Thesis submission ID 936 | created | last updated

Cathal Twomey, 'To Catch the Song': Word-Setting, Creative Collaboration, and the Reader-Listener in Handel's English-Language Works
PhD, Maynooth University, 2021

Volumes, pp.: 2 vols (425pp and 309pp)  Wordcount: 109000
Supervisor(s): Estelle Murphy
Repository (online):
Repository (hard copy): John Paul II Library, Maynooth University

General specialism: Musicology
Historical timeframe: 1712-1759
Key terms, concepts: Word-setting; creative collaboration; reader-listenership; linguistics
Key terms, persons: George Frideric Handel; Henry Purcell
Key terms, places: London
Key terms, institutions: Covent Garden;
Key terms, genres, instruments: Baroque Music; Oratorio; Opera; Anthem; English Song

George Frideric Handel’s English-language works were immensely popular with the eighteenth-century public, and many remain staples of concert repertoire today. Important research exists on the philosophical import of the texts for these works, and on the oratorio-listener as reader, but it focusses on a small part of the composer’s English output, while musico-linguistic analysts have neglected eighteenth-century English music in general. Addressing these understudied areas, the aim of this thesis is two-fold. First, to apply recent models of musico-linguistic analysis to Handel’s English output as a whole, in combination with aesthetic commentary of the period. Secondly, to investigate the dissemination of these libretti as wordbooks without music, published copies independent of musical scores, and other sources offering the text a potential for appreciation parallel to (or separate from) music.
When writing texts for Handel, what decisions did poets make regarding verse form, rhyme scheme, and metre? What input did the composer have in this process? How did his music reflect the formal nuances of the finished libretto? Musico-linguistic analysis offers new perspectives on such issues, illuminating the deeply collaborative nature of these works. Furthermore, while Handel’s English word-setting is often criticised for unidiomatic prosody, I explore counterintuitive stressing as a fruitful tension between musical and verbal communication. Handel’s librettists are frequently dismissed as mediocre poets, merely providing frameworks for music. I argue that audiences’ engagement with the published texts of Handel’s English works formed a more integral part of their musical experience than has previously been acknowledged. Through the concept of reader-listenership, I explore the literate nature of eighteenth-century music-consumption, including the reading of a libretto before and during its performance, of stage directions for a music-drama always intended to be unstaged, and of a poetic text whose formal and semantic implications could conflict with those realized in performance.

Related publications:
‘“Things shall Answer to Things”: Parallelism in the Librettos of Handel’s English Scriptural Works’, Handel Institute Newsletter, forthcoming, Autumn 2021
Thesis submission ID 936