No great musician is more impossible to include in the limits of one definition, or even of several, than Handel. It is a fact that he reached the complete mastery of his style very early (much earlier than J. S. Bach), although it was never really fixed, and he never devoted himself to any one form of art. It is even difficult to see a conscious and a logical evolution in him. His genius is not of the kind which follows a single path and forges right ahead until it reaches its object. For his aim was no other than to do well whatever he undertook. All ways were good to himfrom his early steps at the crossing of the ways, he dominated the country and shed his light on all sides, without laying siege to any particular part. He is not one of those who impose on life and art a voluntary idealism, either violent or patient; nor is he one of those who inscribe in the book of life the formula of their campaign. He is of the kind who drink in the life universal, assimilating it to themselves. His artistic will is mainly objective. His genius adapts itself to a thousand images of passing events, to the nation, to the times in which he lived, even to the fashions of his day. It accommodates itself to the various influences, ignoring all obstacles. It weighs other styles and other thoughts, but such is the power of assimilation and the prevailing equilibrium of his nature that he never feels submerged and over weighted by the mass of these strange elements. Everything is duly absorbed, controlled, and classified. This immense soul is like the sea itself, into which all the rivers of the world pour themselves without troubling its serenity.
The German geniuses have often had this power of absorbing thoughts and strange forms, but it is excessively rare to find amongst them the grand objectivism and this superior impersonality which is, so to speak, the hallmark of Handel. Their sentimental lyricism is better fitted to sing songs, to voice the thoughts of the universe in song, than to paint the universe in living forms and vital rhythms. Handel is very different and approaches much more nearly than any other in Germany the genius of the South, the Homeric genius of which Goethe received the sudden revelation on his arrival at Naples. This capacious mind looks out on the whole universe and on the way the universe depicts itself, as a picture is reflected in calm and clear water. He owes much of this objectivism to Italy, where he spent many years and the fascination of which never effaced itself from his mind, and he owes even more to that sturdy England which guards its emotions with so tight a rein, and which eschews those sentimental and effervescing effusions so often displayed in the pious German art; but that he had all the germs of his art in himself is already shown in his early works at Hamburg.
From his infancy at Halle, Zachau had trained him not in one style but in all the styles of the different nations, leading him to understand not only the spirit of each great composer but to assimilate the styles by writing in various manners. This education, essentially cosmopolitan, was completed by his three tours in Italy and his sojourn of half a century in England. Above all he never ceased to follow up the lessons learned at Halle, al-ways appropriating to himself the best from all artists and their works. If he was never in France (it is not absolutely proved), he knew her nevertheless. He was anxious to master the French language and musical style. We have proofs of that in his manuscripts and in the accusations made against him by certain French critics. Wherever he passed, he gathered some musical souvenir, buying and collecting foreign works, copying them, or rather (for he had not the careful patience of J. S. Bach, who scrupulously wrote out in his own hand the entire scores of French organists and the Italian violinists) copying down in hasty and often inexact expressions any idea which struck him in the course of reading. This vast collection of European thoughts, which remains only in remnants at the Fitzwilliam Museum at Cambridge, was the reservoir, so to speak, from which his creative genius continually fed itself. Profoundly German in race and character, he had become a world citizen like his compatriot Leibnitz, whom he had known at Hanover, a European with a tendency for the Latin culture. The great Germans at the end of that century, Goethe and Herder, were never more free or more universal than this great Saxon in music, saturated as he was with all the artistic thoughts of the West.
He drew not only from the sources of learned and refined musicthe music of musicians, but also drank deeply from ‘ the founts of popular musicthat of the most simple and rustic folk. He loved the latter. One finds noted down in his manuscripts the street cries of London, and he once told a friend that he received many inspirations for his best airs from them. Certain of his oratorios, like L’Allegro ed Il Penseroso, are threaded with remembrances of his walks in the English country, and who can ignore the Pifferari (Italian peasant’s pipe) in the Messiah, the Flemish carillon in Saul, the joyous popular Italian songs in Hercules, and in Alexander Batas? Handel was not an artist lost in introspection. He watched all around him, he listened, and observed. Sight was for him a source of inspiration, hardly of less importance than hearing. I do not know any great German musician who has been as much a visual as Handel. Like Hasse and Corelli, he had a veritable passion for beautiful pictures. He hardly ever went out without going to a theater or a picture sale. He was a connoisseur, and he made a collection in which some Rembrandts were found after his death. It has been remarked that his blindness (which should have rendered his hearing still more sensitive, his creative powers translating everything into sonorous dreams) soon paralyzed his hearing when its principal source of renewal was withdrawn.
Thus saturated in all the European music of his time, impregnated with the music of musicians and the still richer music which flows in all. Nature herself, which is specially diffused in the vibrations of light and shade, that song of the rivers, of the forest, of the birds, in which all his work abounds and which have inspired some of his most picturesque pages with a semi-romantic color, he wrote as one speaks, he composed as one breathes. He never sketched out on paper in order to prepare his definite work. He wrote straight off as he improvised, and in truth he seems to have been the greatest improviser that ever was. He wrote his music with such an impetuosity of feeling and such a wealth of ideas that his hand was constantly lagging behind his thoughts, and in order to keep apace with them at all he had to note them down in an abbreviated manner. But ( and this seems contradictory) he had at the same time an exquisite sense of form. No German surpassed him in the art of writing beautiful, melodic lines. Mozart and Hasse alone were his equals in this. It was to this love of perfection that we at-tribute that habit which, despite his fertility of invention, causes him to use time after time the same phrases (those most important and dearest to him), each time introducing an imperceptible change, a light stroke of the pencil, which renders them more perfect. The examination of these kinds of musical eaux-fortes in their successive states is very instructive for the musician who is interested in plastic beauty. It shows also how certain melodies, once written down, continued to slumber in Handel’s mind for many years until they had penetrated his subconscious nature and until they were applied at first, by following the chances of inspiration, to a certain situation which suited them moderately well. They are, so to speak, in search of a body where they can reincarnate themselves, seeking the true situation, the real sentiment of which they are but the latent expression; and once having found it, they expand themselves with ease.
Handel worked no less with the music of other composers than with his own. If one had the time to study here what superficial readers have called his plagiarisms, particularly taking, for example, Israel in Egypt, where the most barefaced of these cases occur, one would see with what genius and insight Handel has evoked from the depths of these musical phrases their secret soul, of which the first creators had not even a presentiment. It needed his eye, or his ear, to discover in the serenade of Stradella its Biblical cataclysms. Each read and heard a work of art as it is, and yet not as it is; and one may conclude that it is not always the creator himself who has the most fertile idea of it. The example of Handel well proves this. Not only did he create music, but very often he created that of others for them. Stradella and Erba were only for him (how-ever humiliating the comparison) the flames of fire and the cracks in the wall through which Leonardo saw the living figures. Handel heard great storms passing through the gentle quivering of Stradella’s guitar.
This evocatory character of Handel’s genius should never be forgotten. He who is satisfied with listening to this music with-out seeing what it expresseswho judges this art as a purely formal art and who does not feel his expressive and suggestive power, occasionally so far as hallucination, will never understand it. It is a music which paints emotions, souls, and situations, seeing the epochs and the places which are the framework of the emotions, and which tint them with their own peculiar moral tone. In a word, his is an art essentially picturesque and dramatic. . . . The intimate sense of his works was falsified in the century which followed his death by the English interpretations, strengthened further still in Germany by those of Mendelssohn and his numerous following. By the exclusion of and systematic contempt for all the operas of Handel, by an elimination of nearly all the dramatic oratorios, the most powerful and the freshest, by a narrow choice more and more re-strained to the four or five oratorios, and even here, by giving an exaggerated supremacy to the Messiah, by the interpretation finally of these works, and notably of the Messiah, in a pompous, rigid, and stolid manner with an orchestra and choir far too numerous and badly balanced, with singers frightfully correct and pious, without any feeling or intimacy, there has been established the tradition which makes Handel a church musician after the style of Louis XIV, all decorationpompous columns, noble and cold statues, and pictures by Le Brun. It is not surprising that this has reduced works executed on such principles and degraded them to a monumental tiresomeness similar to that which emanates from the bewigged Alexanders and the very conventional Christs of Le Brun.
It is necessary to turn back. Handel was never a church musician, and he hardly ever wrote for the church. Apart from his Psalms and his Te Deum, composed for the private chapels and for exceptional events, he wrote instrumental music only for concerts and for open-air fetes, for operas, and for those so-called oratorios which were really written for the theater. The first oratorios he composed were acted. And if Handel resolutely abstained from theatrical representationwhich alone gives the full value to certain scenes, such as the orgy and the dream of Belshazzar, expressly conceived for actingon the other hand he stood out firmly for having his oratorios at the theater and not in the church. There were not wanting churches any less than dissenting chapels in which he could give his works, and by not doing so he turned against him the opinion of religious people who considered it sacrilegious to carry pious subjects on the stage, but he continued to affirm that he did not write compositions for the church, but worked for the theatera free theater.
It remains for us, after having attempted to indicate the general characteristics of Handel’s art, to sketch the technique of the different styles in which he worked.
It is difficult to speak of the opera or of the oratorio of Han-del. It is necessary to say: of the operas or of the oratorios, for we do not find that they point back to any single type. We can verify here what we said at the commencement of this chapter about the magnificent vitality of Handel in choosing amongst his art forms the different directions of the music of his times.
All the European tendencies at that time are reflected in his operas: the model of Keiser in his early works, the Venetian model in his Agrippina, the model of Scarlatti and Steffani in his first early operas; in the London works he soon introduces English influences, particularly in the rhythms. Then it was Buononcini whom he rivaled. Again, those great attempts of genius to create a new musical drama, Giulio Cesare, Tamerlano, Orlando; later on, those charming ballet-operas inspired by France, Ariodante, Alcina; later still, those operas which point toward the opera-comique and the light style of the second half of the century, Serse, Deidamia. . Handel continued to try every other style without making any permanent choice as did Gluck, with whom alone he can be compared.
One sees what a variety of forms and styles he used. Handel was too universal and too objective to believe that one kind of art only was the true one. He believed in two kinds of music only, the good and the bad. Apart from that he appreciated all styles. Thus he has left masterpieces in every style, but he did not open any new way in opera for the simple reason that he went a long way in nearly all paths already opened up. Constantly he experimented, invented, and always with his singularly sure touch. He seemed to have an extraordinarily penetrating knowledge in invention, and consequently few artistic regions remained for him to conquer. He made as masterly a use of the recitative as Gluck, or of the arioso as Mozart, writing the acts of Tamerlano, which are the most touching and heartrending dramas, in the manner of Iphigenie en Tauride, the most moving and passionate scenes in music such as certain pages of Admeto and Orlando, where the humorous and the tragic are intermingled in the manner of Don Giovanni. He has experimented happily here in new rhythms. There were new forms, the dramatic duet or quartet, the descriptive symphony opening the opera, refined orchestration, choruses, and dances. Nothing seems to have obsessed him. In the following opera we find him returning to the ordinary forms of the Italian or German opera of his time.
Still less can we say that he held to a rigid form with his operas; which were continually adapted to the changing tastes of the theater public of his age and of the singers whom he had at his disposal; but when he left the opera for the oratorio he varied no less. It was a perpetual experiment of new forms in the vast framework of the free theater (theatre en liberté) of the concert drama; and the sort of instinctive ebb and flow in creation seems to have caused his works to succeed one another in groups of analogous or related compositions, each work in a nearly opposite style of feeling and form. In each one Handel indulged momentarily in a certain side of his feelings, and when that was finished he found himself in the possession of other feelings which had been accumulating whilst he was drawing on the first. He thus kept up a perpetual balance, which is like the pulsation of life itself. After the realistic Saul comes the impersonal epic of Israel in Egypt. After this colossal monument appear the two genre pictures, The Ode for St. Cecilia’s Day and L’Allegro ed Il Penseroso. After the Herculean Samson, a heroic and popular tragic comedy sprang forth, the charming flower of Semele, an opera of romanticism and gallantry.
But if the oratorios are so wonderfully varied, they have one characteristic in common even more than the operas; they are musical dramas. It was not that religious thought turned Han-del to this choice of Biblical subjects, but as Kretzschmar has well shown, it was on account of the stories of the Bible heroes being a part of the very life-blood of the people whom he ad-dressed. They were known to all whilst the ancient romantic stories could only interest a society of refined and spoiled dilettanti. Without doubt, these oratorios were not made for representation, did not seek scenic effects, with rare exceptions, as for instance the scene of the orgy of Belshazzar, where one feels that Handel had drawn on the direct vision of theatrical representation, but passions, spirits and personalities were represented always in a dramatic fashion. Handel is a great painter of characters, and the Delilah in Samson, the Nitocris in Belshazzar, the Cleopatra in Alexander Balus, the mother in Solomon, the Dejanira in Hercules, the beautiful Theodora, all bear witness to the suppleness and the profundity of his psycho-logical genius. If in the course of the action and the depicting of the ordinary sentiments he abandoned himself freely to the flow of pure music, in the moments of passionate crises he is the equal of the greatest masters in musical drama. Is it necessary to mention the terrible scenes in the third act of Hercules, the beautiful scenes of Alexander Balus, the Dream of Belshazzar, the prison scenes in Theodora, or in the first act of Saul, and dominating all, like great pictures, certain of the choruses of Israel in Egypt, in Esther and in Joshua, and in Chandos Anthems, which seem veritable tempests of passion, great upheavals of overpowering effect? It is by these choruses that the oratorio is essentially distinguished from the opera. It is in the first place a choral tragedy. These choruses, which were nearly eliminated in Italian opera during the time of the Barberini, held a very important place in French opera, but their role was limited to that of commentator or else merely decorative. In the oratorio of Handel they became the very life and soul of the work. Sometimes they took the part of the ancient classical chorus, which exposed the thought of the drama when the hidden fates led on the heroes to their destinies as in Saul, Hercules, Alexander Balus, Susanna. Sometimes they added to the shock of human passions the powerful appeal of religion and crowned the human drama with a supernatural aureole, as in Theodora and Jephtha. Or finally they became the actual actors themselves, or the enemy-people and the God who guided them. It is remarkable that in his very first oratorio, Esther, Handel had this stroke of genius. In the choruses there we see the drama of an oppressed people and their God who led them by his voice superbly depicted. In Deborah and Athalia also, two nations are in evidence. In Belshazzar there are three, but his chief work of this kind, Israel in Egypt, the greatest choral epic which exists, is entirely occupied by Jehovah and His people.
The oratorio being a “free theater,” it becomes necessary for the music to supply the place of the scenery. Thus its picturesque and descriptive role is strongly developed, and it is by this above all that Handel’s genius so struck the English public. Camille Saint-Saens wrote in an interesting letter to C. Bellaigue, “I have come to the conclusion that it is the picturesque and descriptive side, until then novel and unreached, whereby Handel achieved the astonishing favor which he enjoyed. This masterly way of writing choruses, of treating the fugue, had been done by others. What really counts with him is the colorthat modem element which we no longer hear in him. . . . He knew nothing of exoticism. But look at Alexander’s Feast, Israel in Egypt, and especially L’Allegro ed II Penseroso, and try to forget all that has been done since. You find at every turn a striving for the picturesque, for an effect of imitation. It is real and intense for the medium in which it is produced, and it seems to have been unknown hitherto.”
Perhaps Saint-Saens lays too much weight on the “masterly way of writing his choruses,” which was not so common in England, even with Purcell. Perhaps he accentuates too much also the real influence of the French in matters of picturesque and descriptive music and the influence which it exerted on Handel. Finally, it is not necessary to represent these descriptive tendencies of Handel as exceptional in his time. A great breath of nature passed over German music and pushed it to-ward tone-painting. Telemann was even more than Handel a painter in music and was more celebrated than Handel for his realistic effects. But the England of the eighteenth century had remained very conservative in music and had devoted itself to cultivating the masters of the past. Handel’s art was then more striking to them on account of “its color” and “its imitative effects.” I will not say with Saint-Saens that “there was no question of exoticism with him,” for Handel seems to have sought this very thing more than once; notably in the orchestration of certain scenes for the two Cleopatras, of Giulio Cesare, and of Alexander Balus. But that which was constantly with him was tone-painting, the reproduction through passages of music of natural impressions, a painting very characteristic and, as Beethoven put it, “more an expression of feelings than painting,” a poetic evocation of the raging tempests, of the tranquility of the sea, of the dark shades of night, of the twilight which envelops the English country, of the parks by moonlight, of the sunrise in springtime, and of the awakening of birds. Acis and Galatea, Israel in Egypt, Allegro, the Messiah, Solomon, all offer a wondrous picture gallery of nature, carefully noted by Handel with the sure stroke of a Flemish painter and of a romantic poet at the same time. This romanticism struck power-fully on his time with a strength which would not be denied. It drew upon him both admiration and violent criticism. A letter of 1751 depicts him as a Berlioz or Wagner, raising storms by his orchestra and chorus.
“He cannot give people pleasure after the proper fashion,” writes this anonymous author in his letter, “for his evil genius will not allow him to do this. He imagines a new grandioso kind of music, and in order to make more noise he has it executed by the greatest number of voices and instruments which one has ever heard before in a theater. He thinks thus to rival not only the god of musicians, but even all the other gods, like lole, Neptune, and Jupiter: for either I expected that the house would be brought down by his tempest or that the sea would engulf the whole. But more unbearable still was his thunder. Never have such terrible rumblings fallen on my head.”
Similarly Goethe, irritated and upset, said after having heard the first movement of the Beethoven C minor Symphony, “It is meaningless. One expected the house to fall about one’s ears.”
It is not by chance that I couple the names of Handel and Beethoven. Handel is a kind of Beethoven in chains. He had the unapproachable manner like the great Italian artists who surrounded him: the Porporas, the Hasses; and between him and them there was a whole world. Under the classic ideal with which he covered himself burned a romantic genius, precursor of the Sturm and Drang period; and sometimes this hidden demon broke out in brusque fits of passionperhaps despite itself.
The orchestral music of Handel comprises twelve Concerti Grossi (1740), the six Oboe Concertos (1734), the symphonies from his operas, oratorios, and his open-air musicWater Music (1715 or 1717), Fireworks Music (1749) and Concertos for two horns.
Although Handel was in art a visualist and though his music had a highly descriptive and evocatory power, he made only a very restrained use of instrumental tone color. However, he showed on occasion a refined intelligence in its use. The two oratorios written at Rome when he found himself in the society of the Cardinal Ottoboni, and his great virtuoso works, the Triumph of Time and The Resurrection of 1708, have a fine and well-varied orchestration. In London he was one of the first to introduce the use of the horn into the orchestra of the opera. “He was the first,” says Volbach, “to assert the expressive personality of the violoncello.” From the viola he knew how to secure many curious effects of indefinite and disquieting half-tones, he gave to the bassoons a lugubrious and fantastic character, he experimented with new instruments, small and great, he used the drum (tambour) solo in a dramatic fashion for Jupiter’s oath in Semele. For special situations, by instrumental tone colors he secures effects not only of dramatic expression but also of exoticism and local color. It is so in the two scenes from the two Cleopatras, Giulio Cesare (1724) and Alexander Balus (1748) .
But great painter as Handel was, he did not work so much through the brilliancy, variety, and novelty of his tone colors as by the beauty of his designs and his effects of light and shade. With a voluntarily restrained palette and by satisfying himself with the sober colors of the strings, he yet was able to produce surprising and thrilling effects. Volbach has shown that he had less recourse to the contrast and mixing of instruments than to the division of the same family of instruments into different groups. On the other hand, Handel, when he considered it advisable, reduced his instrumental forces by suppressing the viola and the second violin, whose places were taken by the harpsichord. All his orchestral art is in the true instinct of balance and economy, which, with the most restricted means in managing a few colors, yet knows how to obtain as powerful impressions as our musicians of today, with their crowded palette. Nothing, then, is more important if we wish to render this music truly than the avoidance of upsetting the equilibrium of the various sections of the orchestra under the pretext of enriching it and bringing it up to date. The worse fault is to deprive it, by a useless surplus of tone colors, of that suppleness and subtlety of nuance which is its principal charm.
Let us consider his Concerti Grossi. None of his works are more celebrated and less understood. Handel attached to them a particular value, for he published them by subscription, a means which was usual in his day, but which he himself never adopted except under exceptional circumstances.
One knows that the kind of Concerti Grossi, which consists chiefly in a dialogue between a group of solo instrumentalists (the Concertino) and the full body of instruments (Concerto Grosso), to which is added the cembalo, was, if not invented, at least carried to its perfection and rendered classical by Corelli. The works of Corelli, aided by the efforts of his followers, had become widely known in Europe. Geminiani introduced them into England, and without doubt Handel did not hesitate to profit by the example of Geminiani, who was his friend; but it is much more natural to think that he learned the Concerto Grosso at its source at Rome from Corelli himself during his sojourn there in 1708. Several of the concertos in his Opus 3 date from 1710, 1716, 1722. The same feature shows itself right up to the time of his apprenticeship at Hamburg: in any case he might have already known the Corellian style, thanks to the propaganda of Georg Muflat, who spread this style very early in Germany. After Corelli came Locatelli, and especially Vivaldi, who singularly transformed the Concerto Grosso by giving it the free character of program music and by turning it resolutely toward the form of the sonata in three parts. But when the works of Vivaldi were played in London in 1723, and the works which aroused such a general enthusiasm be-came thoroughly known to Handel, it was always to Corelli that he gave the preference; and he was very conservative in certain ways even about him. The form of his concerto, of which the principal movements varied from four to six, oscillated between the suite and the sonata and even glanced to-ward the symphonic overture. It is this for which the theorists blame him, and it is this for which I praise him. For he does not seek to impose a uniform cast on his thoughts but leaves it open to himself to fashion the form as he requires, so that the framework varies accordingly, following his inclinations from day to day.
The spontaneity of his thought, which has already been shown by the extreme rapidity with which the Concerti were composedeach in a single day at a single sitting, and many each weekconstitutes the great charm of these works. They are, in the words of Kretzschmar, grand impression pictures, translated into a form at the same time precise and supple, in which the least change of emotion can make itself easily felt.
Truly they are not all of equal value, Their conception itself, which depended in a way on mere momentary inspiration, is the explanation of this extreme inequality. One ought to acknowledge here that the Seventh Concerto, for example (the one in B-flat major), and the last three have but a moderate interest. They are amongst those least played, but to be quite just we must pay homage to these masterpieces, and especially to the Second Concerto in F major, which is like a Beethoven concerto: for we find there some of the spirit of the Bonn master.
Let us now come to that class of Handers instrumental music to which historians have given far too little attention, and in which Handel shows himself a precursor, and at the same time a model. I refer to his open-air music.
This took a prominent place in the English life. The environs of London were full of gardens where, Pepys tells us, “vocal and instrumental concerts vied with the voices of the birds.” Handel wrote pieces especially intended for these garden concerts. Generally speaking, he attached very little importance to them. They were little symphonies or unpretentious dances like the Hornpipe, composed for the concert at Vauxhall in 1740.
But he composed on these lines some works tending toward a much vaster scale: from 1715 or 1717 the famous Water Music, written for the royal procession of barges on the Thames, and the Fireworks Music made to illustrate the fire-works display given in Green Park on April 27, 1749, in celebration of the peace of Aix-la-Chapelle.
The Water Music has a grand serenade in the form of a suite comprising more than twenty movements. It opens with a pompous opera overture; then come dialogues, with echoes of horns and drums, where the brass and the rest of the orchestra, which are arranged in two sections, respond. Then follow happy and soothing songs, dances, a bourrée, a hornpipe, minuets, popular songs which alternate and contrast with the joyful and powerful fanfares. The orchestra is nearly the same as in his usual symphonies except that considerable importance is given to the brass. One even finds in this works certain pieces written in the chamber-music style, or in the theatrical manner.
With the Fireworks Music the character of open-air music is even more definitely asserted, quite as much by the broad style of the piece as by the orchestration, which is confined entirely to the wind instruments. The composition is divided into two parts: an overture which was to be played before the grand fireworks display, and a number of little pieces to be played during the display, which corresponded to certain allegorical set pieces. The overture is a sort of stately march in D major, and has some resemblance to the overture of the Ritterballet (Huntsman’s Dance) of Beethoven, and which is, like it, joyful, equestrian, and sonorous. The shorter movements comprise a bourrée, a Largo a la Siciliana, entitled Peace, of a beautiful, heroic grace, which lulls itself to sleep; a sprightly allegro en-titled The Rejoicing, and two minutes for conclusion. It is an interesting work for the organizers of our popular fetes and open-air spectacles to study. If we have said that after 1740 Handel wrote hardly any other instrumental music than the Fireworks Music and the two monumental concertos, a due cori (for two horns), we have the feeling that the last evolution of his thought and instrumental style led him in the direction of music conceived for the great masses, wide spaces, and huge audiences. He had always in him a popular vein of thought. I immediately call to mind the many popular inspirations with which his memory was stored and which vivify the pages of his oratorios. His art, which renewed itself perpetually at this rustic source, had in his time an astonishing popularity. Certain airs from Ottone, Scipione, Arianna, Berenice, and such other of his operas, were circulated and vulgarized not only in England but abroad, and even in France ( generally so unyielding to outside influences).
It is not only of this popularity, a little banal, of which I wish to speak, which one could not ignorefor it is only a stupid pride and a small heart which denies great value to the art which pleases humble people; what I wish to notice chiefly in the popular character of Handel’s music is that it is always truly conceived for the people, and not for an elite dilettanti, as was the French opera between Lully and Gluck. Without ever departing from his sovereign ideas of beautiful form, in which he gave no concession to the crowd, he reproduced in a language immediately “understanded of the people” those feelings in which all could share. This genial improviser, compelled during the whole of his life (a half-century of creative power) to address from the stage a mixed public, was like the orators of old who had the cult of style and instinct for immediate and vital effect. Our epoch has lost the feeling of this type of art and men: pure artists who speak to the people and for the people, not for them-selves or for their confreres. Today the pure artists lock them-selves within themselves, and those who speak to the people are most often mountebanks. The free England of the eighteenth century was in a certain measure related to the Roman republic, and indeed Handel’s eloquence was not without relation to that of the epic orators, who sustained in the form their highly finished and passionate discourses, who left their mark on the shuddering crowd of loiterers. This eloquence did on occasion actually thrust itself into the soul of the nation as in the days of the Jacobite invasion, where Judas Maccabaeus incarnated the public feeling. In the first performances of Israel in Egypt some of the auditors praised the heroic virtues of this music, which could raise up the populace and lead armies to victory.
By this power of popular appeal, as by all the other aspects of his genius, Handel was in the robust line of Cavalli and of Gluck, but he surpassed them. Alone, Beethoven has walked in these broader paths and followed along the road which Handel had opened.