E 320M • Literature and Music
12:30 PM-2:00 PM
The course focuses on operas and choral compositions of Purcell, Handel and Mozart, and the literary texts they are based on. Technical musical knowledge is not a pre-requisite. We will mainly be concerned with problems of setting literary texts to music.
We start with the first English opera, Purcell's Dido and Aeneas (text by Nahum Tate, a poet laureate), and with Purcell's collaborations (semi-operas) with a more worthy poet laureate, Dryden, The Indian Queen and King Arthur. The reasoned bias of Dryden against English as a language to be set to music will be examined.
In a vacation from his public English career as composer of Italian opera Handel collaborated with John Gay on a masque or chamber opera, Acis and Galatea, and with Pope on an oratorio, Esther, both originally intended for a small private audience. Handel at first shared Dryden's view of setting English texts, and was committed to composing and producing opera in Italian. But, along with his settings of Dryden's Ode for St. Cecilia's Day and Alexander's Feast, (which we will also study) these works later provided the path that led Handel to become the great composer of English oratorio. The foremost example of this genre is his Messiah.
One 'oratorio' we will study is actually an English opera, with an earlier libretto by Congreve, Semele, which Handel presented in chorale fashion, not staging it.
We will also study a musical comedy that is, among other things, a parody of Handelian opera, John Gay's The Beggar's Opera. (We may take an excursus into its twentieth-century updating in The Three-Penny Opera of Weill and Brecht.)
The latter part of the course will deal with Mozart's and Da Ponte's The Marriage of Figaro and Don Giovanni. We will read and discuss the literary sources of their librettos, Beaumarchais' play and Moliere's Don Juan.
The grading for the course will be based on three papers, two short, one long, (total: at least 16 pages), an oral report and participation in the class discussion.