The Work of the Bee
Musical Borrowings & Trinitarian Echoes
by Christopher Hoyt
George Frideric Handel stands out even among his contemporaries as a composer who borrowed musical ideas with exceptional frequency. Though the composer Johann Mattheson mentioned Handel’s borrowing habit as early as 1722, research and thought devoted to the subject has significantly blossomed only over the last three decades, with scholars such as George Buelow and John Roberts spearheading the effort to catalogue and evaluate an ever-lengthening list of borrowings.
Messiah, Handel’s best-known musical work, has not escaped this scrutiny. Music scholar Wendy Lai has argued that there are as many as eleven different instances of borrowing spread across ten of Messiah’s movements. Some of these are self-borrowings: Handel reworked materials from a set of his own Italian duets (most of which he had written in 1741, the same year as Messiah) and from his own opera Riccardo Primo (1727). But he also appropriated bits from two of Reinhard Keiser’s operas, Claudius (1703) and La forza della virtù (1700), as well as from Giovanni Porta’s opera Numitore (1720).
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Christopher Hoyt is the author of Under Authority: Practicing Submission in a Rebellious Society (Anglican Liturgy Press, forthcoming). He teaches the humanities at Good Shepherd School (Reformed Episcopal) in Tyler, Texas. He is the general editor of the hymnal The Book of Common Praise/Magnify the Lord, an Adjunct Professor of Sacred Music at Cranmer Theological House (Reformed Episcopal), and the organist/choirmaster at Good Shepherd Church in Tyler.
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