Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

"Winning the Cause"—Handel's Reply to Dryden's Arguments in “Alexander's Feast” and “A Song for St. Cecilia's Day”
by Farson, Helen Annette, Ph.D., University of California, Santa Barbara, 2013, 261; 3559786
Abstract (Summary)

John Dryden (1631–1700) and George Frederic Handel (1685–1759) produced literary and musical works that have long been regarded as icons of English culture. Their respective arts merged in the late 1730s when Handel took up two of Dryden's most famous poems, "Alexander's Feast" (1736) and "A Song for St. Cecilia's Day" (1739) and re-set them to music. This dissertation probes the genesis of Dryden's poems through a survey of the religious and political climate of the seventeenth century. I juxtapose Dryden's possible poetic intents in writing the poems with Handel's response to those intents. After offering an interpretive reading of the poems and the music I consider the evolution and significance of the myth of St. Cecilia as musical patroness in early modern England as well as her influence on both men. I also consider Handel's use of fugue in each work, a compositional tact which allowed him to circumscribe the works as quasi-religious. I argue that Handel understood Dryden's literary stature and used his semi-sacred poems to explore the divide of sacred and secular entertainment in England.

My study indicates that Handel approached "A Song for St. Cecilia's Day" with a greater degree of compositional caution and diffidence than seen in his setting of "Alexander's Feast," thereby possibly honoring Dryden's wish that music should remain a "sensible" art with textual clarity of primary concern. In Alexander's Feast, however, Handel treats the dramatic personae with a sort of inventive wit and pathos that seems lacking in A Song for St. Cecilia's Day. In tracing the evolution and reception of these poems from Dryden's pen to Handel's settings of them, I note how Dryden's words reflect the anxieties of his age regarding the rise of music as an independent entity. Handel's response to this anxiety and the way in which his work was embraced by the English public indicate a major shift in eighteenth-century thought regarding the status of music. Alexander's Feast and A Song for St. Cecilia's Day embody Handel's early creative exploits as he sought, artistically and commercially, to broach the divide of musical entertainment deemed sacred and secular.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Tcharos, Stefanie
Commitee: Hall, Patricia, Katz, Derek
School: University of California, Santa Barbara
Department: Music
School Location: United States -- California
Source: DAI-A 74/08(E), Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: European history, Music
Keywords: Alexander's Feast, Dryden, John, Eighteenth-century London, England, Handel, George Frideric, Music, Song for St. Cecilia's Day
Publication Number: 3559786
ISBN: 978-1-303-05177-7
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