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on the Librettos of Handel’s English Oratorios (Part 2)
In the Part II of Judas Macchabaeus, author Morell writes:
To Heav’n let Glory, and all Praise be given;
To Heav’n give your Applause,
Nor add the second Cause,
As once your Fathers did in Midian
Saying, The Sword of God and Gideon,
It is the Lord, who for hisIsraelfought,
And this our wonderful Salvation wrought.
The above text provides a typical answer. Like many other Handel’s librettos of Israelite oratorio, albeit hedge the bets, the point of defending the Christianity is still clear. Morell’s commitment to the defence of Christianity is rather endearing. Here he contributes directly to the orthodox defence of the evidence of miracles and places great emphasis on God’s salvation and mercy, but at the same time, adding rational explanation to meet the Anglican’s teaching. Although contemporary biblical commentaries by orthodox believers reflect the difficulties inherent in the rationalist position in their attempt to present miraculous events as both mysterious and explicable, the librettists of the Israelite oratorios try to have it both ways, giving a rational explanation, or simply the ‘second cause’ while claiming divine intervention. In Belshazzar, Cyrus conquer Bablyon with intelligent strategy as well as the aid of a God-sent dream; in Jephtha, Jephtha has skills of an outstanding general as well as the support of cherubim and seraphim; and in Joshua, Joshua’s men have courage as well as the help of a stationary sun by God to win the battle.
The deists also tried to attack the traditional plank of ‘proof’ by discrediting the application to Jesus of the Old Testament prophesies of the Messiah and of the miracles he would realize. Charles Jennens, another librettist of the well-known Handel’s oratorios of Messiah, Saul, Israel in Egypt and Belshazzar, stands clearly on the side of defending the Christianity. He again paid attention on the Old Testament and to prompt renewed efforts to validate Christian revelation and its concurrence with the Gospels. The traces of this part of the debate in his librettos are particularly striking. In the libretto of Messiah, Jennens showed the parallels of Old Testament prophecy and New Testament fulfillment and the ‘harmony of the gospels’ with each other, and the actual verbal correspondences between Old and New Testament texts. Although the deists had pointed out that citations of the Old Testament in the New do not always correspond to the Old Testament text as we have it, Joseph Hallet jnr (1729-1736), a famous scholar, asserted that ‘among almost three hundred citations the far greatest part are exact’, while only ‘about twenty differ’. At least fifty one of the eighty biblical verses in Jennens’ libretto are either conscious quotations, or echoes, of the Old Testament in the New, for example, Isaiah XL.3, heard in the opening recitative, is quoted in Matthew III.3, Mark I.3, Luke III.4 and John I.23. As a result, the 18th Century religious thoughts absolutely have a great impact on the librettos of Handel’s oratorio. Meanings that the texts conveyed to the public were clear. On one hand, Handel maintained the rational ground of the belief of Anglican’s teaching by permitting the second cause adding in the librettos; while on the other hand, together with the contributions of his orthodox religious background of his librettists, Miller and Morell were clergymen, Jennens was a scholarly evangelizing Christian and Humphreys wrote commentary to defend Bible, Handel re-emphasized on the Divine salvation, miracles and prophesy fulfillments of the Old to New Testament in order to defend the Christianity against the deism. Perhaps, this was the factor of the success of Handel’s Oratorios in his day.
We have just discussed that the importance of music theatre as a vehicle for political messages. Music and musicians also served as a prime analogy for the state and statesmen. It was not surprising for the 18th Century English audience to expect the presence of political themes in the artworks and entertainments. From the moment that Handel first arrived in England, he was involved in producing music for national events. The librettists would have been unusual if they had excluded political themes from their texts, and the oratorio audience would have been behaving anachronistically if they had not found political themes in them. What were the political events and thoughts of the oratorio years which the librettists could have absorbed into their texts?
The main national events in the oratorio years were decades of wars and the rumours of war. Relations with other European powers were deteriorating throughout the 1730s. In 1731, there was a French invasion scare, serious enough for the British fleet to be deployed in the Channel. Also, the war of Polish Succession in 1733, the trade war with the tough rivalry Spain in West Indies for overseas commercial interests and the threaten of war with ambitious the Frederick II of Prussia in Europe for his political expansion in the Continent were the subjects of major debates in Parliament and were extensively reported by the press. The newspaper-reading member of the oratorio audience would have been aware of these popular issues: the foreign policy of the European alliance, the British army, the navy, and colonial and commercial expansion. Therefore, all these political events in the oratorio years nourished the common political thought of the 18th Century British Government and people, that is, the ‘Patriotism’.
According to the drama historian Murray Roston, ‘Handel succeeded in glorifying in Biblical terms the confident patriotism of the English people as they rose on the wave of imperial expansion, convinced that they were carrying the true God to the pagan corners of the world. The heroic, martial splendour of Deborah, of Judas Maccabeus, and of Joshua was adopted enthusiastically as symbol of English integrity and courage.’ Undoubtedly, Roston’s saying points out that the essential idea of the librettos of Handel’s oratorio is a kind of ‘patriot libretto’. But how could the political events and the patriotism be absorbed in the so-called patriot libretto? Ruth Smith gives us the answer.
The libretto absorbs all the political ideas in allegorical form. The mid-eighteenth century audience had been taught to regard the scriptural protagonists whom oratorios portrayed not just as figures from the semi-mythological history of a remote race and culture but, in a tradition dating from early Christian times, as reminders of their own redeemer, connected with their own individual lives. The preachers, the scholars and the press habitually identify modern Britain with ancient Israel and they make recurrent specific parallels which bear on the subjects of the librettos. God of Israel is paralleled with God of Britain. English is paralleled with the Israel. The enemy of Israel, such as Egypt, is paralleled with the rivalry of Britain in the Continent. The following comparisons show the commonplace:
The Stuart FamilySaul and his descendants
George IIDavid or Solomon The Glorious RevolutionThe crown of Israel passing from Saul and his family to David and his family
Catholic EuropeThe Philistines
The threat of Popery‘Egyptian bondage’ of heathen rites
LicentiousnessIsraelite neglect of God’s laws
All the figures and circumstances in the right- hand column are subjects of one or more of the Israelite librettos. This kind of analogy was routine, God could intervene in the lives of the British nationals as He had done in the lives of the Israelites. We can take several examples to illustrate this: the Israel events in the libretto are equal to politics events of Britain, the patriotism of Israel is the model of the patriotism of English.
The Influence of 18th Century English Thoughts on the Librettos of Handel’s English Oratorios
George Frideric Handel (1685-1759), a German composer but with success of his career in England, undoubtedly, was a towering figure of the later baroque period. If Madame de Stael very perceptively remarked that Michelangelo was the “Bible’s painter”, Handel must then be called its composer. The number of his oratorios based on Biblical subjects runs to over 30, for example, Messiah and Judas Macchabaeus. Their continual performance by people of every kind from the date of their composition to present proves their accessibility. The success of Handel’s oratorios is not only its accessible music, but also the contribution of its librettos. Just like Mozart accompanied with Ponte, Handel also had a lot of silent supporters, the librettists, such as Charles Jennens, James Miller and Thomas Morell. Although Handel did not write any of the librettos, he involved in editing the librettist’s texts, or principally cutting them. He absolutely recognized the importance of the librettos. The printed libretto-the wordbook-was an indispensable part of attendance at the oratorio in 18th Century. English audience customarily bought copies of the text in the theatre in order to read the words during the performance. Therefore, it is no doubt to assert that the success of the oratorios is largely the contribution of Handel. However, in the major modern study of Handel’s English theatre works, Winton Dean writes that in the modern opinion an almost complete failure largely because of its dreadful libretto, was popular in his own day. He continues, ‘Samson suffers from an excess of diversionary airs…..’ and he states that at least eight of these are better omitted in the modern performance. In order to understand what captured the interest of the original audience, it is worth for us to explore the meanings conveyed from the librettos of Handel’s oratorios, and especially to recognize the impact on the thought of Handel’s time and to appreciate the artistic and moral criteria that influence their authors. The religious discourse, the moral teaching and the political ideology provide the entry point.
It is nearly impossible for us to understand the artworks, including the music, completely in 18th century without knowing the thoughts and ideas of the cotemporary Englishmen. The dominant influences on mid-eighteenth-century English thought were religion and politics. They permeated life and art. The pulpit was the major public–address system. Sermons addressed and influenced every aspect of private and public life, of course, including art. Religious discussion, debates and even critics, were the major element of intellectual life. Music theatre served as a political messages center. Religious publications dominated book production, and people believed that God supervised lives and could and would intervene with punishment on a personal or national scale if provoked by wrongdoing. Explicitly, such 18th Century religious atmosphere nourished many of the Handel’s oratorio librettos.
Generally, eighteenth-century Anglican teaching stressed good works more than faith. Ethical social benevolence is the road to salvation. It was a time that concept of original sin was neglected, doctrine of redemption by grace was lessened and humanity’s potential to fulfill the requirements of divine percepts in life was emphasized. Some versions of religion even secularized ethics to the extent of suggesting that men and women did not need God to teach them perfection. At the same time, the English translation of Richard Simon’s Critical History of the Old Testament dramatically undermined English Protestant faith in the integrity, inspiration and authority of Scripture. These scholarly criticisms of the text of Bible laid the seedbeds of the freethinking deist movement in England. Therefore, the years of the performances of Handel’s oratorios, 1732-1752, were the years of Biblical criticism and religious debate, even the years of the major Anglican rebuttals of deism. Under such chaotic background, the bases of Christianity were threatened. Was the concept of divine revelation still important? Were mercy, miracles and fulfillment of biblical prophecies still the principal elements of truth and salvation? It is very interesting for us to find out the influence on the librettos of the Handel’s oratorio under such situation.
Part I (To Be Continued)
David Leung (theorydavid)
 H.C. Landon, Handel and his world, Weiden and Nicolson, London, 1984, p133.
 Smith Ruth, Handel’s oratorios and eighteenth-century thought, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995, pp5-6, p23
 Dean Winton, Handel’s Dramatic Oratorios and Masques, Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1990, pp631-2
 Smith Ruth, Handel’s oratorios and eighteenth-century thought, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995, pp.8-9
 Smith Ruth, Handel’s oratorios and eighteen-century thought, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995, p.141.
在大型高級購物商場裡播放的背景音樂，究竟有甚麼作用呢? 以下文章就是我以前做的一個 field work 研究，探討商場的背景音樂對購物者和遊人有甚麼影響。我的研究是在特定的節日期間做的，所有資料是在農曆新年期間搜集而心成。所以，結論是與農曆新年有關的。
In Search for Home Culture: Muzak in Chinese New Year Celebration
The notion of cultural identity has in recent years become increasingly problematic. When we think of ourselves as belonging to a particular culture, we tend to forget that we are living in an affluent, globally connected world where the crisscrossing of cultures has become the norm. We can have European raisin bran for breakfast, Indian curry for lunch, and Japanese sashimi for dinner; we can enjoy Western operas, traditional Chinese music, Western classics, jazz, rock, Canto-pop, Japanese song, or even African juju; we can be a Christian, an theist, a Buddhist, or a Sufi. We can choose – or believe we can – different aspects of our lives from what has come to be called the “global cultural supermarket.”And cultural identity as such is simply a matter of consumer’s choice.
Yet multiculturalism can be deceptive. For while we no longer have a single dominant culture, our ancestral cultures have not forever vanished. The latter, which regularly confound us by their resilience, their survival in spite of everything, may well remain in potent shape.But if freedom of choice does not necessarily imply the loss of identity, where do we see the possibility of a home culture in a world that seems to encourage too much diversity?How are we supposed to locate our identity amid a cultural anarchy? One possible line of inquiry towards answering these questions is offered by looking at the way in which a specific social activity – shopping and buying during the Spring Festival period – under the New Year festive atmosphere, which is mostly enhanced by a particular type of community-based music, namely, muzak accompanying Chinese New Year celebration, is used in the department store or shopping mall in Hong Kong.
This paper attempts to show that while the notion of cultural identity is never without ambiguity in present day societies, neither will it be easily undermined by alaisser-faire orthodoxy that simply encourages one to pick and choose. The moral demands and collective identities of a culture may be brought into focus under such specific activities and festive circumstances when the entire members of a community find themselves awakening to their cultural self-understanding.
The methodology I employed in this paper is the participation-observation method.This ethnographic method entails a kind of double role or stance.One the one hand, the “participant part” means that the researcher immerses him/herself in a real world, the “field-based” setting.This suggests that the researcher is committing his/her whole self to that setting.By experiencing that setting through feelings, thoughts, emotions and so on, the researcher can obtain a more self-understanding of that music culture or some aspects of it from an insider’s perspective.However, on the other hand, the “observer part” can bring about a “scientific” approach to creating knowledge and understanding by collecting data, interviewing and observations from that particular setting.In this paper, my main focus is the socio-cultural activity of shopping-buying “new things” by Hong Kong people during the Spring Festival (The Chinese New Year Festival) under the New Year festive milieu, which is prepared and enhanced by the specific kind of muzak played in the department stores.
My fieldwork will be carried out in one of the large, representative shopping malls, the Sogo Department Store, at CausewayBay in the Lunar New Year public holiday.I will observe and participate in people’s festive activities and examine how the background soundscape can open up a wider sensuous dimension of visitors to conform to the traditional customs.I will also interview several visitors about their feelings and reactions under such socio-cultural environments.Be it a functioning anarchy or a faded mosaic, multiculturalism can be a testing ground for traditional cultures to reemerge in a new guise.
Chinese New Year Custom
To Chinese people, “having everything new” for the coming new year is as important as having a Christmas tree or receiving a present at Christmas to westerners.Without any exception, Hong Kong people are aware of buying new “presents” for themselves, as well as for the others in this festival.The Chinese describe Spring Festival without having everything new not only as being like a dish without seasoning, but also as symbolizing a bad, unhappy and unfortunate year coming.Although this year-by-year festive activity is embedded with abundant traditional cultural meanings, it also function as an essential medium for the survival of such Chinese traditional culture.But how this tradition can be continued in a place where the tradition has often been undermined?
It is widely known that under the British colonial sovereignty, the Chinese traditional cultures in Hong Kong were often undermined.But traditions can always manifest themselves in new guises and continue to be extant.As Paul Connerton argued in How Society Remember,“the cultural images of the past are conveyed and sustained by social practices and ritual (more or less ritual) performances.”We, indeed, experience our present world in a context which is causally connected with past events and objects.Some of our ancestral cultures can also manifest themselves year-by-year in form of a particular social practice.Buying and shopping in Chinese New Year time, thus, should be regarded as one of such practices.But how can music relate to this socio-cultural activity to enhance a metaphor for the “Chinese identity” formation?
Music’s Social Power
Despite its alleged autonomous statue, music is also well known for its social power to influence people’s daily life.It is implicated in every dimension of social agency.Just as Tia DeNora argued, “music may influence how people compose their bodies, how they conduct themselves, how they experience the passage of time, how they feel – in terms of energy and emotion – about themselves, about others and about situations,” music, in this respect, can provide a framework for the organization of social agency, and a framework for how people perceive, whether consciously or subconsciously, potential avenues of conduct.Unsurprisingly, therefore, exploiting music’s social effects are familiar to marketers and social planners.Many in-store experiments suggest that background music, such as muzak in shopping malls, can be used to structure a range of consumer behaviors and choices, such as, the time it takes to eat and drink, the average length of stay in a shop, the choice of one brand or style over another and the amount of money spent.Creating a happy and relaxed environment through the imaginative use of music is a vital element in securing maximum turnover and ensuring that the business has optimum appeal.When the muzak is used correctly, it can influence customers’ buying behavior by creating or enhancing the image, mood and style that the business strategy wishes to achieve.
During the period of the Hong Kong Lunar New Year, the muzakplayed in many large shopping malls and supermarkets is the traditional Chinese instrumental music.This practice may be one of the usual marketing strategies.However, I believe that this muzak for Chinese New Year celebration does not merely function to fulfill the commercial objective.It also helps to enhance, or even to confirm every local’s intellectual and sensuous self as a “Chinese,” both in a cognitive and aesthetical dimension.As viewed, the background music can serve as a medium to modulate and structure listeners’ parameters of aesthetic agency, such as feeling, motivation, desire, action style and memory.Reliving experience through the Chinese traditional instrumental music assists to constitute memory of a “self-culture.”Within this human-music interaction, when locals are participating in the family-based activities of shopping, eating, drinking and celebrating in such a festive milieu, whether they are self-aware or not, their practices are interwoven with their acts of memory, reshaping and cementing the so-called the cultural identity. I now begin the description of my observation in the Sogo Department Store.
Part I -- To be continued.
David Leung (theorydavid)
 It is a term used by Gordon Mathews to describe the present problem of cultural identity of a particular nation or a society.See Gordon Matthews, Global Culture/Individual Identity: Searching for Home in the Cultural Supermarket (New York: Routledge, 2000), 1-2.
 Paul Connerton, How Societies Remember (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989), 2-3.
 Tia DeNora, Music in Everyday Life (Cambridge: CambridgeUniversity Press, 2000), 17.
 For the discussion of these in-store experiments by many other scholars, refer to DeNora’s exploration in Music in EverydayLife, 18.
One of the most interesting soundscape in the Christian community of Hong Kong, perhaps, may come from the small family churches in private buildings. Here, I am not talking about the soundscapes produced by the large churches, such as St. Joseph Cathedral in the Central. The ringing of church bells from these large cathedrals has been familiar to many local people, signaling their urgent need for spiritual comfort. However, I am far more interested in a sound that bridges local believers and God in a more private space located in the urban area. It is a “religious site” that has no loud voice of church bell or grand symphonic sound of organ and choir.
It has been widely known that Hong Kong is small but the population is large. Housing congestion is one of its serious social problems. Many large, wealthy church organizations, such as the Roman Catholic or the Anglican, possess large buildings to provide liturgical services for their believers. However, the locations of these large cathedrals or church buildings are often not convenient to the majority of the ordinary layman, especially the grass-root believers who have no private vehicles. In order to meet their spiritual needs, family churches that held meeting in a private resident building is commonly found. Whether in Sunday morning or any weekday night, or coming from the altar or the seats, a special, unique sound of hope and joy, wish and bless, will disperse in the air, spreading out from a small flat, through the doors, windows, then finally up to the heaven. This is a wonderful keynote sound that cannot easily be overlooked in our local society. It may have imprinted itself so deeply on the believers hearing this sound that life without it would be sensed as meaningless and hopeless joke. It may even affect the behavior of people or life style of a society, like the “wanderer”, who finally regained his courage and hope to live on after he has heard an anthem from a church, in O’ Henry’s short story “The Cop and the Anthem”.
Last Sunday morning, I was invited to attend a meeting held in a private family church. It is located in the residential area of Tseung Kwan O. The place is called HongShingGarden, consisting of eight blocks of building. Although it is called “Garden”, it is not the high status garden as you usually find in the mid-hill of the Central, but an estate-like house built by the Housing Society. You can sense a grass-root smell here. There are a few shops forming a small shopping arcade inside the Garden. The situation of the “church” is quite convenient to the people living there, how local, how intimate. If you walk out of the “church”, you can immediately enter the Seven-eleven, the next shop, for a drink. Also there are a few fast food restaurants, a barber shop, a bread shop and a beauty salon located nearby, providing services to the local inhabitants.
On the wall of the entrance of the “church”, there hangs a plastic block writing the meeting times and the name of this “church”, “Tseung Kwan O Kingdom Hall”. Instead of using “church”, the use of “Kingdom Hall” as the name seems to give visitors a rather new, fresh impression, telling them that the “Hall” inside possesses boundary, like a ‘kingdom”, which is a new, however isolated, world. If God presents at the splendid cathedral, God will also dwell in here, since this is His ‘Kingdom’. Thus, the “Kingdom Hall”, which is a community (Christians) inside a community (people living in HongShingGarden), is the soundmark.
I still remember that the keynote sound of the “Kingdom” community was not a ting-ting sound of a church bell. It was indigenous sound, like the voice from chatting. People attending the meeting were familiar to each other. They called themselves “brothers” and “sisters”, just like belonging to the same family. It seemed that there were no different between the voices inside the “Kingdom” or outside the retailing shops, except that the language spoken here was more polite and gentle.
The main signal sound undoubtedly was a man’s voice from the stage. Yes, the voice is from the “stage”, not the altar. I did not call it an “altar” because I found no liturgical objects, scared cross, splendid idol of Jesus, or brilliant paintings over the stage. This interior design was so plain, pure that the “Kingdom” looked like more a family, giving visitors a sense of warmness and intimacy. No sooner did the man announce the opening of the meeting than the whole group of worshippers (not more than a hundred) stood up, and then, sang and prayed. This series of actions was the only liturgical activity that I found in the entire meeting. For the rest of the time, the signal sound was the only male voice from the stage, sounding like a priest or bishop, and giving a talk based on the bible to the audience (the worshippers). It was seen that the signal sound of the “Kingdom” was a regular routine, which includes the voices of speech, singing and prayer. During the two hours’ meeting, the background keynote sound remained the occasional noise and people’s daily lives sounds of buying and selling, chatting as well as walking to and fro outside the “Kingdom” community.
Undoubtedly, the “Kingdom Hall” is a special soundmark in the local community. The soundscape produced not only regulates the daily lives, behaviors and life style of the local community, but also brings forth a special form of voices that bridges the God and the grass-root people, not in a supreme and splendid Cathedral, but in a warm intimate family-like “Kingdom”.