Thursday 13 July 2006

The Sound of Silence - 2

The first part of this article is here.

If we turn to the evidence on Handel, there is little detail and the musicologist must try any read much into little. I had always assumed that Handel was heterosexual on the basis of the 2 surviving comments about his affairs. The Electress of Hanover’s comment, in a letter to her daughter, that Handel was coming to town with Vittoria Tarquini and that they were in a liaison. Unfortunately there is little else to link Handel and Vittoria, it is not even certain whether she was even in his opera, Rodrigo, in Venice at the time. The 2nd comment is a marginal note by George III in his copy of Mainwaring’s biography, to the effect that Handel tended to have affairs within his own circle of musicians.

Both the early books on Handel, Mainwaring’s biography and Hawkins’s A General History of the Science and Practice of Music treat the subject with some curious circumlocutions which Gary C. Thomas convincingly argues were being used to cover up Handel’s real sexual preferences. But of course this is all subjective.

What is possibly more telling is the resounding silence in the rest of the evidence? Though Handel’s autographs survive in large quantities, indicating that he took a degree of care of his papers, we have hardly any personal effects. The lack is so considerable that it would seem to indicate a definitive removal of material rather than sheer carelessness.

We must be careful, at this stage, not to read too much into the silence; not to rush in with sounds of our own making. After all, there are examples of other figures who chose to ensure that their personal papers were destroyed simply out of a sense of privacy. Elizabeth Gaskell was one of these, she requested that her daughters destroy all of her letters and papers – and she had nothing particular to hide.

In Handel’s case, we are reduced to close readings of various statements of his biographers. This is the nub of Gary C Thomas’s essay in “Queering the Pitch”

These are subtle readings and it is difficult to be sure, but the most interesting aspect remains the determination of commentators to project their own concerns into the silence.

To be concluded tomorrow

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