Ornament and the affections in the opera arias of George Frideric Handel

Jennifer Heather Farrell
2008
The performance of opera arias composed by George Frideric Handel in our modern day is complicated by the necessity of including improvised embellishments, which were a standard component of the eighteenth-century genre of opera seria. Furthermore, discussions concerning the concepts of historical authenticity and performance practice muddle the issue of preparing Handel's music for presentation. In recent years scholars have prepared ornamented versions of select Handel arias in consultation
more » ... s in consultation with eighteenth-century performance practice treatises and other contemporary materials that provide considerable insight into the purpose and execution of ornamentation in performances Handel himself oversaw. What remains relatively unexplored, however, is the relationship between eighteenth-century embellishments and the Baroque affections, or passions. The affections, or passions, were rationalized emotional states derived from the Greek and Latin doctrines of rhetoric and oratory which Baroque composers sought to evoke and express in their music. This study explores the correlation of Baroque affections with ornaments as a legitimate approach to the composition of embellishments for Handel's opera arias. The tradition of rhetoric, the conventions of late Baroque Italian opera seria as a form, and the practice of ornamentation as an integral part of these conventions are examined. The study also provides a survey of eighteenth-century literature concerning the relationship of the musical representation of affects and ornamentation. Lastly, a review of Handel's operatic career and of the plots of the Agrippina, Rinaldo and Rodelinda will provide a context for the preparation of "affective" ornamented versions of six arias from these operas. In closing, a brief discussion of the early music movement and of the debates surrounding the use of the term "authentic" in relation to historic performance practices will illuminate the relevance of the relationship between affect and ornament to twenty-first century performances.
doi:10.14288/1.0066679 fatcat:3ytjd6dclzahjlurtytcnjobxu