Upon opening the cover of John Browne's 1725 songbook The Opera Miscellany, the reader is greeted by a detailed frontispiece introducing the collection of songs (see Figure 1).Footnote 1 A man in a laurel crown (Orpheus, perhaps?) gazes up at the god Apollo, who by means of the sun illuminates a curious-looking tree surrounded by musical notes. In the background a shepherd tends his flock. In keeping with its purpose, the frontispiece hints at the contents of the book itself, as does the inscription below the image, drawn from Virgil's Alexis (Eclogue II):
The Opera Miscellany ‘made many reeds one’ in its musical contents: it wove together a tapestry of mostly Italian arias drawn from fashionable operas of the 1720s. The full title of The Opera Miscellany appears opposite the frontispiece, and it provides further insight into Pan's metaphorical flock, continuing: Being a Pocket Collection of Songs, Chiefly Composed for the Royal Academy of Musick consisting of Select Airs in Rodelinda, Julius Caesar, and other works of Mr Handel. Airs in Calphurnia & the Great Subscription Book of Mr Bononcini, Songs of Mr Attilio Ariosti, some fine English Airs of that Great Master Albinoni, and other authors.Footnote 3 This small yet substantial book of fifty-nine leaves, measuring about 160 by 105 millimetres,Footnote 4 contains a wide variety of music by many different authors from across Europe. It appears that Browne compiled this musical miscellany to appeal to consumers whose tastes ranged from elite Italian arias to accessible and popular English songs.
Music by George Frideric Handel features prominently in the collection. Thirteen arias drawn from a number of Royal Academy operas appear out of their original contexts, juxtaposed with music by other composers: Giovanni Bononcini, Attilio Ariosti, Tomaso Albinoni, Richard Leveridge and other popular composers of the 1720s. Browne was not the only publisher to capitalize on Handel's popularity at the time; others, such as Richard Neale (with John Cluer and Bezaleel Creake), Peter Fraser and Arthur Bettesworth, also printed Handel's music in songbook miscellanies during the 1720s, marketing his works to audiences who could enjoy them in their drawing rooms and parlours rather than at the opera.Footnote 5 These collections show that the composer's music was widely consumed beyond attendance at a performance of his operas. By purchasing a songbook miscellany, consumers could hear, perform and engage with Handel's music on their own terms, choosing selections fit for particular occasions, or based on their own personal tastes and opinions.Footnote 6 Such miscellanies also allowed consumers to compare Handel's works with airs and songs by other composers. In some cases, as with The Opera Miscellany, arias were preserved with few changes, but in other cases his music was entirely transformed. Analysing appearances of Handel's music in songbooks offers insight into how the musical miscellany became a ubiquitous part of musical production and reception in the early eighteenth century, revealing new contexts for his music and alternative repertories to which it belonged.
The concept of collecting disparate musical works and publishing them as a new whole grew out of a similar practice in literature. The earliest printed literary miscellanies appeared in the sixteenth century, as booksellers began to collect, compile and publish anthologies of poetry and prose, both sacred and secular in content.Footnote 7 The method proliferated in the long eighteenth century, as printing became easier and recycling material was a quick way to produce a new publication, often without the knowledge or input of the authors themselves.Footnote 8 The songbook miscellany was also not exclusively an eighteenth-century phenomenon, and, like the literary miscellany, its history can be traced back to the earliest years of music publishing in the sixteenth century. The seventeenth century, however, saw increased interest – especially in England – in producing anthologies designed to appeal to a broad swathe of the public and suit a wider range of performance situations. The Playford publishing house was the first to capitalize on the genre's growing popularity, and the commercial success of their many songbook anthologies continued to stimulate the public's interest in printed musical miscellanies.Footnote 9 By the eighteenth century, music printers such as John Walsh had discovered the financial benefits of selling anthologies: like their literary counterparts, songbooks were easy to compile, especially through the reuse of stamped or engraved plates, and they circumvented the need to collaborate with composers.Footnote 10 According to David Hunter, the first three decades of the eighteenth century saw numerous songbook miscellanies hit the market; some were more modest collections, while others, like Walsh's A Collection of the Choicest Songs & Dialogues, expanded (across many different printings) to more than two hundred songs.Footnote 11 These anthologies offered their purchasers a range of musical choices amongst their pages, fit for many different kinds of emotional and performative occasions, thereby representing the tastes and choices not just of consumers but of the publishers too. The contents of these books show that printers treated their audiences ‘as informed consumers’, whose selective acquisitions of songbook miscellanies would represent their personal taste in musical style, genre and lyrical content.Footnote 12
If songbook miscellanies assessed and reflected contemporary taste, it should be no surprise that Handel's music began to appear in these publications in the 1710s and 1720s. The relevant selections offer a new way of considering the composer's impact on his audiences beyond the theatre. Although Handel obtained a royal privilege in 1720 as the sole publisher of his own music, arias and songs by him still appeared throughout miscellanies during this period.Footnote 13 Generally, his arias appeared in publications dedicated to opera excerpts, such as The Opera Miscellany, The Delightful Musical Companion (1726) and A Pocket Companion in two volumes (1724–1725).Footnote 14 All four books are considered pocket anthologies, in that they were published on octavo-sized paper for ease of portability.Footnote 15 In these collections, publishers excerpted arias from various operas (especially, but not limited to, the Royal Academy operas), printing them alongside other opera excerpts, ballads and instrumental works, and preserving them largely unchanged from the original prints. In other publications, including anthologies of Handel's music and single-sheet publications, compositions appear disguised and modified, transformed into another piece of music entirely.
As noted, the appearance of Handel's music in songbook miscellanies allows us to reconsider how consumers would have heard and experienced it beyond the concert hall or the opera stage. The alternative formats for hearing and even performing Handel's music allow for a more complete assessment of his commercial and critical successes in the early eighteenth century.Footnote 16 As Barbara Benedict has shown, anthologies illustrate the process of forming a canon in a few ways. First, reprinting an author's (or a composer's) work outside its original context offered the chance to test that person's popularity.Footnote 17 Second, anthologies often copied the contents of other anthologies, making a select number of works more common: ‘Anthologies also facilitate the formation of an English canon by continually stealing from each other, and thus recontextualizing literary works and introducing them to fresh audiences in fresh ways’.Footnote 18 As discussed below, the four pocket miscellanies produced during this short period reflected a years-long rivalry between music printers as they used Handel's popularity to vie for larger profit margins in the publishing marketplace. By considering patterns across the songbook anthologies in which Handel's music appeared, and by analysing the context of works by other composers that surround his, this article aims to demonstrate the importance of musical miscellanies in reinforcing Handel as one of the most renowned composers in early eighteenth-century Britain.
Handel in Eighteenth-Century Miscellany Culture
Starting in the 1720s, Handel's music became a mainstay of miscellany culture in the arts, even beyond the songbook anthology. As I have written elsewhere, the musical miscellany extended beyond the printed anthology in this period, and had an effect on other aspects of musical and cultural life.Footnote 19 Handel's works began appearing in variety concerts – and usually without the composer's knowledge – from the 1720s. Singers used his arias to construct narratives about their associations with the famous composer, hoping to entice larger audiences with promises of his most celebrated arias; and instrumentalists programmed Water Music on more than twenty concerts between 1722 and 1742 as a means of attracting audiences.Footnote 20 On the opera stage, Handel participated in the creation of pasticcio operas – works created by piecing together previously composed arias and providing new text to furnish a new opera.Footnote 21 As a composer, Handel influenced miscellany culture from the theatre to the concert room to the printed page.
Little scholarship exists on how Handel's works appeared – often unauthorized and out of context – in songbook miscellanies.Footnote 22 Starting in the 1720s and lasting through the rest of the eighteenth century, music printers exploited the composer's popularity by releasing his music both within published miscellanies and in single-author anthologies. The earliest books of his music published in Britain fall into this latter category: during the 1710s and 1720s John Walsh published excerpts from many of the operas and keyboard works – sometimes without the composer's permission.Footnote 23 Perhaps the most ambitious publication of Handel's music in the eighteenth century was Walsh's five-volume set called Apollo's Feast, published between 1726 and 1740, which included over four hundred arias written for the operas and oratorios. Other publishers, including Cluer and Creake, released full volumes of Handel's theatrical works; but, as Hunter has shown, consumers much preferred songbooks that published favourite selections rather than the entire opera.Footnote 24 Miscellanies featuring not only Handel's music, but also music by other opera and song composers, illustrate the ongoing preference for operatic selections over complete works. These publications offered consumers the chance to perform and hear different genres and styles of songs – and even the rare instrumental piece – by English composers as well as those from the Continent. By carefully cultivating a selection of works from a wide variety of source material, publishers moulded public taste by providing particular, curated, sets of pieces designed to appeal to the capricious tastes of purchasers.
If songbook miscellanies both drove and reflected taste, it is worth understanding the audience to whom these books were marketed and who would have bought them.Footnote 25 As the subscribers’ lists for A Pocket Companion and The Opera Miscellany reveal, most purchasers could be classified as members of the elite and professional classes – aristocratic titles intermingle alongside professional designations such as ‘Esqr’ and ‘Attorney at Law’. Yet there are also a number of honorifics (Mr, Miss, Mrs) suggesting that these volumes were popular even beyond the nobility and gentry, and that those who belonged to ‘the middling sort’ could afford such expensive items at least once in a while.Footnote 26 It is clear, from subscribers’ lists as well as studies on purchasing power in the eighteenth century, that songbook miscellanies were expensive luxuries to buy, and therefore would have been available only to those who had money to spend – or who wanted to imitate their wealthier counterparts. Most songbooks sold for between twelve and fifteen shillings, in comparison with two or three pence for the least expensive printed books of the time. Investing in a songbook miscellany meant long-term payoff; rather than attending an ephemeral performance at the opera, purchasers could ‘own’ performances in their homes, recreating their favourite arias at their harpsichord or spinet, with friends or alone, in their drawing rooms and parlours.Footnote 27 It is clear from the contents of these publications that editors and printers desired to reach audiences beyond the nobility, and marketed the books accordingly.
A growing desire for operatic selections amongst British consumers stimulated the production of all four songbook miscellanies discussed here. According to Mark Rodgers, the popularity of A Pocket Companion volume 1 (1724), compiled by Neale and printed by Cluer and Creake, prompted their competitors – John Browne and Peter Fraser – to issue their own pocket anthologies of mostly contemporary opera excerpts and songs.Footnote 28 Owing to market competition, each collection illustrates different approaches to compiling and publishing miscellaneous music, yet there are also important patterns to be found throughout these anthologies. For instance, all four examples are ‘pocket’ anthologies.Footnote 29 They used the word ‘collection’ in their titles and their contents are drawn mostly from Royal Academy operas by Handel, Bononcini and Ariosti.
The names of these three composers, especially Handel, appear on the miscellanies’ title-pages. For example, the second volume of A Pocket Companion, edited by Neale and also published by Cluer and Creake, added Handel's name twice to the title-page in bold, florid letters (see Figure 2). Fraser's The Delightful Musical Companion includes a similar title-page. Within the book itself, however, he democratically interspersed Handel's arias and songs with those by other composers, including Bononcini and Ariosti, as well as Albinoni, Leveridge and many others. Despite the marketing value that the composer's name brought to these publications, his music was not necessarily favoured over that of others within the miscellanies themselves. Publishers and printers did not obviously prioritize his music beyond including a few more of his arias and starting collections with his overtures. This suggests that out of context and within its contemporary moment his music fitted into a larger repertory of musical works by a variety of other authors that songbook purchasers would have been listening to and performing just as frequently.Footnote 30
Preserving Handel in Opera Miscellanies
In The Opera Miscellany, The Delightful Musical Companion and A Pocket Companion volumes 1 and 2, Handel's music remains largely unchanged in text, melody, harmony and form. Across all four pocket anthologies, nearly all of the arias retain their original Italian text; only a handful include English translations.Footnote 31 Peter Fraser, publisher of The Delightful Musical Companion, explained his desire to maintain the Italian text because of the difficulty of adjusting the English language to Italian-style melodies.Footnote 32 While the arias appear in keyboard reduction, even their accompaniments remain fairly faithful to the original version by including not only the continuo line but also the most important orchestral melodies that would have been played by the violins or an obbligato wind instrument. In part, this made printing easier, as publishers could refer to old plates from prior publications for a quick reprint. Sandra Mangsen has argued that publishing opera arias faithfully was also a means of preserving performances from the opera house; in lieu of recording technology, one way of remembering and reliving a favourite performance of an aria was to buy the printed music, take it home and play it.Footnote 33 Preserving Handel in these miscellanies was the main objective of the publishers and editors, who wished to produce many printed artefacts relating to his popular London operas.Footnote 34 In light of this common goal, it is worth examining the contents of these songbook miscellanies to see what they reveal about how Handel's music appears, which works were printed (and reprinted) and how these publications might have been used by their consumers (see Table 1).
Across all four songbook miscellanies, publishers drew Handel arias from ten Italian operas and one English-language work. As was usually the case, most of the arias come from Royal Academy operas; curiously, volume 2 of A Pocket Companion printed two older arias, one each from Amadigi di Gaula (1715) and Il pastor fido (1712),Footnote 35 while The Opera Miscellany published one English-language air, ‘Where shall I find ye lovely fair?’ from Acis and Galatea (1718). Teseo (1713) appears to be the most frequently reprinted opera from the period before the Royal Academy; A Pocket Companion volumes 1 and 2 print six of its arias, a striking number for a work that Handel never revived during his lifetime.Footnote 36 Seven other Handel operas appear across at least two miscellanies, if not three. Best represented is Giulio Cesare (1724), with nineteen arias across three books, with the exception of volume 1 of A Pocket Companion. This particular anthology appeared in print on 2 May 1724, just over two months after Giulio Cesare's premiere; aria selections from the opera were likely being made ready for printing.Footnote 37 In the second volume of A Pocket Companion, Cluer and Creake include no fewer than ten arias from the opera. Tamerlano (1724) and Rodelinda (1725) also do not appear in the first volume of A Pocket Companion, but are well represented – along with Ottone (1723) – across the songbook miscellanies with a total of nine arias. Floridante (1721) and Radamisto (1720) appear the least frequently, with only six and four arias respectively having been printed.
It should be noted that these arias were often (although not always) printed with the names of the original singers featured prominently at the top of the page. This was standard practice for theatrical songs and opera arias in early eighteenth-century Britain and suggests that purchasers were not only buying the aria, but also the performance associated with the specific singer. In all four songbooks, the publishers included arias by Handel that had been written for fifteen different singers.Footnote 38 Of these, Francesca Cuzzoni's arias are best represented, with a staggering twenty-nine arias across all four books. Cuzzoni was a popular soprano for the Royal Academy who sang leading roles in all of the institution's operas starting with Ottone in 1723. While her fame may have contributed to the high number of her arias in these miscellanies, the particular selections also derive from the most popular contemporary operas of the time. Arias for current Royal Academy singers, such as Senesino, Margherita Durastanti, Francesco Borosini and Giuseppe Boschi, appear more commonly than those for other singers, but besides these publishers also reprinted arias for singers who had long since retired from the operatic stage (such as Margherita de l'Épine) or had even left London (including Nicolini and Caterina Galerati). The current popularity of singers may have been a factor in selecting arias for publication; however, it was not an exclusive factor in driving publication decisions.
As Benedict has argued, literary miscellanies ‘prompt the formation of a canon: a demonstration of refined choice’.Footnote 39 The operas reflected in the four songbook miscellanies show what publishers believed their purchasers wanted. Understandably, the best represented operas are those that were very new. As all four anthologies were published between 1724 and 1726, it is no wonder that operas like Ottone, Giulio Cesare, Tamerlano and Rodelinda appear frequently throughout. Flavio is the only opera to appear across all four, suggesting that at least the ‘favourite songs’ from the opera retained popularity throughout the 1720s. In some ways, these miscellanies reinforce the contemporary notion of a Handelian operatic canon and may have even contributed to solidifying the place of Giulio Cesare and Rodelinda as two of his most popular operas. In other ways, however, it shows that eighteenth-century audiences heard, performed and appreciated selections from works that are less popular today.
It is also worth taking a closer look at which arias appear more than once across these publications. Surprisingly, there is little overlap in terms of content; perhaps each publisher wanted to carve his own special niche in terms of the Handelian material that his book reprinted, thereby creating more of a chance that consumers would buy the book. Across all four publications, eleven arias appear more than once, representing six operas (see Table 2). Arias from Flavio, Floridante, Ottone, Tamerlano and Giulio Cesare appear twice, including ones that are still well known today, such as ‘V'adoro pupille’ (Giulio Cesare), ‘Falsa immagine’ (Ottone), ‘Se risolvi abbandonarmi’ (Floridante) and ‘Quanto dolci quanto care’ (Flavio). None of these arias is particularly difficult or inaccessibly virtuosic; ‘V'adoro pupille’, ‘Falsa immagine’ and ‘Quanto dolci quanto care’ are all slow, lyrical arias composed for Cuzzoni.Footnote 40 ‘Se risolvi abbandonarmi’ from Floridante requires a faster tempo but is mostly syllabic, with short musical phrases and plenty of room for breathing. While challenging in their own ways, these arias would have been singable in a domestic context.
Two arias, one from Rodelinda and one from Tamerlano, appear three times across these miscellanies.Footnote 41 Both were originally sung by Cuzzoni, suggesting that purchasers were eager to memorialize the popular soprano's best performances by buying her arias in songbook form.Footnote 42 ‘Mio caro bene’ is Rodelinda's last aria in her eponymous opera, sung triumphantly after she has been reunited with her husband and all is resolved. It is a charming aria, with its unpredictable vocal line, plenty of florid coloratura and playful interaction between the violin accompaniment and the voice – all of which must have contributed to its popularity amongst these publishers as well as consumers. ‘Non è più tempo’, from Tamerlano, is sung by Asteria in Act 2 after she angrily confronts Andronico for what she sees as a betrayal of their love. In a spirited aria, she sings of being resigned to marrying Tamerlano despite still loving Andronico. This da capo aria is concise and pointed, featuring only one melismatic passage, albeit a difficult one. In all three of its appearances in miscellanies, it is described as ‘sung by Signora Cuzzoni in Tamerlane’ and includes a number of features that make a domestic performance possible, including an English text (‘No more complain’), as well as a flute arrangement of the vocal line printed at the end.Footnote 43 However, the score of the aria also includes an additional staff for the first-violin part, and four orchestral staves appear at the end of the A section providing the final ritornello (this particular aria has no opening ritornello; it begins with the first vocal statement). This kind of print attempted to preserve the original performance as much as possible, offering audiences the chance to perform the music at home with only minimal accompaniment (or on an entirely different instrument), while at the same time allowing them to remember the singer's performance at the opera house.Footnote 44
A closer examination of The Opera Miscellany provides the opportunity to understand how Handel's music was recontextualized outside of the theatre (see the Appendix for this volume's table of contents). Browne placed the overture to Rodelinda at the top of the publication, maintaining its full orchestral scoring of oboes/violin 1, oboes/violin 2, tenor (viola) and basso, eschewing a keyboard arrangement that might have been more useful in a smaller pocket volume. A comparison with Walsh's collection of Handel overtures shows that Browne preserved all notational details save for basso-continuo figures and tempo markings, which would not have fitted on the page in his octavo format. This suggests, once again, that songbook miscellanies were used not only for recreating performances at home, but also for remembering earlier performances.
Italian arias dominate the songbook, but while Handel is well represented with the thirteen arias from five Royal Academy operas (and Acis and Galatea), his music is almost equally matched by arias by Giovanni Bononcini, who has eight arias from operas and cantatas included in the publication. After the overture at the beginning of the anthology (pages 1–8), Handel's music does not appear again until page 24, with ‘No, no, il tuo sdegno mi placò’ from Tamerlano.Footnote 45 Across the rest of the pages, his music is interspersed with other works by Bononcini, Ariosti (four arias), Albinoni (five arias, all in English translation),Footnote 46 Leveridge (one air), Giuseppe Maria Orlandini (one aria), Francesco Geminiani (one minuet, with added English text), John Humphries (one air) and what were probably popular English songs. Although Handel and Bononcini appear most frequently in the collection, the order of contents gives them no special preference. In fact, no pattern emerges from the arrangement of songs and arias at all; textual incipits are not in alphabetical order, keys shift and change with every new piece of music, and the English-language works intermingle with those bearing Italian texts.Footnote 47 The Opera Miscellany was, indeed, a true miscellany – collected and compiled, but not necessarily arranged to showcase a particular narrative about the works themselves.
The Opera Miscellany allows us to evaluate how Handel's music could have been heard and enjoyed alongside other popular music of the early eighteenth century.Footnote 48 In the songbook as a whole, his arias conflict emotionally or stylistically with those around them. Songs 24–27 offer an interesting case study into how Handel's music can be recontextualized and heard differently in this format. Song 24 (page 51) is ‘When Cloe [sic] we ply’ (‘The Artifice’), an anonymous English tune from the theatre that includes the subheading ‘Sung by Mrs. Reading’. This is a simple, strophic melody, with four stanzas. The song itself – like many theatre songs of the early eighteenth century – is both about the fickleness of women and about politics and contemporary life. At first, the singer remarks upon Chloe's ‘enthralling’ beauty, but laments that it is ‘Artifice, Artifice all’. The second stanza then takes a jab at the ‘Maidens’, who tease the narrator by feigning offence at his advances but also lead him on by flirting. Following that, wives become the focus of the joke – they profess that they will never remarry if widowed, but ‘in less yn a year they make it appear it is all Artifice’. Finally, the song gets to its political punch line, remarking at the end that ‘matters of State’ are also ‘Artifice’ – that is, the world of both women and British politics is all deception.
In a stylistic non sequitur, The Opera Miscellany follows ‘The Artifice’ with two well-known Handel arias: ‘Falsa immagine’, written for Francesca Cuzzoni in Ottone (Act 1 Scene 3), and ‘Dove sei amato bene’ from Rodelinda (Act 1 Scene 6), composed for the castrato Senesino. Musically, the jaunty, simple tune of ‘The Artifice’ could not be more different from the Italianate melodies, complex harmonies and melismatic writing of the two Handel works. ‘Falsa immagine’ encapsulates Cuzzoni's abilities in singing slow, lyrical arias. ‘Dove sei amato bene’, a highlight of Rodelinda, is not flashy, yet it is difficult in its lyricism and sustained longer phrases. In some ways, these two numbers are the stylistic antithesis of English theatre music: they epitomize the Italian da capo aria style, the elite ‘art music’ of the early eighteenth century, while Mrs Reading's song perfectly illustrates the kind of accessible, amusing profile of popular theatre songs of the day.
Nevertheless, these pieces are not completely dissimilar; songs 24–26 view related issues through different stylistic lenses. Just as ‘The Artifice’ blatantly calls out the perceived hypocrisy and duplicity of flirtatious women as well as of Britain's political establishment, deception is an intrinsic motivation in ‘Falsa immagine’. Teofane has been brought to Rome as the betrothed of Ottone and has only seen a portrait of him; however, Adalberto presents himself to her disguised as the German king, to the baffled Teofane's disappointment. In ‘Falsa immagine’, she feels that something is wrong, and complains that the picture has deceived her. ‘Dove sei amato bene’ also presents a conflict for Bertarido, who is aware that a great injustice has taken place. An accompanied recitative precedes the lament, in which he narrates reading the inscription on his own funerary urn. First confronted with the usurper Grimoaldo's public deception that Bertarido, the rightful king, is dead, he will come to find out that his beloved wife, Rodelinda, has been deceived as well. Whether intentionally or simply through the random act of compiling and printing The Opera Miscellany, the songbook offered its purchasers a means of exploring related difficult situations – and similar emotional states – through different genres and styles of music. ‘The Artifice’ pokes fun at the realities of life, of which deception is simply a part. ‘Falsa immagine’ and ‘Dove sei amato bene’ allow for a catharsis through performance, embodying the grave emotional consequences of dishonest intrigues.
Songbook miscellanies provided an opportunity for purchasers to bring home a cornucopia of styles, genres and topics, allowing consumers to curate their own specific selection of works for any occasion. In doing so, they helped, as Benedict notes, to ‘publicize and proliferate critical values and thus facilitate the constant reformation of a cultural consensus on . . . merit’.Footnote 49 Handel's arias and overtures, detached from their original contexts, became individual musical pieces in their own right.
Altering Handel: Arias and their Transformations
While some musical miscellanies relied on preserving Handel and the music of other composers nearly note for note from the original prints, in other contexts his music appeared largely transformed and often disguised. Miscellany publishers of the 1730s and 1740s often reused pieces without any reference to the original context of the work. Over time these selected works accrued musical changes, transpositions and new texts as the music metamorphosed into new forms for public consumption. What began as a dance or an Italian da capo aria from a Royal Academy opera became an entirely new song, with the melody itself often providing the only link to its origin as a Handel composition.Footnote 50
As mentioned earlier, the overture to Rodelinda featured prominently as the first composition in The Opera Miscellany. It was clearly a popular tune outside its original operatic context, given that it also circulated in an alternative form as a solo publication in the early eighteenth century. The overture begins in the typical French style, in slow duple metre, followed by an imitative triple-metre section performed at a contrasting tempo. As with many of Handel's opera and oratorio overtures, an ensuing minuet precedes the first scene. This minuet thrived outside of its original context in Rodelinda; it was included in The Ladys Banquet and other miscellany publications of the 1730s. In this print, the minuet appears almost as a new composition, although the title gives away the source material: ‘A Song made to a favourite Minuet in Rodelinda’.Footnote 51 However, it is no longer an instrumental excerpt from an opera overture; it is now a song in four stanzas and is transposed to F major to sit in a more comfortable vocal range. New lyrics written to fit the melody are a typical pastoral love text, imploring the shepherd Strephon not to ‘let the Ungrateful tho Lovely deceitfull thy reason controul’. The B section probably functioned as a refrain, hitting home the warning that ‘As bright as her face is, She's made for Embraces with Creatures Below’. What was once a simple and charming orchestral introduction to an opera became, instead, a complex song. The new text distances the melody from the opera: rather than referring to the characters or the plot of the opera in which it originally appeared, the text is now a warning concerning the tricks and deceits of lovely women. Gone, too, is the full orchestral scoring; instead, this song circulated as most songs did – with an unfigured keyboard accompaniment, along with an arrangement of the vocal part for the flute. The melody, in this miscellaneous context, became a new piece of music altogether; it was still marketed with Handel's name, but the song is hardly recognizable as his composition.
Other instrumental works from the operas received similar treatment and became even more disguised than the Rodelinda minuet.Footnote 52 A song entitled ‘A Bacchanal’ appeared in the first half of the eighteenth century, probably initially as a single print rather than in a miscellany.Footnote 53 Handel's name is acknowledged, but discreetly; it is printed in small letters in the upper right-hand corner. Despite having not one, but two separate vocal lines, each with a different text, the melodic profile betrays its instrumental origins. It is a difficult work for an untrained vocalist; the melody is largely disjunct, with vocal leaps of up to a seventh, and phrases hardly leave room for the singer to take a breath (see Example 1).
‘A Bacchanal’ is from another instrumental movement in an opera overture, this time the gavotte from Ottone. In the opera, the dance is in cut common time and in B flat major, with a tessitura sitting mostly above c2, which would have been too high for most amateur vocalists performing this song at home. In the arrangement, the publisher transposed the piece to G major, and it is in common time. While the gavotte in Ottone would have been performed by the full orchestra, the anonymous arranger of ‘A Bacchanal’ splits up the distinctive melody between the two vocal lines. The second voice opens by singing the entire A section of the gavotte once through. Unlike in its overture context, there is no repeat of the A section; instead, the first voice chimes in with the continuation of the music in bar 8 of the gavotte. While the first voice takes over the oboe/violin 1 melody, the second voice claims the violin 2/viola arpeggiated figures of the overture in bars 10–12 and again in bars 24–26. The song continues in this fashion, with the voices condensing the original instrumental accompaniment at various moments in order to provide contrapuntal contrast to whichever voice holds the melody. No hint is given regarding where this tune came from; while Handel's name appears on the publication, nothing about the text – an ode to drinking, as suggested by the new title itself – offers any reference to Ottone. The arranger simply adapted a well-known tune for a completely new context. Handel's music here is transformed from Italian art music fit for the King's Theatre to a popular tune with a local text typical of songbook miscellanies.
While the overture movements could be thoroughly disguised as new songs, this also happened with Handel's vocal music. A number of his arias circulated as contrafacta, with new texts given to previously texted works.Footnote 54 For example, the solo part of the opening chorus to Acis and Galatea, ‘For us the zephyr blows’, can be found as in print renamed as ‘The Dream’ (Example 2).Footnote 55 Gone are the surrounding chorus and instrumental accompaniment, with the exception of the basso-continuo line. Instead, the original is stripped bare and given a new pastoral text that relates the erotic story of a shepherd dreaming about his love, Phillis. The melody itself is split into two parts: the A section follows the opening solo line of ‘For us the zephyr blows’ without any musical changes; however, the B section (bars 4–8) preserves the character of the solo chorus but does not correspond directly to any of the original source material from Acis and Galatea. ‘The Dream’ presents a transformation of Handel's music; given new text, and with only partial melodic reference to the original, ‘The Dream’ becomes a new song in its own independent right. The composer's name offered a useful marketing strategy, but he took no role in revising his composition into an erotically charged text and tune.
Another contrafactum that appeared in songbook miscellanies and accrued its own life beyond its original context in one of Handel's works is ‘The Address to Silvia, Set by Mr. Handel’. Published by John Walsh junior during the brief revival of The Monthly Mask periodical in 1737–1738, the song bears no indication of its origins other than Handel's name at the top of the plate. In fact, the melody is adapted from ‘Lascia la spina’, a new setting of an old text. Tracing this song's lineage illustrates the palimpsest-like layers of how Handel's music was transformed from production to production and print to print. The text ‘Lascia la spina’ first appeared in Handel's Roman oratorio Il trionfo del tempo e del disinganno, composed in 1707. Just four years later, he revised the music and words as Almirena's ‘Lascia ch'io pianga’ in Rinaldo. When Handel reworked the old Roman oratorio for London in 1737 as Il trionfo del tempo e della verità, he retained the text ‘Lascia la spina’ but composed an entirely new musical setting. This 1737 musical setting received an unrelated, English-language text in Walsh's The Monthly Mask, turning ‘Lascia la spina’ into ‘The Address to Silvia’.Footnote 56 The instrumental introduction incorporates small changes to pitch and some added notes, presumably to make the keyboard accompaniment livelier, but nothing that obscures Handel's version.Footnote 57 The vocal line follows the composer's own melody, but Walsh makes his version much more accessible to the amateur performer by breaking up melismas or making them shorter. As with ‘The Dream’, Handel's Italianate art music changed from a difficult da capo aria into a more accessible melody that could be easily played and sung at home.
While there are too many examples of such transformations to discuss here, they open up new modes of understanding Handel's music within a broader context of musical creation, performance and reception. The overtures to Rodelinda and Ottone could have been heard more frequently as tunes played on a harpsichord and sung by young ladies in their parlours than they were heard at the theatre. Similarly, ‘The Dream’ and ‘The Address to Silvia’ may have been performed more often than the original numbers on which they were modelled. The revival of Il trionfo del tempo in 1737 received only four performances that season – hardly enough to make popular a single aria buried within the third act. Acis and Galatea received some performances in revivals across the 1730s and early 1740s; it may have been a game for those familiar with the work to guess which number was being referred to musically in ‘The Dream’. What these transformations show is that in the context of songbook miscellanies, publishers modified and moulded Handel's music to fit a new aesthetic. All four of these pieces appeared first as Italianate compositions, whether opera, masque or oratorio; when they were published in songbook miscellanies, their new texts reflected the stories and poetic preferences of English song traditions. Similarly, the music itself was adjusted to fit domestic performance considerations, such as simplifying accompaniments and making the vocal melodies more accessible for amateur performers. Overall, songbook miscellanies transformed Handel's Italian art music into something more English, offering purchasers an alternative catalogue of songs that would suit more popular tastes.
Rehearing Handel Through the Miscellany
Although not the first of their kind, the four opera miscellanies discussed here were part of a trend in music publishing that lasted through the eighteenth century. Handel's music continued to be excised from its original context in operas and oratorios, reprinted and bound with music by other composers. Enterprising publishers came to realize the benefit of publishing miscellanies consisting entirely of Handel, however, rather than printing a selection of arias in miscellanies: perhaps the most notable example is Walsh's Apollo's Feast.Footnote 58 These volumes contained ‘a Well-chosen Collection of the Favourite & Most Celebrated Songs out of the latest Operas Compos'd by Mr: Handel’. Walsh's venture was practical; the publisher could reuse plates from prior volumes of favourite songs from Handel operas, making Apollo's Feast relatively cheap and easy to print.Footnote 59 The table of contents for each volume illustrates a wealth of the composer's music, unchanged from its original sources. The collection jumbles together da capo arias, organized in alphabetical order and offering the name of the opera in which the aria originally appeared. As in the earlier songbook miscellanies, Walsh's print includes the singer's name at the top of the page, and usually offers a basso-continuo part as well as a reduced obbligato instrumental part; one can easily imagine that in a domestic performance, the player took the continuo with the left hand, played the instrumental line with the right hand and sang the aria.
A comparison of Walsh's Apollo's Feast with the four other miscellanies discussed in this article – or even with those arias and instrumental works that were transformed in other contexts – suggests tantalizing differences in the ways in which audiences would have heard and experienced Handel's music through publications marketed for use at home. While Apollo's Feast offered consumers only Handel, purchasers of The Opera Miscellany or A Pocket Companion had broader choice; if Handel's music didn't suit a particular occasion, a surfeit of other arias and songs might satisfy instead. Let us imagine an eighteenth-century purchaser of a songbook miscellany. Her wealthy parents have spent twelve shillings on The Opera Miscellany; they attend the Royal Academy of Music opera productions as frequently as possible, and have joined in the applause for Handel, Bononcini and Ariosti. In bringing home The Opera Miscellany, they expect their musically inclined daughter to try playing many of its selections on their spinet. They also expect, however, that their daughter will use the volume to remember her favourite performances given by Cuzzoni and Senesino at the King's Theatre. Perhaps their daughter might prefer Calphurnia to Rodelinda, and her parents will hear strains of Bononcini throughout the house more frequently than they will Handel. Maybe their daughter's Italian-language skills need improvement, and she is too embarrassed to sing beyond her native language.Footnote 60 In that case, the English-texted Albinoni arias and Leveridge's popular theatre songs will allow her a respite from struggling through the thorny Italian poetry. Or perhaps one day the daughter sympathizes the most with Bertarido; she sings ‘Dove sei amato bene’ alone at her keyboard, imagining a long-lost lover. Yet the next day, her spirits are lifted, and to reflect that she performs ‘Scacciata dal suo nido’. While fanciful and speculative, such an imaginary scenario demonstrates that a songbook miscellany had many potential performative uses.Footnote 61 In this context, Handel's music is no longer strictly speaking his own – the arias are selections with which the songbook owner can do as she pleases. The consumer had agency to experience Handel's music on their own terms.
Within miscellanies Handel's music lived alongside that of a multitude of other composers, both English and foreign-born. These songbooks recontextualized Handel within a broader sonic narrative of music in early eighteenth-century Britain. Although his name was used as a selling point, publishers treated his music similarly to that of other composers; besides opening each collection, his arias are dispersed throughout the books, nestled next to names that at the time could have carried as much weight as his own. These opera miscellanies offer evidence of a repertory of music that could be performed and enjoyed in the home, illustrating the allure of diversity, rather than the homogeneity or exclusivity that Handel's music would come to enjoy in later centuries.Footnote 62 Such publications also preserve some sense of which works by Handel – whether the operas at large, or their constituent arias – publishers deemed to be the most marketable and desired by their purchasers. It is likely that audiences experienced arias and overtures far more frequently through purchased books of music that were enjoyed at home than at the opera house, at which performances of any one work took place only on certain nights at certain times of the year. On these grounds alone, songbook miscellanies deserve closer scholarly attention as sources that inform how Handel's music fitted into a wider sonic world in early eighteenth-century Britain.
Contents of The Opera Miscellany (1725)