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Reviewed by:
  • George Frideric Handel: Collected Documents ed. by Donald Burrows et al.
  • Thomas McGeary
George Frideric Handel: Collected Documents. Vol. 3: 1734–1742. Ed. by Donald Burrows, Helen Coffey, John Greenacombe, and Anthony Hicks. Pp. xvi + 928. (Cambridge University Press, Cambridge and New York, 2018. £120. ISBN 978-1-107-01955-3.)

This third volume of the George Frideric Handel: Collected Documents project covers just eight seasons, from the arrival of Carlo Broschi (called 'Farinelli') in September 1734 as the star of the second season of the Opera of the Nobility, the rival to Handel and Heidegger's opera company, to Handel's return to Britain (August 1742) from Dublin, where he first performed Messiah after two series of subscription concerts.

When the Handel: Collected Documents (HCD) project began, with the mission to update the venerable O. E. Deutsch Handel: A Documentary Biography (London, 1955), the need to gather and present all documents relating to Handel in new transcriptions, translations, and commentary was pressing. No document containing a reference to Handel was too slight to warrant inclusion. Even such fresh presentation and collection of familiar sources would allow a reader to escape the fog of Handel hagiology and create a more accurate biography of the composer. The first volume set and achieved exemplary standards at collecting, presenting, and commenting on the documents—creating a new foundation for further Handel biography. This volume continues the high standards and assumes its place as an essential Handelian reference work. With the third volume, though, this exhaustively inclusive approach begins to have a downside for a reader (as opposed to researcher wanting documentation about a specific event in Handel's life).

With Handel living in a major metropolitan centre that boasted numerous newspapers and magazines, with historians having easier access to more State documents, and with the survival [End Page 549] of numerous family papers that have migrated to county record offices and libraries, there is now a surfeit of material referring directly or indirectly to Handel. Especially with newspaper announcements and advertisements, printing in HCD every document containing Handel's name or even indirectly relating to him can become repetitive and yield diminishing returns to a reader. At some point while turning pages, a reader will probably ask if we need full-dress treatment of every document about performances of the Te Deum and Jubilate, Water Music, Zadok the Priest (Coronation Anthem), Saul, Alexander's Feast, and the harp concerto played by Parry—except as testimony to how widely heard Handel's music was.

The swelling of Volume 3 (848 pages for eight years), compared to Volume 2 (794 pages for nine years), is also due to how the editors have carried out their secondary aim of providing context to Handel's musical career. In their Scope note, the editors state that non-Handelian 'material about other opera companies and their performers (for example, concerning Farinelli) is included only when it seems likely to have affected Handel directly' (p. ix). But the wide latitude of this mission leads to a slippery slope with no clear or observable bounds for documents to be included. With a desire to provide a vista of Handel's musical landscape for the reader by means of reprinting (in full transcription and commentary) concert or benefit announcements, death notices, and subscription or publication advertisements, a broad range of fellow composers, musicians, singers, royal family members, institutions, and public and theatrical events passes before us, including Farinelli (Carlo Broschi), Caffarielli (Gaetano Majorano), Strada del Po, John Ernst Galliard, the artist Joseph Goupy, John Beard, John Christopher Smith Sr, the actor David Garrick, Charles Jennens's fortepiano, Domenico Scarlatti, the building or opening of pleasure gardens (Vauxhall, Ranelegh, Marylebone, and Cuper's), the painter Jacopo Amigoni, building of the New Music Room in Dublin, minutes of Mercer's Hospital (Dublin), Thomas Arne's setting of Addison's Rosamond (1740), the Society of Musicians, J. C. Smith Jr's Rosalinda (1740) and David's Lamentation over Saul and Jonathan (1740), Maurice Greene, Willem De Fesch's Judith (1740), the Apollo Society, Charles Clay's musical clock, the Salisbury Musical Society, the Academy of Ancient Music, a raffle for Mr Pinchbeck's...


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