Analysing Music Making in Handel´s Opera Giulio Cesare via Its Musical Literary Contents

Marjo Suominen, University of Helsinki

I study the opera Giulio Cesare in Egitto by Georg Friedrich Handel (1685–1759) as a process from script to performance. My starting point is the London premiere in 1724. I compare the performing score and libretto versions via text analysis, versification, how it has been represented in the music of the opera. Here Handel’s utilises some Matthesonian (composer, theorist Johann Mattheson´s) ideas of musical affects, a theory of musical emotive expression. I focus on three central contemporary performance versions of the opera: 1984 (ENO), 1990 (Sellars) and 2005 (Glyndebourne).

The core of my analysis is the viewpoint of an ideal-listener-viewer. This is included in the opera by its creators Handel and librettist Nicola Francesco Haym, both by textual and musical means. The term was possibly invented by the French composer and music theorist Jean-Philippe Rameau (1683–1764). Through the ideal-listener-viewer the performative “moment-now” element emerges continually recreating the creative process in the opera.

Giulio Cesare contains some early modern rhetoric ideas, which can be seen as modern. This happens firstly through the levels and identities of the opera. Secondly, via its performability, in linguistics and philosophy meaning activities related to performing. Thirdly, via the opera´s intertextuality (Kristeva 1967), or intertexturality (Hertz 1993), the combination of music and other arts, as well as intermusicality (Monson 1996), a compilation of improvisation, performance and listener. Fourthly, there is a historical or philological perspective found in the opera, most of its characters being historical, the events placed in a pseudo-real story.