March 7th 2020

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Articles from this issue:

COVER STORY Beyond the Great Divide

EDITORIAL Holden, China, covid19: Time for industry reset

CANBERRA OBSERVED Political promises on the Never Never never never work well for the nation

CLIMATE POLITICS Business joins in climate change chorus

FOREIGN AFFAIRS Divided Democrats will help re-elect Donald Trump

GENDER POLITICS Project Nettie: Science takes on ideology

FOREIGN AFFAIRS Myth-busting China's 'soft power'

FOREIGN AFFAIRS Covid19 outbreak hits China's growth, imperils Communist Party

POLITICS AND SOCIETY What should the champions of democracy care about?

HISTORY Putting Lenin on the train: History's biggest blunder

NCC CONFERENCE 2020 Strengthening family, freedom, and sovereignty in a hostile world

HUMOUR Hooray for our premiers

MUSIC Handel: A composer who knew the value of a quick turnaround

CINEMA Emma: Handsome, clever, rich

BOOK REVIEW Useful but limited analysis of the breakdown of distinctions today

BOOK REVIEW The successive possessors of the West's first printed book




NATIONAL AFFAIRS Cardinal Pell's appeal in the High Court this week

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Handel: A composer who knew the value of a quick turnaround

by David James

News Weekly, March 7, 2020

The music of George Frideric Handel is among the most melodic and perfectly executed in the classical canon. He was at least the equal of Bach as a melodist and his counterpoint, while not as dense or complex, is in many ways more elegant.

He is truly one of the greats, yet he is not accorded the same reverence as other composers.

Why is this so? Part of the reason is that he was a professional musician who, in the first instance, strictly composed for money. That was not especially unusual; so did Mozart and many others. Yet there is a sense in which Handel was solely a musician; he does not reach beyond his own works in the way that many other composers do.

This can be demonstrated (perhaps ever so slightly tongue in cheek), by asking Handel the question: “What is your view of Donald Trump and would you vote for him?’ Handel would have undoubtedly replied: “Donald Trump? Never heard of the fellow. But does he want a little something for his inauguration? I have some lovely pieces and my fees are delightfully modest. Oh, and what is a ‘vote’?”

If Bach were asked that question, I suspect he would have said something like: “Mr Trump has erected some extremely impressive edifices – they are called Trump Towers, I believe – but, unlike my humble works of timeless genius, not a single one was for the glory of God. Instead, they were for the glory of Donald Trump, which, das ist mir Wurscht, is not very saintly and does not constitute good works. So, it’s a ‘no’ from me.”

Mozart would undoubtedly have responded by saying: “I need someone for my new opera Don Trumpovani, and who better to have than an orange-haired big-noter with lots of money and an inability to get to the end of a sentence? I can hear the flutes and timpani now. The audience will be in stitches. Maybe he can give me a commission or 20; my fees are delightfully modest. It’s a ‘yes’ from me.”

We can be absolutely confident about how Beethoven would have responded – and in stentorian tones. “Herr Trump can be compared to the greatest consuls of Ancient Rome, just like I once thought Napoleon was before he declared himself emperor and forced me to change the name of my third ‘Bonaparte’ symphony to the Eroica Symphony. I would vote for him every time!

“Herr Trump is still a common mortal and, more than that, he is taller than that obnoxious little Frenchman! Unlike Bonaparte, he will not tread underfoot all the rights of man – well, apart from the hapless slaves unfortunate enough to work in his businesses, that is. Yet Herr Trump does not think himself superior to all men. True, he is worth a lot more money than just about everyone else, so I guess we can give him a little leeway on that. I wonder if he wants a symphony. My fees are delightfully excessive.”

Chopin would say something like: “I very much prefer Melania, actually. Gorgeous. I would love to play her a nocturne or two from close range, accompanied by elegant heavy breathing and roving but agile fingers with lots of complex cross-rhythms.”

The Russians, such as Sergei Rachmaninoff, would have res-ponded this way. “I would vote for Mr Trump, of course. He is the personal lapdog of Vladimir Putin and a Russian asset – oh, no, wait a minute, that was just a load of drivel invented by the American mainstream media and the U.S. political and intelligence class. It’s obviously fake news! Russians have standards.”

Alright, that is quite enough of that thought experiment. But I think the point is made – to my satisfaction, if nobody else’s – that there is a sense in which Handel does not communicate in his music a great deal of personality.

His talent was rather one of animating other things. The Messiah, for example, is a glorious explication of the Christmas story, but that story is both foreground and background; there is little sense of what Handel’s own thoughts on it might have been.

For him, the music is where it entirely begins and ends. Yet that music is surely some of the best ever penned.

David James is a Melbourne writer and musician.

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