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Handel as Orpheus: Voice and Desire in the Chamber Cantatas Hardcover – January 30, 2002


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 448 pages
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press (January 30, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0674006178
  • ISBN-13: 978-0674006171
  • Product Dimensions: 10.2 x 7.1 x 1.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #3,078,174 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Library Journal

Harris (music and theater arts, MIT) has written numerous scholarly studies on Handel's music. Here, she restricts herself to a discussion of his chamber cantatas from a social point of view, exposing the exclusive and secret homosexual society in which they were created. The compositions were written during a 17-year period (1706-23) when Handel lived in the homes of aristocratic patrons, first in Italy and then in Germany and England. Harris concentrates on the texts, including for the first time complete translations of all 67, and discusses them in terms of their classical meanings, social context, and secret codes and private references. Though well written and extremely interesting, this study is not for the casual reader; it includes extensive musical and textual analysis and requires some background in 18th-century social and music history. Suitable for large public and academic libraries. Timothy J. McGee, Univ. of Toronto
Copyright 2001 Reed Business Information, Inc.

Review

Harris has written numerous scholarly studies on Handel's music. Here, she restricts herself to a discussion of his chamber cantatas from a social point of view, exposing the exclusive and secret homosexual society in which they were created...Though well written and extremely interesting, this study is not for the casual reader; it includes extensive musical and textual analysis and requires some background in 18th-century social and music history. Suitable for large public and academic libraries. (Timothy J. McGee Library Journal 2001-10-15)

Could George Frideric Handel have been gay? And if so, what, if anything, would that tell us about the music he wrote? These questions--equally challenging in their respective ways--have been around for a while, generally at the fringes of musical scholarship. Now they have been raised with fresh urgency by a provocative new book, Handel as Orpheus. (Joshua Kosman San Francsico Chronicle 2002-02-17)

[T]his book is both the first comprehensive musicological study of Handel's cantatas and a homosexual interpretation of their texts and music, reflecting the same-sex activities of the aristocratic circles in which Handel worked...Offering a well-rounded view of the cantatas, she presents a thoroughly documented case for interpreting the encoding and restraint used to veil same-sex meanings, while meticulously presenting alternative or multiple interpretations and other historical information. (J. Girdham Choice 2002-06-01)

At the core of Handel as Orpheus is a study of Handel's continuo and instrumental cantatas, a subject Ellen Harris embarked on over 25 years ago. Marshalling the results of archival and manuscript research as well as her own musical and literary analyses, Harris offers a contextual interpretation of the cantatas and their musical development; grouping Handel's cantatas by time and place of composition, she explores the characteristics of each period. (Thomas McGeary Early Music 2002-11-01)

A comfortingly humane work of scholarship. The topic of Handel's sexuality--very much germane to the Italian cantatas that are Ms. Harris's principle concern--is addressed with candor and sympathy. We come closer to the composer, partly by feeling the shape of doubt. (Paul Griffiths New York Times)

Ellen Harris demonstrates in this magnificent book how, on the one hand, not all the meanings of texts will submit to the authors' control (this I had expected), but also, on the other, how a meaning imparted by an author may be "true to life" insofar as it is concealed. This I had not expected to work so well: to have traced the author's voice in his musical as well as his biographical silences is an achievement for which Ellen Harris should be envied. (Reinhard Strohm Journal of the American Musicological Society 2007-04-01)

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1 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Brunson on February 12, 2010
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
The question of Handel's possible homosexuality is interesting, if not necessarily crucial to an appreciation of his art. This book analyses, in "graduate student" style, certain aspects of the Italian cantatas that seem to reflect a homosexual environment. The thesis would gain from more context drawn from biography, literature and social history. A good editor would have pruned heavily. Nevertheless, worth reading if you are interested in Handel the man, a complex and fascinating figure as well as a great genius.
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