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Handel as Orpheus: Voice and Desire in the Chamber Cantatas

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Handel wrote over 100 cantatas, compositions for voice and instruments that describe the joy and pain of love. In Handel as Orpheus, the first comprehensive study of the cantatas, Ellen Harris investigates their place in Handel's life as well as their extraordinary beauty.

The cantatas were written between 1706 and 1723--from the time Handel left his home in Germany, through the years he spent in Florence and Rome, and into the early part of his London career. In this period he ...

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Overview

Handel wrote over 100 cantatas, compositions for voice and instruments that describe the joy and pain of love. In Handel as Orpheus, the first comprehensive study of the cantatas, Ellen Harris investigates their place in Handel's life as well as their extraordinary beauty.

The cantatas were written between 1706 and 1723--from the time Handel left his home in Germany, through the years he spent in Florence and Rome, and into the early part of his London career. In this period he lived as a guest in aristocratic homes, and composed these chamber works for his patrons and hosts, primarily for private entertainments. In both Italy and England his patrons moved in circles in which same-sex desire was commonplace--a fact that is not without significance, Harris reveals, for the cantatas exhibit a clear homosexual subtext.

Addressing questions about style and form, dating, the relation of music to text, rhythmic and tonal devices, and voicing, Handel as Orpheus is an invaluable resource for the study and enjoyment of the cantatas, which have too long been neglected. This innovative study brings greater understanding of Handel, especially his development as a composer, and new insight into the role of sexuality in artistic expression.

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Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
Harris (music and theater arts, MIT) has written numerous scholarly studies on Handel's music. Here, she restricts herself to a discussion of his chamber cantatas from a social point of view, exposing the exclusive and secret homosexual society in which they were created. The compositions were written during a 17-year period (1706-23) when Handel lived in the homes of aristocratic patrons, first in Italy and then in Germany and England. Harris concentrates on the texts, including for the first time complete translations of all 67, and discusses them in terms of their classical meanings, social context, and secret codes and private references. Though well written and extremely interesting, this study is not for the casual reader; it includes extensive musical and textual analysis and requires some background in 18th-century social and music history. Suitable for large public and academic libraries. Timothy J. McGee, Univ. of Toronto Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780674006171
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press
  • Publication date: 1/28/2002
  • Pages: 454
  • Product dimensions: 7.08 (w) x 10.18 (h) x 1.43 (d)

Meet the Author

Ellen Harris is Class of 1949 Professor and Head of Music and Theater Arts at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

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Table of Contents

Acknowledgments
Note on the Musical Examples
Prologue: "The Ways of the World" 1
1 Code Names and Assumed Identities 25
2 Women's Voices/Men's Voices 49
3 Pastoral Lovers 85
4 Cantata Couples and Love Triangles 127
5 Silence and Secrecy 171
6 Culmination of the Private 210
Epilogue: "True Representation" 240
App. 1 Cantata Chronology 267
App. 2 Texts and Translations of the Continuo Cantatas 297
Bibliographic Abbreviations 367
Notes 373
Title Index of Handel's Cantatas, Duets, and Trios 417
General Index 421
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