1 page, oblong 4to, (24 x 28.2 cms), 10-stave paper, watermarked "LVG" with a shield, inky fingerprints on verso (Handel's?), [probably 1734], some restoration around the margins not affecting the text, Handel's ink strong and clear, trace of mount on verso, staining and small tears to margins
Handel is, along with J.S. Bach, the greatest composer of the late Baroque, of which his Italian operas represent the high point of the bel canto tradition. After these two giants of music, only Haydn and Mozart are of comparable importance in eighteenth-century music. Handel's vocal writing is unparalleled in Baroque opera for its emotional power, expressing the predicaments of his protagonists.
Autograph music by Handel is arguably the rarest of all the great composers of Western music: it so rare that it is generally "unobtainable" on the open market, because the great majority of his autographs were bequeathed to George III by the 1780s; since when they have been in the Royal Library, now in the British Library, perhaps the most important concentration of any great composer's autographs in one place. Of the eight autograph manuscripts that we have traced at auction during the last century, only this and one other are not now in institutional libraries. This is one of the very few examples still in private hands and one of only three Handel manuscripts listed by Donald Burrows as lost. Of the other two, one is believed to have been destroyed by a fire in 1860, and the other is the property of the Handel House Collections Trust in London.
This manuscript is thought to contain the final page of an aria for soprano castrato, that Handel intended to insert into his important revised edition of Il pastor fido in May 1734, reusing music originally composed for Ezio two years earlier. Donald Burrows has pointed out that the music is closely related to Massimo's aria 'Se povero il ruscello' in Ezio, and offers this explanation: "In his annotated copy of Il pastor fido (RM 19.e.4), Handel indicated that for this revival 'Se povero' was to be inserted for Mirtillo (sung by Carestini) in place of the aria 'Lontan dal mio tesoro' in Act 1, and there are some pencil amendments to 'Se povero' in the conducting score of Ezio which may be connected to the same plan." John Roberts suggests that the aria is more suited to Silvio's character, which was a tenor part in the 1734 Il pastor fido, but in the this manuscript the part is notated for a soprano castrato, like Carestini.
The music comes from an aria laid out in the traditional da capo form of Italian opera, with an “A” section repeated after a contrasting “B” section. The main theme of 'Se povero il ruscello' from Ezio is seen at the start of the ritornello for the violins in the lower system of the manuscript; the bass and viola parts have been revised but are obviously still very similar to aria from Ezio. The words for the close of the "B" section in this manuscript are "...si questo mio core, che sol di fere godo, deve temer la frode, non ascoltar amore, n' aver di lei pietà", which are naturally quite different from Ezio. The music is also very different from the original aria, where the “B” section is strongly contrasting and in 4/4 time. Indeed, what remains of 'Se povero il ruscello' from Ezio is the three-bar ritornello incipit and the syllable "Se" marking the return of the "A" section (the da capo). Bernd Baselt does not record this adaptation from Ezio among the four numbers that Handel reused in the second version of Il pastor Fido
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