Getting a Handel on an Anniversary

Handel in Westminster Abbey

2009 is the 250th anniversary of the death of G. F. Handel. I love this guy.  A German who wrote beautiful Italian music and also perfected the English oratorio.  I’ve known Handel’s music since I was a teenager buying LP records. I got to know the famous works first – Water Music, Royal Fireworks Music and Messiah. I was really fired up by the choral music — I love the sound of voices, trumpets and drums – and went nuts for the grand choral pieces. I remember buying  a Seraphim LP recording of Messiah with Sir Malcolm Sargent conducting the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic and Huddersfield Choral Society. It was an old school Handel performance with a large chorus and modern instrument orchestra; it made a big noise and pushed my little modular stereo speakers to the limit.

A 1970s era New York radio program hosted by an over enthusiastic and somewhat daffy baroque music fan named DeKoven had opening theme music by Handel and that led to my next obsession. The music was from Handel’s Dettingen Te Deum, a barn-burner celebrating King George II’s victory at the Battle of Dettingen. Few remember the battle, but the Te Deum is a killer with rousing choruses and some testosterone-fueled arias. I bought a not so hot recording of the work on the Nonesuch label and played it endlessly. Happily, there is a, as DeKoven would say, Super O.T.W. (Super Out of  This World) recording of the work by the Trinity College Choir, Cambridge on Hyperion. It’s the best recording of the Te Deum and I demand you play it loud!


This isn’t the Trinity College Choir, but it’s a rousing performance nonetheless.  You can follow the entire performance on YouTube. Here’s the opening chorus.

I still love the pulse-thumping Handel but these days my favorite listening has come from the Italian Handel. Handel had an incredible stretch when he lived in Italy (1706-1710) wrote operas in Florence and Venice and marvelous sacred music and secular cantatas in Rome. These days I am eating up the cantatas he wrote for influential Roman patrons. Handel’s cantatas are filled with the piercingly beautiful melodies and dazzling vocal writing that made him one of the great musical stars of his day. Le Cantate Italiane di Handel is an ongoing series of the complete cantatas appearing on the superb Spanish label Glossa. These are wonderful performances and feature some of the finest singers in the early music world including a handful of magnificent sopranos:  Roberta Invernizzi (a big favorite of mine), Emanuela Galli and Nuria Rial. The instrumental ensemble La Risonanza led by harpsichordist Fabio Bonizzoni provides colorful, vibrant accompaniment. These are essential recordings for anyone interested in Handel, the baroque cantata or just flat out gorgeous singing. The series has now hit the fifth volume and can be found in CD stores or ordered from the American record distributor, Qualiton Imports.

The most recent volume in the Glossa Handel series

The most recent volume in the Glossa Handel series

Here’s an interesting interview with Bonizzoni on the third volume in the series, Le Cantate per il Cardinal Ottoboni:


One Response to “Getting a Handel on an Anniversary”

  1. Cymru Lapin Says:

    Yes! Yes! That’s the great opening theme of the wonderfully eccentric barococo d.j., Seymour DeKoven, of blessed memory. He used only his last name on the air as he broadcast his programs from Fordham U (at least when I listened to him live). A lot of his old broadcast recordings are archived at the U of Wyoming. Listening to super OTW barococo music like the Dettingen Te Deum is great, but with DeKoven’s delightful and witty commentary, barococo music is absolutely sublime. He turned me on to this genre and made me into a real fan girl (that’s fan — as in fanatic).

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