Handel and the harp
For an audience member attending the premiere of George Frideric Handel’s oratorio “Alexander’s Feast” in 1736, it must have come as a total surprise to hear a harp concerto within the drama. It was, after all, a completely novel thing to do, even for Handel. But then again, the harp is an ancient symbol and one associated with power (remember King David or Orpheus), so a noble character playing the harp only reinforced the audience’s understanding of what they saw and heard.
Handel was, of course, aware of this. And while he didn’t compose music for the harp very often, the few works he did write show that he knew what kind of effect it would have on his audience.
Harpist Maxine Eilander
The virtuoso baroque harpist Maxine Eilander also knew this when she recorded the surviving works by Handel for the harp on the ATMA label. Entitled “Handel’s Harp,” Eilander collaborated with soprano Cyndia Sieden and the Seattle Baroque Orchestra (directed by Stephen Stubbs) in order to bring together the harp music found in the oratorios Esther and Alexander’s Feast, and the opera Giulio Cesare (including a few extras).
Although Handel’s harp concerto is known to many a harpist, the Sinfonia and aria V’adoro pupille from Giulio Cesare are among the most popular excerpts. Sung by Cleopatra, the words to V’adoro pupille are a pure expression of love and longing—“I adore you, eyes, lightning bolts of love, your sparks are welcome in my breast.”
Consort music for Queen Elisabeth I
Queen Elizabeth I wasn’t just an all-powerful English monarch, but a significant patron of a vibrant musical culture at her court, which boasted the employ of many famous composers during the English Renaissance. As well, according to contemporary accounts, the Queen was known on several occasions to sing, dance, and play the lute or virginals.
One popular form of music heard at court was the consort song, which involved multiple singers performing newly composed music whose themes ran the gamut from the pastoral to the erotic or the merely suggestive.
Our featured release is a debut recording by the Spanish ensemble More Hispano on the Carpe Diem label. True to their central artistic mission, the ensemble (directed by recorder player Vicente Parrila) focuses on improvisations, using Renaissance and early baroque tunes from Spain and Italy.