On the 18th November 1741, George Frideric Handel arrived in Ireland to work in the city of Dublin, where he enjoyed a creative sojourn that lasted nearly nine months until his return to Brook Street, London, on 13 August 1742.
During his time in Dublin, Handel worked with many of the city’s local singers, actors and musicians from the two cathedrals; and also artists from England who sang in his concerts at the New Music Hall on Dublin’s Fishamble Street.
In the eighteenth century, Dublin was a thriving musical city and desirable a place to live for people of wealth, fashionable in every way, and due to the patronage of the arts by the colonial Protestant governing class. By 1750, Dublin was regarded as the second largest city in the British Isles after London and eleventh on the list of European cities in size, with music firmly established as an integral part of the daily and social hierarchy. Yet, despite the Kingdom of Ireland having an independent parliament, it was controlled by both the English Parliament and via local governance through members of the protestant established church known as the Protestant Ascendancy. Their domination infiltrated Ireland socially, economically and politically.
The post-Williamite period (after William III won the Battle of the Boyne, 1690) in Ireland saw the creation of a system of estates leading to a rural landscape of demesnes, farms and fields. Agriculture was reorganized on a fully commercial basis and with a rapidly developing market economy came improvements in trade and communication. Against these endeavors, nature dealt a savage blow with the Great Frost of 1739–41, leading to marked declines in harvests, food riots and the death of some 400,000 Irish people. Poverty relief schemes were initiated, and this resulted in the charity concerts in Dublin becoming hugely significant, marrying social morality, concern, conscience, fashionable living and an opportunity to be ‘seen’.
According to records, Handel’s music was already popular in Dublin even before he arrived, as much of his music was already being performed, including several stage performances of Acis and Galatea.
Handel was 56 years old when he was invited to Dublin at the request of the
third Duke of Devonshire, William Cavendish, Viceroy and Lord Lieutenant of Ireland. Horace Walpole described William Cavendish and his son as fashionable models of goodness. Despite different opinions on his character, William expended his private revenue not just on splendid living but also on public utility. It was useful for Dublin to have acquired Cavendish as one of the leading masters of the age, and Cavendish & Handel were seen by some as a great asset to the numerous charitable enterprises which characterized the life of the city. William Cavendish succeeded the Duke of Dorset who had been depicted as benign and sensible. Therefore William was seen as one of the most magnificent Viceroys of this kingdom since the time of the great Duke of Ormonde, which may have attracted Handel to Dublin. Handel would also have already known Johann Sigismund Kusser, who was Master of the State Music in Ireland until 1727, and Matthew Dubourg, who took over his post in Dublin.
Despite being known as a violinist rather than a composer, Dubourg had to write the royal birthday ode for the Lord Lieutenant at the castle and later played the violin for Handel and led the orchestra. Francesco Geminiani, the contemporary composer and associate of Handel, also worked in Dublin where he had a great music room in Spring Gardens off Dame Street. Due to his Catholicism, he had been passed over as Master of the State Music, the position instead going to Matthew Dubourg.
The musical life in Dublin itself in the eighteenth century was thriving. The Neal(e) family publishing business (known as Neal’s, Neill’s, or O’Neill’s) was located in Christ Church Yard from where the musical family, John Neal and his son William, were the first principal music publishers and music sellers in Dublin. They were involved in the important musical matters of their day, including the management of entertainments and ridottos in the city. William Neal, who, as treasurer of the Charitable Musical Society was responsible for building the Music Hall on Fishamble Street, also known as Neal’s Musick Hall where Handel put on several concerts.
This Music Hall was still a very new concept in the eighteenth century, and as such attracted the prosperous society of Dublin. These concerts established themselves in the social calendar as a venue for the influential to meet for conversation and debate.
For a period, Handel advertised tickets for certain concerts from his lodgings at a house at the Abbey Street corner of Liffey Street in Dublin, where he not only wrote and performed music, but also organized and promoted performances. He gave many successful performances of his works such as Esther, L’Allegro, Il Penseroso ed Il Moderato and a splendid premiere of Messiah at Fishamble Street…with the front page of the Word Book stating ‘...and without Controversy, Great is the mystery of Godliness…’. The Dublin Journal reported on Messiah:
Words are wanting to express the exquisite Delight it afforded
to the admiring crouded audience. The Sublime, the Grand and
the Tender, adapted to the most elevated, majestic and moving
Words, conspired to transport and charm the ravished Heart and Ear.
During Handel’s visit and throughout the eighteenth century there were several other popular concert venues as well as the new hall on Fishamble Street. Several charitable concerts were held at St. Andrew’s Round Church, including ones organized by Mercer’s Hospital, to raise money for the work of the hospital. In 1741 Handel was asked to play the organ at St. Andrew’s for the benefit of Mercer’s Hospital. Although it is not known if he accepted their request, the hospital benefited financially from the success of Messiah. Dr Mosse was the founder of Dublin’s Rotunda Hospital and was the pioneer of corporate entertainment; his popular benefit concerts helped to raise money in a city where there was much poverty and wretchedness.
Several actors and musicians travelled to Ireland for work including David Garrick, Dr Thomas Arne, Susannah Cibber (Arne’s sister), Peg Woffington, Signora Barberini, Mrs Arne, Mrs Avolio and Mrs Cibber, the great tragic actress who fled to Dublin to escape marital scandal and performed in the première of Handel’s Messiah. With the two cathedrals, St. Patrick’s and Christ Church, Dublin was a thriving musical city.
On Handel’s return to Brook Street in London in August 1742 his fame and his music continued to spread throughout Ireland. This was documented in several newspapers and records in Dublin throughout the eighteenth century. The Irish nation who had welcomed Handel expected him to return, but he did not visit Ireland again, possibly due to a heavy workload, renewed success and later ill health. In London Handel gradually found his audience appreciated him again.
During Handel’s absence from London, Alexander Pope, an avid supporter of Handel published his fourth book of The Dunciad for Jonathan Swift, in which Pope directs a battery of satire against Handel’s enemies. The Dunciad has very few heroes as most characters are arch-dunces. The poem describes the fluttering form or personification of the Italian opera as the Goddess Dulness and the progress of her chosen agents as they bring decay, imbecility and tastelessness to the kingdom of Great Britain. Handel stands as a bold historical obtrusion in the allegorical speech of the prostitute muse Opera, who sees Handel as a threat to her influence over the arts in Dulness’s new order. After mimicking the pretty Italian singers and with a pathetic plea for the “chromatic tortures” of the opera, it concludes with the following lines:
O Cara! Cara! Silence all that train:
Joy to great Chaos! Let Division reign:
Chromatic tortures soon shall drive them hence…
But soon, ah soon, Rebellion will commence,
If Music meanly borrows aid from Sense:
Strong in new arms, lo! Giant Handel stands,
Like bold Briaereus, with a hundred hands;
To stir, to rouse, to shake the soul, he comes,
And Jove’s own thunders follow Mars’s drums.
Arrest him, Empress, or you sleep no more!
She heard, and drove him to th’ Hibernian shore.
Pope explained his thoughts on this and referred to the grand orchestral effects that were characteristic of Handel’s music:
Mr. Handel had introduced a great number of Hands, and more
variety of Instruments into the Orchestra and employed even
Drums and Cannon to make a fuller Chorus, which prov’d too
manly for the fine Gentlemen of his age, that he was obliged
to remove his Music into Ireland.
The invitation of William Cavendish and the fact that Handel already knew other musicians working in, or connected to the city, such as Kusser, Geminiani and Dubourg and had previous contact and conversation with the three charities involved with the performances, the Relief of the Prisoners, Support of Mercer’s Hospital and of the Charitable Infirmary on the Inn’s Quay would have established his links to Ireland and attracted him to Dublin. Handel’s decision to work in Ireland appears to have proved both sensible and advantageous considering how business was at low ebb for him in London, due to the earlier backlash against Italian opera and his rivalry with other musicians such as Giovanni Bononcini. Handel had given up a business in 1741 as a concert promoter and lost a fortune and performances such as The Beggars Opera of 1728 by John Gay, had added to the demise of Italian opera. Instead of the grand music and themes of opera, these ballad operas used familiar tunes, had characters that were ordinary people and were sung in English.
Some of the songs were by opera composers like Handel, but only the most popular of these were used so that the audience could hum along with the music and identify with the characters. They topically satirized politics, poverty and injustice, focusing on the theme of corruption at all levels of society.
Handel’s financial situation also suggests that he would have found it useful to go somewhere where his music was still commercially in demand, albeit behind the London trends. Oratorio had attracted a big following using the English language which adhered to current musical taste. The new Great Musick Hall in Dublin enabled people to hear this art form, as well as functioning as a performance arena in which Handel could work and try out his music.
Although Handel arrived in Ireland wearied from disappointments in London, his long visit was an important and influential event in his life, as well as for the musical, social and financial world of the changing Dublin. The Irish audiences’ response was a huge boost and their extremely warm welcome would have been a great comfort to the composer. When Alexander Pope asked the writer Dr John Arbuthnot for his opinion of Handel’s worth, he was reported to have replied:
Conceive the highest that you can of his abilities and they art
much beyond anything you can conceive.
The music on this compact disc reflects on Handel’s visit to Ireland. The keyboard arrangement of the Overture to Esther is from Handel’s manuscript in the British Library, written by Smith between 1737 and 1739, and is probably Handel’s own keyboard arrangement due to the extensive re-workings. Handel directed a performance of Esther in Dublin in 1742 at Fishamble Street with organ concertos.
During concerts in Ireland, other keyboard pieces and improvisations were inserted between parts of oratorios to keep the audience entertained. Handel’s 7th Suite in G Minor from his Eight Great Suites HWV 432 was written and published in 1720. This was many years before going to Ireland and showcases his fine keyboard writing and the texture of the instrumental lines, owing its character to its key. Charpentier referred to the key as severe and magnificent. The Ouverture sets the scene with orchestral colour, then an energetically dotted fugal section as a Presto before returning to the grandeur of the opening. After the highly theatrical opening, the Andante and Allegro are closely linked in style as a variation suite and are in two parts, one in each hand with canonic imitations. The Sarabande is more harmonic in texture and lyrical and is followed by a good humoured Gigue before the Passacaille. This is a set of variations over a chord sequence beginning in diatonic harmony becoming more chromaticized into diminished sevenths and is the operatic ‘chord of horror’ with two interlinked and rootless tritones which underpins the virtuosic figuration and magnificently increases to the end.
This recording of the 8th Suite in G Minor from The Suites of Lessons shows the influence of Scarlatti and includes three movements - Allemande, Sarabande and Gigue and is in the same key as Handel’s 7th Suite on this disc to comparatively reflect the majestic qualities of their music.
The Roseingrave family were well represented in Dublin as Daniel Roseingrave (d. 1727) was organist at St Patrick’s Cathedral and Christchurch Cathedral being succeeded by his son Ralph, (c.1695 - 1747) who was organist at the same time as Handel’s visit. The brother of Ralph, Thomas Roseingrave was so promising a musician and composer that the Dean and Chapter of St. Patrick's gave him a grant to study in Italy in 1709, where he became a friend of Domenico Scarlatti. After settling in London in 1717, Thomas popularized Scarlatti's music in England and later made a famous edition (1739) of 42 of his sonatas. Roseingrave was the first organist of the fashionable St George's, Hanover Square, from 1725 through to his retirement in 1737, and had an outstanding reputation as player and teacher.
As a composer, Thomas Roseingrave published both vocal (choral and solo) music and works for harpsichord and organ. His ‘First Set of Voluntaries and Fugues made on purpose for the Organ or Harpsichord....’ are, according to the scholar Peter Williams, the earliest collection of English organ fugues ever printed; they are original works that feature chromaticism and irregular phrases. He also composed six Italian cantatas of considerable interest as well as other works for organ, harpsichord and flute.
However, his successful career came to an end when he was denied permission to marry a young lady with whom he had become infatuated. Her father would not allow her to marry a musician. The disappointment affected Roseingrave psychologically and ‘render'd [him] incapable of playing the organ’ and his behaviour reportedly became irrational at times and he neglected his duties. Eventually he retired to Dublin. The Vestry of St George’s continued to pay him half his salary until his death in 1766 when he was buried in his family's grave in the churchyard of St Patrick's Cathedral, Dublin.
Twelve Familiar Sonatinas for Harpsichord or Pianoforte were written by Charles Thomas Carter and include many pieces such as the variations on Carillons de Dunquerque. Sonatina Op. 6 No. 10 in E Flat contains two movements - a lyrical first movement marked Andante Larghetto - and a humorous Rondo (marked allegretto). Charles Thomas Carter was born in Dublin c. 1735. He was, according to John O’Keefe’s Recollections, “brought up in the choir of Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin, and was organist of Werburgh Church…. any music he had never seen before, placed before him, upside down, he played it off on the harpsichord.”
Carter remained at St. Werburgh’s Church from c. Dec.1751 to Sept. 1769. In 1772 he settled in London and made a name as a composer of songs for the public gardens. He began to write for the stage including the librettos of a comic opera The Rival Candidates, Isaac Jackman’s two-act opera The Milesian and Pilon’s The Fair American. The first collection of his Vauxhall songs came out in 1773 and contains the well-known ‘O Nanny Wilt Thou Gang with Me’ and his final collection of ‘Songs, Duos, Trios, Catches, Glees and Canons’ were published in 1801. He died in London on Friday 12th October 1804. Afterwards a story appeared in the Gentleman’s Magazine of him having forged a Handel manuscript and having sold it for twenty guineas. This has been often repeated by his biographers despite little evidence.
Two bonus tracks at the end of this album feature arrangements by Bridget Cunningham of anonymous Irish folk tunes.
‘The Poor Irish Boy’ (‘Der arme Irische Junge’) is an arrangement of an Irish folk tune Handel wrote down in a manuscript on the same page as sketches of ‘He was Despised’ and the ‘Amen’ section from Messiah and may be seen in the Fitzwilliam Museum. This appears before a few other movements evidently intended for insertion in some work and at present unidentified. Underneath this tune he wrote the word ‘ballet’ and possibly was thinking of it as a dance tune. Anecdotal reports suggest that he wrote a piece in Ireland called ‘Forest Music’ with a first movement in common time, a cheerful reveille as if for hunters going out in the morning. The second movement blends the character of Irish music with Handel’s own style, interweaving national music, complimenting the nation who had welcomed him. However, no records have yet surfaced on this, although it is clear the musical affection seems to have been mutual. His admiration for Irish music is indicated in various reports and he wrote this Irish air in his manuscript which he most probably had heard in Dublin.
The last track is an arrangement for harpsichord and baroque harp of the tune Aileen Aroon or Eileen Aroon (Eib[h]lin A Ru[i]n) which means Eileen or Eveleen my secret love and has the same tune as the Scottish piece, Robin Adair. This is a very famous and beautiful traditional Irish air which was performed alongside Handel’s and other composers’ music in concerts in Dublin throughout the eighteenth century. One anecdote reports that ‘Handel apparently declared that he would willingly resign the fame he had acquired by his most celebrated compositions for the glory of being the inventor of the air “Aileen Aroon”’.
Virtuosic Keyboard arrangements from Handel’s Rinaldo by William Babell
William Babell or ‘Babel’(1689/1690 - 1723) the musician and composer received his musical training from Johann Christoph Pepusch and possibly George Frideric Handel - as well as his father, Charles Babell, who was a bassoonist in the Drury Lane orchestra. Babell was a royal violinist in the private band of George I and became involved with Lincoln’s Inn Theatre after the orchestra at the Haymarket Theatre was disbanded in 1717. From 1711, he also appeared as a harpsichordist, often performing with William Corbett, James Paisible and later Matthew Dubourg the violinist who led Handel’s orchestra in Dublin. From November 1718 until his death, he was organist of All Hallows, Bread Street, where he was succeeded by John Stanley.
He wrote original sonatas for flute, violin or oboe and continuo, and other pieces including concertos. His slow movements are considered a valuable insight into early 18th-century practices of ornamentation and extemporization. Babell wrote numerous keyboard arrangements of arias from the popular operas of his time. These became the basis of his musical reputation and were published in France, the Netherlands and Germany, as well as in England.
Handel's first opera for the London stage, Rinaldo, was first performed in 1711 and it was Handel who introduced opera seria - ‘serious opera’ - to London. The characters were all noble or mythological and the plots about political intrigue or history. The story was told in recitatives, while sung arias expressed the emotions.
There has been a lot of controversy over whether Rinaldo was the first Italian opera performed in Ireland and sung by the reigning castrato Nicolino Grimaldi (‘Nicolini’) in Dublin in 1711. It was suggested that this performance led to the popularity of Italian style opera in Ireland. It is clear Nicolini performed in Ireland, but unclear whether there was a performance of a full version of Rinaldo. Nicolini performed a benefit concert at the Blue Coat Hospital School and probably performed arias from Rinaldo which he had been recently performing in the title role at the premiere in London.
Handel's operas were vocally elaborate, with long arias designed to display the virtuosity of the castrato stars. His works were full of complicated arias that thrilled English audiences. Handel conducted Rinaldo from the harpsichord, and improvised instrumental interludes within that same bravura aria. Because of Rinaldo’s popularity, Babell saw this Opera as being a prime subject for virtuosic arrangements.
Babell’s style was strongly influenced by his close acquaintance with Handel. Babell's transcription of arias from Handel's opera Rinaldo includes 'Vo far guerra', which Handel meant as a showpiece for his harpsichord playing and is quite remarkable and florid in its virtuosity and more like a fantasy. The transcription was made from his memory of how Handel improvised in performances and a good deal is similar to Handel’s own obbligato part in the aria.
‘Laschia ch'io pianga’ is also taken from ‘Suits of the most celebrated lessons fitted to the Harpsicord or Spinnet’ published by Walsh and is an elaborately beautifully ornamented version of the aria and gives a good idea of performance practice at the time.
Johann Mattheson considered Babell surpassed Handel as an organist virtuoso, though he earned the displeasure of musical historian Charles Burney (1726 - 1814) who criticized Babell’s manner of playing arrangements and of his showiness:
...acquired great celebrity by wire-drawing the favourite songs of
the opera of Rinaldo, and others of the same period, into showy
and brilliant lessons, which by mere rapidity of finger in playing
single sounds, without the assistance of taste, expression, harmony
or modulation, enabled the performer to astonish ignorance,
and acquire the reputation of a great player at a small expence…
Mr Babel…at once gratifies idleness and vanity.
Burney could not have heard Babell play, as Babell died before Burney was born. Despite Burney's criticism, fellow musical historian Sir John Hawkins thought that they ‘succeeded so well … as to make from it a book of lessons which few could play but himself, and which has long been deservedly celebrated.’
© Bridget Cunningham, 2011
See Essays in Honor of Christopher Hogwood Edited by Thomas Donahue for full article by Bridget Cunningham.