Harmonia Early Music

Handel and the Seven Deadly Sins

A search for sins after the Inquisition in the vocal music of George Frideric Handel, plus a new release of forgotten arias by Baldassare Galuppi.

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A caricature of George Frideric Handel as a glutton, one of the seven deadly sins that he may have been guilty of himself (Joseph Goupy, 1754).

There seem to be two types of sins —- one which is normally forgivable and the other which will incur God’s wrath and get you condemned to Hell. Outlined by Dante in his Divine Comedy, the more serious ones, known as the Seven Deadly Sins, are Lust, Gluttony, Greed, Sloth, Wrath, Envy and Pride.

Of the many examples found in music of the baroque, one has to look no further than the vocal music of George Frideric Handel. The man himself was known to indulge in quite a bit of food and therefore was guilty of the sin of Gluttony. An example of Gluttony can be found in Alexander’s Feast, and, specifically, the bass aria “Bacchus, ever fair and young.”

Pride can be found in the opera Semele where the title character experiences an indulgent episode—in herself. Poor Semele! She slipped into a moment of Pride when she sang aria “Myself I shall adore.” Narcissism can be considered a form of Pride

It is all too easy to find an example of Wrath in Handel’s canon of rage arias, but how about anger on the slow boil? The cantata La Lucrezia is a perfect example. In the second aria, Lucrezia sings “May the ground beneath his feet open up, and the air the evil Roman breathes grow foul! Wherever his step may lead him, wherever his eyes may turn, may he meet ghosts, harbingers of ruin.”

Greed is a bit more elusive to find, yet it does make an appearance in Handel’s oratorio Solomon. Two harlots come to King Solomon, laying claim to the same infant. The second harlot, the liar, makes her case to Solomon, inspired by Greed. And we know how that story ended for the second harlot.

In Ariodante, we find our hero not guilty of Envy but the object of it. In spite of ensuing ruckus and resolution, Ariodante takes a moment to sing the optimistic aria “Dopo notte.”

Apart from Gluttony, Handel may have also been personally guilty of another deadly sin—Sloth. He was infamous for taking other composers works, revamping them a little, and then passing them off as his own. Sometimes the so-called revamping was minimal, if at all, which could only have been due to laziness. For example, compare the chorus “Egypt was glad” from Israel in Egypt with the organ canzona #4 by Johan Caspar Kerll. Guilty, we say.

Last but not least…is Lust. The bully Polifemo is the guilty party from Handel’s Italian version of the Acis and Galatea story. In his first entrance, his eyes are all ablaze for, Galatea, the object of his affection, even if a little misdirected and futile.

New Release

From the well-known to the obscure, our new release of the week is a recording of music by Baldassare Galuppi: Forgotten Arias of a Venetian Master, performed by mezzo-soprano Catherine King and Il Canto di Orfeo, directed by Gianluca Capuano.

The music heard on this episode was performed by the Monteverdi Choir, the English Baroque Soloists, Ruth Ann Swenson, the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, Véronique Gens, Les Basses Réunies, the Gabrieli Consort and Players, Anne Sofie von Otter, David Thomas, and the Orchestra of London Baroque.

Music Heard On This Episode

George Frideric Handel: Act 1, Scene 13: Ballo; Gavotte
Les Musiciens du Louvre, Marc Minkowski, dir. — Ariodante (Archiv1997)
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George Frideric Handel: Act 1, Scene 13: Ballo; Gavotte
Les Musiciens du Louvre, Marc Minkowski, dir. — Ariodante (Archiv1997)
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George Frideric Handel: Act 1, Scene 13: Ballo; Musette 1: Lentement
Les Musiciens du Louvre, Marc Minkowski, dir. — Ariodante (Archiv, 1997)
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George Frideric Handel: Act 1, Scene 13: Ballo; Allegro
Les Musiciens du Louvre, Marc Minkowski, dir. — Ariodante (Archiv, 1997)
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George Frideric Handel: Air and Chorus: Bacchus, ever fair and young
Stephen Varcoe, bass, Monteverdi Choir and English Baroque Soloists, John Eliot Gardiner, dir. — Alexander's Feast (Philips, 1987)
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George Frideric Handel: Aria: Myself I shall adore
Ruth Ann Swenson, soprano, Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, Sir Charles Mackerras, cond. — Endless Pleasure (EMI)
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George Frideric Handel: Recitativo: O numi eterni!
Véronique Gens, soprano, and Les Basses Réunies — Cantates (Virgin Veritas, 1999)
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George Frideric Handel: Aria: Gia superbo del mio affano
Véronique Gens, soprano, and Les Basses Réunies — Cantates (Virgin Veritas, 1999)
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George Frideric Handel: Recitativo: Ma voi forse nel cielo
Véronique Gens, soprano, and Les Basses Réunies — Cantates (Virgin Veritas, 1999)
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Geroge Frideric Handel: Aria: Il suol she preme
Véronique Gens, soprano, and Les Basses Réunies — Cantates (Virgin Veritas, 1999)
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George Frideric Handel: Recitative: What says the other
Andreas Scholl, Susan Bickley, Gabrieli Consort and Players, Paul McCreesh, dir. — Solomon (Archiv, 1999)
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George Frideric Handel: Air: Thy sentence, great king
Andreas Scholl, Susan Bickley, Gabrieli Consort and Players, Paul McCreesh, dir. — Solomon (Archiv, 1999)
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George Frideric Handel: Aria: Dopo notte
Anne Sofie von Otter, mezzo-soprano, Orchestra of Les Musiciens du Louvre, Marc Minkowski, dir. — Ariodante (Archiv, 1997)
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George Friderich Handel: Chorus: Egypt was glad
King's College Choir, Cambridge, and the Brandenburg Consort, Stephen Cleobury, dir. — Israel in Egypt (Decca, 2000)
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Johan Caspar Kerll: Canzona
John O'Donnell — Johan Caspar Kerll, Complete Keyboard Works (Tall Poppies, 1999)
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George Frideric Handel: Aria: Sibilar l'angui
David Thomas, bass, London Baroque, Charles Medlam, cond. — Aci, Galetea e Polifemo (HMC, 1987)
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Baldassare Galuppi: Aria: Cedo alla sorte
Catherine King, mezzo-soprano, Il Canto di Orfeo, Gianluca Capuano, dir. — Baldassare Galuppi, Forgotten Arias of a Venetian Master (Avie, 2006)
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Bernard Gordillo

Bernard Gordillo was born in Managua, Nicaragua, and raised in New Orleans. He holds degrees from Centenary College of Louisiana, the Early Music Institute at Indiana University, and the Guildhall School of Music and Drama (London). Bernard also writes and hosts the Harmonia Early Music Podcast.

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