instruments, more particularly apparent in the parts for Trumpets and other Wind-Instruments, which in general lie aukward [sic] and unkindly.  At the time we acknowledge this, we should remark, that in those days such niceties did not exist, for they are some of the real improvements of modern music.  Handel’s Concertos and Chorusses, without the least alteration of Harmony or Melody in the Subject (as every real Musician well knows) might be improved in this point, and produce a very superior and encreased effect.[5]




(b) It does not appear that this Tragedy [i.e. Giustino] was ever performed as an Opera.  The drama of the same name, set by Handel and brought out in 1737, is founded on a very different historical fact. [1:7]


[Referring to the première of Gli Orti Esperidi (The Gardens of the Hesperides), an early work of Metastasio from 1721, set to music by Porpora:] The principal [26] female singer was the ROMANINA, of whom we shall have frequent occasion to speak hereafter.  Those of the other four singers employed, were in England during Handel’s Opera Regency: Pinacci, Pasi, and La Merighi. [1:25–26]


(a) Annibali, whose voice was a contralto, and who performed the part of Atiilio, was in England, and sung in Handel’s Operas, at Covent Garden, in 1736-& 7. [1:329]


High birth most assuredly does not imply or preclude genius.  The soul may be elevated by education and example; but even these cannot fertilize a barren soil.  The gifts of nature are common to every class of human beings.  How many great talents have been brought to light by mere accident!  How many have burst out, in spite of parental discouragement and opposition!  The great musician, Handel, was intended for the law; and our ingenious countryman, Dr. Arne, served a clerkship to an attorney. [...] [3:296]


Novelty is wanting at present, both to Poetry and Music; but the time, or at least the daring and inventive genius, is not yet arrived for either.  The Oratorios of Handel, sublime as are the chorusses and many of the songs, from having been so often heard, have tired the public ear, and yet no other attempts are listened to with patience.  It is so with opera airs and playhouse songs: eternal imitation and repetition of what we have heard a thousand and a thousand times, renders our musical theatres a confused and ill-bred conversazione, more than an interesting performance of poetry and music (x).


(x) This complaint is confined to the generality of Vocal Music.  The new Symphonies of HAYDN preclude all conversation, by their never-failing novelty, and the inexhaustible fertility of his invention.  Almost all other music is little more than a Canto, which can never grapple with attention. [3:327]


It seems necessary here to take some notice of the mutual complaints of Metastasio himself, and his learned friend Mattei, of the neglect of Poetry and abuse of Execution on the Opera Stage.

                  It is natural and just that poets should wish to simplify Dramatic Music.  But perhaps it would not be for the interest, even of the words, to strip it of all ornaments and opportunities of displaying a fine voice and superior vocal abilities.  Some latitude may surely be given to the composer and performer in the airs, when it is considered that the whole business of the Drama, in carrying on the plot and developing characters in Metastasio’s Operas, is transacted in the Recitatives, and that the airs are merely recapitulations of each scene, and illustrations of the principal incident or affection on which it is founded.  I would willingly sacrifice all superfluous ornaments and science [332] in the composition of Musical Dramas, out of respect to the POETRY; but I cannot join in the contempt which lyric poets put upon instrumental music in general.  Good singing is infinitely more uncommon than good playing; and though the most pleasing power an instrument can possess, is that of imitating the voice, yet both stringed and wind instruments of the first class have their peculiar qualities both of expression and execution.  The productions of Corelli, Geminiani, Handel, and Tartini, for violins, long gave lovers of music infinite delight, when well executed, without the assistance of the voice; and since their reign, the productions of Stamitz, Bach, Abel, Boccherini, Haydn, Vanhal, Pleyel, &c. have so much merit of composition, and effect in performance, that they not only make us forget our cares, but all the enchantments of vocal music. [3:331–32]


(c) It does not appear that Signor Mattei wishes to have sacred dramas performed in action; that would be a revival of Mysteries and Moralities.  Oratorios have long been performed in several churches at Rome every Sunday evening, in the still manner of HANDEL’s Oratorios in England, but to a light and feeble music, and executed by an inferior band. [3:335][6]




The words sublime and beautiful have not the same etymological reference to any one visible art, and therefore are applied to objects of the other senses: sublime indeed, in the language from which it is taken, and in its plain sense, means high, and therefore, perhaps, in strictness, should relate to objects of sight only; yet we no more scruple to call one of Handel’s chorusses sublime, Corelli’s famous pastorale beautiful; but should any person simply, and without any qualifying expressions, call a capricious movement of Scarlatti or Haydn picturesque, he would, with great reason, be laughed at, for it is not a term applied to sounds; yet [56] such a movement, from its sudden, unexpected, and abrupt transitions,—from a certain playful wildness of character, and an appearance of irregularity, is no less analogous to similar scenery in nature, than the concerto, or the chorus, to what is grand, or beautiful to the eye.

There is, indeed, a general harmony and correspondence in all our sensations when they arise from similar causes, though they affect us by means of different senses; and these causes (as Mr. Burke has admirably explained) can never be so clearly ascertained when we confine our observations to one sense only.[7]




Unknown t’ himself struts JOHN of SANDHILL,


And his old dame---no more plain SARAH---

A thousand airs proclaim her MARA.[8]




Mr. BEARD was bred up in the King’s Chapel, and was one of the singers in the Duke of Chandos [86] Chapel at Cannons, where he performed in Esther, an Oratorio, composed by Mr. HANDEL.[9]



[1] Thomas Morton, The Way to Get Married (London: T. N. Longman, 1796), 51.

[2] The Letters of Richard Brinsley Sheridan, edited by Cecil Price, 3 vols. (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1966), 2:35–36.

[3] Letters of Anna Seward: written between the Years 1784 and 1807, 6 vols. (Edinburgh: A. Constable, 1811), 4:222.

[4] A Selection of Thomas Twining’s Letters, 1734–1804: The Record of a Tranquil Life, edited by Ralph S. Walker, 2 vols. (Lewiston/Queenston/Lampeter: The Edwin Mellen Press, 1991), 2:478.

[5] [William Seward], Anecdotes of Some Distinguished Persons, chiefly of the Present and Two Preceding Centuries, second edition, 4 vols. (London: 1796), 4:467–76.

[6] Charles Burney, Memoirs of the Life and Writings of the Abate Metastasio.  In which are Incorporated, Translations of His Principal Letters, 3vols. (London: G. G. and J. Robinson, 1796).

[7] Uvedale Price, An Essay on the Picturesque, as compared with the Sublime and the Beautiful; and, on The Use of Studying Pictures, for the Purpose of Improving Real Landscape, new edition with additions (London: J. Robson, 1796), 55–56.

[8] [Thomas Powell], Daphne, a Poem (London: [?], 1796), 12.

[9] [Walley Chamberlain Oulton], The History of the Theatres of London, 2 vols. (London: Martin and Baines, 1796), 2:85–86.