Benedetto Marcello composed Cassandra in 1727 to a poem by Antonio Conti written at Marcello’s request. The work is a large-scale dramatic cantata for solo alto voice with unfigured basso continuo for the harpsichord; it was not published in Marcello’s lifetime.
Cassandra describes the events of the last years of Trojan War as told by the prophetess Cassandra. Unique in its formal design, the cantata blends arioso sections with recitatives and arias. The expressive vocal line conveys grief, rage, terror, and happiness, and demands vocal agility and technical command from the singer. The work was among the most popular of Marcello’s cantatas during the eighteenth century, and it continued to be performed regularly up to 40 years after it was composed.
In 2014 Carus-Verlag issued Saul, HWV 53, a critical edition of Händel’s oratorio that presents for the first time the version conducted by the composer himself.
Saul is one of the most dramatic of Händel’s oratorios, and to a greater extent than almost any other oratorio it reveals with its gripping power its proximity to opera of its era.
The score demands what was at the time Händel’s most varied orchestra; the normal opera orchestra of the day was augmented by trombones, harp, solo organ, glockenspiel, and large kettledrums. The choir functions for the first time as a central participant in dramatic action, while also undertaking commentating functions as in a Greek tragedy.
This new edition makes use for the first time of musical material revealed by the latest Händel research, based as its most important source on the conducting score from which the composer himself directed his performances. Only this research has shown which arias, choruses, recitatives, and instrumental pieces, after he had made numerous corrections in his autograph, Händel chose for his performances, and in what order they were given.
The result has produced, apart from many changes of details (e.g. autograph instructions concerning the use of the organ), an uncommon ordering of individual pieces, and passages with altered notes.
Michael Tippett called T.S. Eliot his spiritual and artistic mentor, and their numerous discussions in the 1930s proved a lasting influence on the composer’s beliefs about the coming-together of words and music.
Tippett quoted from and alluded to the work of Eliot not only in his early pieces, as has previously been noted, but in much later compositions such as The ice break, The mask of time, and Byzantium.
Eliot’s essay The three voices of poetry examines the number of voices in which the I of a poem can speak, freed from the specificities of prose, and Tippett, influenced by Eliot, harnessed the form of oratorio, freed from the specificities of opera, to allow it to speak in many voices.
This according to “Tippett and Eliot” by Oliver Soden (Tempo LXVII/266 [October 2013] pp. 28–53).
Today is Tippett’s 110th birthday! Below, the opening movements of A child of our time, another of Tippett’s works that was influenced by Eliot.
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