1. bookVolume 18 (2021): Issue 1 (December 2021)
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Handel’s Pasticci between Music History and Current Music Practice at the Handel Festival in Halle

Published Online: 31 Dec 2021
Volume & Issue: Volume 18 (2021) - Issue 1 (December 2021)
Page range: 160 - 166
Journal Details
License
Format
Journal
eISSN
2353-5733
ISSN
1734-1663
First Published
31 Dec 2013
Publication timeframe
1 time per year
Languages
English

Even though there were already performances of Handel’s music in Halle (his birthplace) in the nineteenth century, and the set of concert performances marking the inauguration of the Handel monument in the market square in 1859 in particular can be described as an early Handel festival, it is 1922 that is considered as the actual starting point of the internationally renowned Handel Festival in Halle. For this Handel Festival held in Halle in 1922, a large honorary committee was assembled, chaired by the then Lord Mayor, Dr Rive. The committee programmed a four-day Handel Festival from 25 to 28 May 1922. The contributors came mainly from the city itself and offered a multi-faceted programme, including performances of two of Handel’s oratorios (Semele and Susanna), a festive church service and, most importantly, the first performance of a Handel opera in Halle (in the so called Stadttheater): Orlando, naturally in German under the title Orlandos Liebeswahn (which means ‘Orlando’s Love Madness’) and in an arrangement typical of the time, prepared by Hans Joachim Moser. In general, it must be said that in the nineteenth and well into the twentieth century, Handel’s original compositions, whether the oratorios or later the operas, were not performed in their original form. There were sometimes considerable interventions; the works were significantly shortened, and the Baroque aria structure was likewise usually altered in such a way that the da capo section was deleted.

As a brief digression, let me take a look at this arrangement practice, which was also appreciated, if not actively furthered, by musicologists of the time. In 1898, when discussing the question of how Handel’s oratorios should be appropriately performed, Fritz Vollbach introduced the concept of the so-called Gelegenheitskompositionen (‘occasional pieces’), which was later frequently cited: Handel himself had repeatedly reworked his oratorios depending on the occasion and external circumstances and adapted them to current needs.

See K. Gerlach et al., Zur Rezeption Georg Friedrich Händels in den deutschen Diktaturen. Quellen im Kontext, Studien der Stiftung Händel-Haus, vol. 2, Beeskow, Ortus-Verlag, 2014, p. 73

Derartige Aenderungen nahm Händel auch an seinen späteren Oratorien vor. Um das zu verstehen, muss man stets im Auge behalten, dass Händels Werke fast alle Gelegenheitskompositionen waren (…), und stets der Gelegenheit, für welche sie bestimmt, auch genau angepasst erschienen.

Gerlach et al., Zur Rezeption, p. 73.

[Handel also made such changes to his later oratorios. To understand this, one must always keep in mind that almost all of Handel’s works were occasional pieces (...), and always appeared to be precisely adapted to the occasion for which they were intended.]

This statement is still used today to legitimise adaptations, omissions, rearrangements, and other remakes of Handel’s works, both oratorios and operas. Furthermore, Vollbach states that for a performance of Handel’s oratorios in our times, it is essential to bring them ‘into a form that corresponds to our time’ (‘in eine Form zu bringen, welche unserer Zeit entspricht’).

Gerlach et al., p. 73.

In his discussion of the question of how Handel’s oratorios should appropriately be performed, Vollbach brings up two arguments that one repeatedly encounters to this day as an excuse for the musical arrangement practice of Handel’s works. It is all the more astonishing that despite these claims, Handel’s opera pasticci, that is to say those operas that the composer himself arranged or, to use Vollbach’s terminology, ‘angepasst’ (‘adapted’), have not attracted the interest of modern performers to this day. They have in fact hardly been noticed, dismissed as insignificant secondary products or as Gelegenheitswerke (‘occasional works’), to use Vollbach’s terminology again. The same criteria that were used to justify adaptations and arrangements of the oratorios are strangely considered invalid for an aesthetic and artistic appraisal of the opera pasticci.

Back to the first Handel Festival in Halle in 1922. The basis for the performances of the two oratorios was, in accordance with the spirit of the times (as outlined above), arrangements or (as they are referred to in the title) Neugestaltungen (‘redesigns’): Semele was performed as a ‘redesign’ by the university’s music director and thus a performing musician, Alfred Rahlwes, while Susanna was ‘redesigned’ by Arnold Schering, a renowned musicologist. Incidentally, Schering also gave the keynote address on the third day of the festival in the university’s auditorium; he spoke on ‘Die Welt Händels’ (‘The World of Handel’).

The fact that a renowned musicologist not only prepared an adaptation for the small Handel Festival in Halle in 1922, but also gave a speech at the festival, proves that science and music practice have gone hand in hand at the Handel Festivals in Halle from the very start. This has remained unchanged to this day: Every year, a renowned researcher gives a lecture that is part of an international scholarly conference. The topics of these conferences always reflect the motto of the given festival edition. In this context, it must also be emphasised that Halle is home to the editorial office of the Hallische Händel-Ausgabe (‘Halle Handel Edition’ or HHA for short). The Hallische Händel-Ausgabe is an editorial project implemented since 1955, in which Handel’s complete works are being published in historical-critical editions that include all the sources available. It is financed by the German Union of the Akademien der Wissenschaften and published by Bärenreiter Verlag. In the context of pasticcio research, three interesting observations can be made:

Each HHA volume of music reflects the form of the respective first performance of the work. In addition, however, all versions of the work that were composed by Handel in the context of subsequent performances are also documented. Thus, all versions of works that can be traced back to the composer can now be performed with the help of the Halle Handel Edition.

Oratorios compiled by the composer mainly out of earlier works, such as Deborah composed in 1733, are not specially marked in HHA as an ‘oratorio-pasticcio’ but are placed virtually on an equal footing with Handel’s other oratorios.

The opera pasticci are treated differently: Among the planned 116 volumes of the main HHA edition and approximately ten of supplements, one group of Handel’s works has largely been omitted: namely, the opera pasticci, which Handel compiled for various London opera companies between 1725 and 1739. These make up two distinct groups of works: On the one hand, there are a few pasticci in which Handel combined previous musical material of his own with new compositions (for example Giove in Argo and Oreste). In the remaining pasticci, on the other hand, Handel rewrote arias by various Italian opera composers popular at the time, such as Nicola Porpora, Antonio Vivaldi, Leonardo Vinci, and Johann Adolph Hasse, and he added his own recitatives. While for the former group of pasticci editions are available in the HHA and performances are documented, the latter group remains virtually unknown to this day.

Moreover, no such edition has been planned in the current project of the Halle Handel Edition. The desideratum is all the more important since even in the nineteenth-century editions of Handel’s works by Samuel Arnold or Friedrich Chrysander, that latter group of pasticci was omitted. Accordingly, there has been no edition of these works by Handel to this day.

Fortunately, an edition of Handel’s Catone (1732) has been planned as part of the ‘Pasticcio’ research project based at the universities of Warsaw and Greifswald and headed by Aneta Markuszewska, PhD and Prof. Dr Gesa zur Nieden. More information at https://www.pasticcio-project.eu (accessed 1 July 2021).

Scholarly studies in this field are also very rare. Apart from a few articles in Handel yearbooks, only the fundamental works by Reinhard Strohm,

Among others, R. Strohm, ‘Händels Pasticci’, Analecta Musicologica, vol. 14, 1974, pp. 208–267.

Hans Dieter Clausen,

H.D. Clausen, Händels Direktionspartituren (“Handexemplare”), Hamburger Beiträge zur Musikwissenschaft, vol. 7, Hamburg, Verlag der Musikalienhandung Wagner, 1972.

and more recently by Carlo Lanfossi

C.G. Lanfossi, Handel as Arranger and Producer: Listening to Pasticci in Eighteenth-Century London, PhD Thesis, University of Pennsylvania, 2018, https://repository.upenn.edu/dissertations/AAI10793018 (accessed 1 July 2021).

should be mentioned here.

This disregard for Handel’s opera pasticci is also evident in the Handel Handbook,

B. Baselt et al. (eds), Thematisch-systematisches Verzeichnis, gleichzeitig Supplement zur Hallischen Händel-Ausgabe, (=Händel-Handbuch), vols 1–4, Leipzig, VEB Verlag für Musik, Kassel, Bärenreiter Verlag, 1978–1986.

a thematic-systematic catalogue of Handel’s works compiled in four volumes between 1978 and 1986. The opera pasticci are not found in Volume One, which lists operas and incidental music, but only in the most recently published Volume Three of instrumental music. In this tome, after the instrumental and chamber music, the pasticci and opera fragments are listed as an ‘appendix’. It should therefore come as no surprise that many musicians and opera directors who are looking for interesting operas by Handel to stage have no knowledge of the opera pasticci, precisely because they are not looked for in the appendix of a volume dedicated to instrumental and chamber music.

It remains to be stated that Handel’s opera pasticci have so far merited only a marginal footnote in the composer’s oeuvre, both in scholarship and in performance practice. Neither at the Göttingen Handel Festival, nor the Karlsruhe and London Handel Festivals, have Handel’s pasticci ever been adequately appreciated. After almost a hundred years of Handel Festival performances in Göttingen and Halle, featuring all of Handel operas, which have been given their own Handel catalogue numbers of 1 to 42, around 2012 we asked ourselves in Halle why the opera pasticci had actually been treated with such disregard. It quickly became clear to us that it was a project of international importance to make Handel’s pasticci known to the public through performances and to publish them in an edition of his works, in preparation for a historical-critical edition that might follow at a much later date. Several arguments speak in favour of this solution:

A genre of Handel’s works is now being made known to the public that has been completely neglected before – and unfairly so, if one considers, on the one hand, the popularity of pasticcio practice at the time and, on the other, the fact that Handel, with his borrowings, had a very different concept of the musical work than in later times. In this respect, Handel’s activity as a ‘mere arranger’ of external models with respect to the pasticci can instead be interpreted as an ‘extreme version’ of Handel’s usual compositional procedure, which is of particular interest precisely because it is located, as it were, at the extreme end of the traditional concept of authorship.

See also W. Hirschmann, ‘Was er angriff, wurde sein eigen – Händels Exzerpierpraxis im Horizont der Genieästhetik’, Berichte zur Wissenschaftsgeschichte, vol. 43, issue 2, 2020, pp. 203–217, https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/toc/15222365/2020/43/2 (accessed 1 July 2021).

The edition project, while using Handel as an example, draws attention to an entire group of works (pasticci) that has been poorly researched and just as little published up to now. This is due to the fact that the question of authorship and ‘music works’ was not of such crucial importance to opera productions in the eighteenth century as it came to be in later times, until the present. In fact, the focus was on the performance event, the success of which depended on factors other than the question of whether an opera came entirely from one composer or was made up of pieces by different composers. In the latter case, it was prerequisite that the pasticcio should not represent a syncretic ‘patchwork’, but that its pieces should fit together to form a dramaturgically meaningful and aesthetically pleasing structure. In other words, opera pasticci must be considered an art form in its own right and of a separate character. Recent research has therefore been unanimous in the conclusion that all of Handel’s pasticci need to be included in a complete edition of his works. What is more, Italian operatic music of the eighteenth century will thus be presented to the public, which is otherwise almost unknown. Since this music bears the ‘Handel quality label’, it can be assumed that it is of good quality.

Performances and editions of the Handel pasticci are to be viewed as a meaningful addition to practices already existing at the Stiftung Händel-Haus, of performing Handel’s complete works as part of the Handel Festival and publishing them in the Halle Handel Edition. The performances will take place in the form of a cycle over the period of several years, primarily in concert and, in the case of selected pasticci, also staged, which will give the Halle Handel Festival and the Handel events in Halle at large even more of an international profile, since in most cases they will be first contemporary public performances of these works. This also extends the scope of attention beyond the edition itself. As a quality brand, the Halle Handel Festival is a guarantee of internationally significant performances. And, last but not least, in its almost a hundred-year-long history, the Halle Handel Festival has repeatedly laid the emphasis on the history of reception and performance practice.

The history of the Halle Handel Festival since 1922 has been marked by continuities, but also discontinuities. From the very beginning, questions of historical performance practice have been at the centre of Festival programming. In retrospect, however, it is also evident that not only in the 1920s, but also in the 1950s, for instance, the Handel operas were nevertheless presented in heavily arranged versions. The aim was not only to make them accessible to the general public, but also to meet the political demand for realistic music theatre. The fact that Handel’s operas were received so enthusiastically during this period, even though (or because?) their interpretations at the time were miles away from historical performance practice, is a phenomenon that is difficult to explain. The route from this largely ‘history-ignoring’ to a ‘historical’ performance practice, consistently called for first and foremost by musicologists, has been long and full of conflicts, but it has finally led to the now widely accepted compromise in the form of the so-called ‘historically informed’ performance practice, which gives more room to artistic freedom than a strictly historical one. This path finally led to the foundation of the Händelfestspielorchester Halle in 1993.

The Handel catalogue lists a total of twelve operatic works in the group of ‘pasticci and opera fragments’ (HWV A1–A14), compiled by the composer out of musical numbers (mainly arias) of various origins. Of these, three are made up exclusively or largely of music by Handel himself: Alessandro Severo, Oreste, and Giove in Argo. These were therefore included in project of the new complete edition of Handel’s works, the Halle Handel Edition, published since 1955. Two of these pasticci by Handel have so far been performed at the Handel Festival:

Oreste, HWV A11 – a stage performance at the Handel Festival 2018,

Giove in Argo, HWV A14 – a stage performance at the Handel Festival 2014.

The pasticcio Alessandro Severo was intended for performance at the 2020 Handel Festival, but it was cancelled due to the COVID pandemic, as was the entire festival edition. A performance at the 2023 Handel Festival has been planned.

Handel assembled the remaining nine pasticci mainly out of music by other composers. The majority of these pasticci have already been performed at the Halle Handel Festival in previous years. These have been:

L’Elpidia, HWV A1 – a concert performance at the Handel Festival 2017,

Ormisda, HWV A3 – concert performance at the Handel Festival 2018,

Venceslao, HWV A4 – concert performance at the Handel Festival 2019,

Lucio Papirio Dittatore, HWV A6 – The pasticcio was scheduled for performance at the Handel Festival 2021, which had to be cancelled due to the pandemic. A streamed concert performance of Favourite Songs was available for the duration of the Handel Festival 2021 at https://haendel.digital,

Catone, HWV A7 – a concert performance at the Handel Festival 2016,

Semiramide riconosciuta, HWV A8 – a concert performance at the Handel Festival 2015,

Cajo Fabbricio, HWV A9 – scheduled for stage performance at the Handel Festival 2022,

Arbace, HWV A10 – a concert performance at the Handel Festival 2019,

Didone abbandonata, HWV A12 – a stage performance at the Handel Festival 2016.

Important partners for the performances in Halle have been, on the one hand, the UK orchestra Opera Settecento conducted by Leo Duarte and, on the other hand, partners from the London Handel Festival within the framework of cooperation and performances at both festivals. In addition, the Italian orchestra Auser Musici conducted by Carlo Ipata performed some of the pasticci, also in cooperation with Italian theatres. Performances of pasticci are cost-intensive because they feature several soloists and are therefore difficult to finance by a single organiser. In this respect they are not different from performances of Handel’s well-known operas and oratorios. However, performances of pasticci usually involves additional tasks that make them more expensive to stage: since there are no editions, they must first be created, including the production of parts, which entails additional costs.

Unfortunately, it has only been in a few exceptional cases that a radio recording of the pasticci performed in Halle has been made possible. It seems that the pasticci continue to be classified in the minds of radio editors as an insignificant genre rather than as sensational first modern performances of Handel’s operas. This is equally true of CD productions. One exception is the CD recording of Handel’s pasticcio Catone by Auser Musici, first performed in London in 1732, and released in 2016 under the Glossa label. In short, unfortunately only a minority of the pasticci performed in Halle have been documented on electronic media. Nor has it been possible, alas, to convince sponsors and donors to finance the editions of Handel’s pasticci, though they were part of the project of the Stiftung Händel-Haus. This is all the more regrettable since there are many arguments, not only music-historical, which speak in favour of an edition of the pasticcio group of works (not included in the old Handel complete edition by Friedrich Chrysander) and of intense scholarly research based on such an edition. Previously unknown operas, arranged by Handel during his London opera tenure and performed side by side with his own works, could thereby have been brought to the attention of today’s audiences. It is precisely the pasticci that could inspire particular interest among opera houses and directors since, apart from their novelty value, a free, non-author-centred approach to the existing operatic text – both on the stage and in the pit – already informs and will continue to inform today’s stage practice.

It remains to be seen whether the initiative of the Stiftung Händel-Haus and the Halle Handel Festival can and will impact the history of Handel reception and performances. To sum up the productions of Handel’s opera pasticci in Halle so far, one can say that it is worth taking a fresh look at this group of works. Above all, this music is worth listening to with open ears. The same applies to all the performances in Halle: the audience was surprised, listened to the music with excitement, and was absolutely thrilled at the end. Event with this effect alone in mind, it seems worthwhile to incorporate Handel’s opera pasticci into current musical practice.

I am firmly convinced that if we succeed in detaching ourselves from the emphatic nineteenth-century concept of works of art by leaving behind the aesthetics of German idealism as represented by Hegel, among others, we will be able to approach the pasticci all the more impartially without value judgments. If we embrace a concept of the artistic work that involves such factors as autonomy, individuality and originality, wholeness and unity, perfect unity of content and form, and many others, then we may indeed come to regard the pasticci as inferior and insignificant, and disregard this group of operatic works, however important they were for the eighteenth century. Handel’s oeuvre and composition practice, which is characterised by borrowings as well as the creation of pasticci and equivalent adaptations of his own compositions, proves, however, that we need to consider a different concept of what a work of art is. It will be appropriate, I believe, to quote in this context the young Umberto Eco’s 1962 collection of essays titled Opera aperta, in which he argues for an expanded aesthetics of works of art. He shows that ‘open art’ began in the Baroque period, since it was then, for the first time, that one withdrew from the norms of the canon and was confronted in art and science with a world in motion that called for a creative-inventive approach.

See U. Eco, Das offene Kunstwerk, trans. G. Memmert, Frankfurt/Main, Suhrkamp, 1977, p. 2.

Eco presents ‘works of art in motion’ (L’Opera in movimento) as a third type of ‘open art’, a term by which he primarily means an open relationship between the interpreter and the interpreted work, in which some elements are left to the performers. If one projects Eco’s concept onto the creation and development of the work of art itself, it represents George Frideric Handel’s compositional intentions quite well, I believe, since Handel’s way of composition is oriented towards the performance and similarly characterised by the composer’s open and free relationship with the musical material. The group of pasticci forms a distinct and exemplary manifestation of such ‘works of art in motion’, so to speak. If we now take Umberto Eco’s idea to its logical conclusion, these ‘open works’ are an expression of modernity and not an inferior genre to be neglected. With the programming of Handel’s pasticci, one of the Halle Handel Festival’s aims has been to contribute to a reconsideration of the old, emphatic concept of the work of art and to establish a new and modern, open and fluid concept of that work.

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