The Historical Context of Handel’s Semele (1743) (click the title to download the full text)
Queens’ College, Cambridge. Supervised by Professor TCW Blanning.
This thesis locates Handel’s Semele within the political, religious, moral and literary ideas of its time, to show not only how they enhance our understanding of it, but more importantly, to show how it develops and broadens our understanding of them. It examines the development of Congreve’s libretto in the context both of the national politics of the Act of Settlement and Hanoverian succession and the theatrical and moral politics of Jeremy Collier’s personal attack on him. It considers the social and political context of Handel’s production, and illustrates how Semele related to national political concerns, including the fall of Walpole, the rise of Countess Yarmouth and the Patriot King opposition, and to the changing moral climate of Georgian Britain and to the political manoeuvrings of London’s theatre companies. It considers musical and artistic influences on Handel’s composition and considers which of these, if any, might have influenced Handel’s. Finally, it traces the development of Handel’s libretto and examines how his approach to performing Semele changed during the season of 1744.
The Cannons Scholars
The Cannons Scholars are a modern-instrument ensemble performing works of the eighteenth century, and specialising in English-language theatre works. Their first concert was of Mozart’s Gran Partita K361 (the ‘Serenade for 13 Wind Instruments’) in February 2004, followed the following June by a performance of Handel’s original version of Acis and Galatea. Notable concerts since have included the 1737 burlesque The Dragon of Wantley, John Eccles’ opera Semele, Arne’s masque The Judgment of Paris and Gluck’s Orfeo ed Euridice including a selection of arias written by J.C. Bach for its London premiere in 1770.