總瀏覽量

2011年5月20日 星期五

The Influence of 18th Century English Thoughts on the Librettos of Handel’s English Oratorios (Part 1)

前言: 韓德爾的神劇被視為同類型樂種的經典。但我們又是否知道,韓氏的神劇在當代音樂聽眾聽來,不單純是音樂美妙絕倫,非而且充滿愛國情懷和外在意義。皆因韓氏選擇劇本和處理音樂時,往往以樂音借喻,令聽眾能了解其中含意。雖說是巴羅克時期,當代英國的聽眾在聽音樂時,也慣於尋求音樂的表達意義。以下的學術文章,就簡論了韓德爾的神劇腳本和當代的英式思維的關係,讓讀者看出韓氏的神劇精彩奧妙之處。


正文:

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[1]. 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[2]. 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[3]. 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[4]. 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[5]. 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[6]. 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)
2011-05-20 (published)


[1] H.C. Landon, Handel and his world, Weiden and Nicolson, London, 1984, p133.

[2] Smith Ruth, Handel’s oratorios and eighteenth-century thought, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995, pp5-6, p23
[3] Dean Winton, Handel’s Dramatic Oratorios and Masques, Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1990, pp631-2
[4] Smith Ruth, Handel’s oratorios and eighteenth-century thought, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995, pp.8-9

[5] Smith Ruth, Handel’s oratorios and eighteen-century thought, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995, p.141.
[6] Smith Ruth, pp141-142.
張貼留言