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Handel’s Acis and Galatea: Arrangements by Mozart and Mendelssohn

Performances by Les Arts Florissants (Erato), The English Concert (Archiv), and the Goettingen Festival Orchestra (Carus).

statue of man and woman

Photo: Pete Reed

A statue of Acis and Galatea, part of a much larger work by Auguste Ottin which includes Polyphemus (Luxembourg Gardens, Paris).

George Frideric Handel

Handel’s Acis and Galatea, the “little opera” as he called it, was hugely popular in his day. The mythological love triangle between Acis, Galatea, and Polyphemus, was set to music by many baroque composers, but Handel’s was different because he returned to it at different points throughout his lifetime (setting it initially in Italian and then in English). However, it was the English version, premiered in 1718, which was, by far, the more famous.

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

In 1788, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart received a commission from Baron Gottfried van Swieten, who requested that he make an arrangement of Handel’s Acis and Galatea. Mozart not only used a German translation by van Swieten, but set about expanding and adapting the orchestration, as well adding music from Handel’s Concerti Grossi. The work that came out of Mozart’s task, the first of four Swieten-Handel commissions, retained quite a bit of its baroque character, yet was unmistakably of the Classical Era.

Felix Mendelssohn

In 2005, a manuscript of a Mendelssohn work was acquired by the Handel Society in Göttingen, Germany, which turned out to be something that few people knew existed. It was copy of an arrangement of Acis and Galatea by Felix Mendelssohn, who in 1728 created the work using a translation by his sister Fanny. And like Mozart, Mendelssohn not only greatly expanded Handel’s modest composition, but gave it a distinctively Romantic touch.

Music Heard On This Episode

G.F. Handel: Overture
Les Arts Florissants/William Christie — Acis and Galatea (Erato, 1999)
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G.F. Handel: Overture
Les Arts Florissants/William Christie — Acis and Galatea (Erato, 1999)
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G.F. Handel: Aria “Love sounds th'Alarm”
Les Arts Florissants/William Christie — Acis and Galatea (Erato, 1999)
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G.F. Handel/Mozart, arr.: Overture
The English Concert/Trevor Pinnock — Acis and Galatea (Archiv, 1992)
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G.F. Handel/Mozart, arr.: Aria “Du röter als die Kirsche”
The English Concert/Trevor Pinnock — Acis and Galatea (Archiv, 1992)
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G.F. Handel/Mendelssohn, arr.: Overture
FestspielOrchester Göttingen/Nicholas McGegan — Acis and Galatea (Carus, 2008)
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G.F. Handel/Mendelssohn, arr.: Aria “Sieh, törichter schäfer”
FestspielOrchester Göttingen/Nicholas McGegan — Acis and Galatea (Carus, 2008)
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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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