Handel's Performing Versions: A Study of Four Music Theatre Works from the 'Second Academy' Period

Vickers, David (2008). Handel's Performing Versions: A Study of Four Music Theatre Works from the 'Second Academy' Period. PhD thesis The Open University.

Abstract

The dissertation is a reconstruction and evaluation of the different versions of Handel's operas Partenope and Arianna, and his oratorios Esther and Deborah, as composed and as performed under his direction. The first public performances of all four works were given at the King's Theatre in London during the early 1730s, a period commonly described as 'The Second Academy' (1729-34). Chapter 1 examines the organization of the Second Academy, surveys Handel's opera seasons between 1729 and 1737, and presents hypotheses about the composer's artistic planning during a period of unparalleled independence. This establishes the context for the first public performances of Partenope, Arianna in Creta, Esther and Deborah within Handel's career, and outlines his contemporary revivals of these music dramas. Chapters 2-5 present the four case studies in chronological order of their first performances: each chapter contains an investigation of the work's sources, observations about Handel's compositional process, and descriptions of each performing version prepared under his direction (including those made for Oxford and Dublin).

Chapter 6 assesses the composer's alterations to both the music and the libretto texts of the four works between the first performance of Partenope in 1730 and his last revival of Esther in 1757 (two years before his death). Using examples drawn from all of his versions of the four case studies, the musico-dramatic impact and artistic significance of his revisions are discussed. There is a long-standing assumption that Handel ruined his own music dramas when revising them for revivals: the dissertation takes the unhindered view of Handel's working methods and creative personality across a remarkable span of his working life (1730-57), and presents evidence that all versions need critical consideration.

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