MEDITATING WITH HANDEL IN THE STUDIO

— ASSAGGIO 1.0


A. INTRODUCTION


This exposition relates to pages 49 to 55 of my 25%

seminar text, the whole of which is available here:

 

The exposition is designed as a complement to the

text, disclosing the materials used in the Assaggio

both visually and audibly, and as a documentation

of the experimental process. It is directed more

towards artistic results than academic formulations.


Aims

Assaggio 1.0 aims to "pay attention" to what Handel

himself might have been paying attention to when

he wrote his cantata HWV 77. In "Relearning the Art

of Paying Attention: A Conversation" Isabelle

Stengers (2018:136) says:

 

Paying attention means slowing down and accepting that

intrusive interstices open up even in the midst of an

urgency. [...] life itself lurks in the interstices of our

reasons. [...] it is wondering that maybe something

has been muted, that we need a suspension to entain

the possibility to throw the dice again. I call it an art

because it needs a ritual in order to foster this possibility.

 

These "intrusive interstices" are yet another way of

referring to the chinks, cracks and crevices, gaps

and shifts, which are discussed on pp. 44-46 of

the main text. "Paying attention" is closely related

to the notion of meditating: hence the title of the

Assaggio, and of this exposition.

 

In the studio, I meditate on what Handel may have meditated on, itself based upon what the anonymous storyteller of the cantata seems to have meditated

upon... Meditating with Handel in the Studio is

therefore a way of thinking myself into Handel's

framework, excising from it his cantata, and finding

a framework into which the cantata might fit today. 


Results

The Assaggio will lead to a series of short films.

The first, a COVID-19 solo film, featuring just

one of the six movements of the cantata, will

be presented at my 25% seminar. Future films,

which will involve collaborators and co-authors,

eventually comprising the whole cantata, will

follow as and when circumstances permit.

 

Each film is a re-framing of material that

has been disclosed and documented in this

exposition. Each film is also an invitation to

the reader/viewer to enter into the meditative

processes of the Assaggio studio. 


The word

meditate is rich

in etymological

associations. 

Its root is

the Old English 

word mete,

which,

on the one hand,

encapsulates 

the ideas of

aiming

and measuring,

going and caring

for, traversing

and apportioning;

and,

on the other,

observing intently,

pondering,

planning

by resolving

in the mind,

and designing

mentally.


Bethinking,

"paying attention

to what may

lurk."

(Stengers loc.cit.)

 

"[Handel] was, for the

rest of his career, to

take incidents from

the past and so shape

their telling that

audiences should

percieve an

emotional pattern

in the action which

touched their own lives."


Swanston (1990:10) 

MEDITATING WITH HANDEL IN THE STUDIO

— ASSAGGIO 1.0 


B. HANDEL and what he paid attention to


We do not know what Handel paid attention to, but 

we do know that he did not compose in a vacuum.

 

In the Assaggio studio I considered the story behind

the anonymous libretto he set, the Accademia degli

Arcadi he visited, and the year 1709, when he may

have composed the cantata. 


"Stewarding the materials" (Spatz 2020:1, 46, 47)

 

The story and its resonances

As I state on p. 52 of the main text, the story is simple, and—to us—perhaps generic. But, as Hamish Swanston puts it, Handel learnt during his time in Italy to shape the telling of stories so as to touch an audience. I wanted to find out more about his shaping tools.


Historical or mythical texts often provide a rich context for extra-musical association, but occasional texts, such as HWV 77 have to grow such a context from the inside. I needed to find some clues in the words...


 

... unless, that is, the story is to be seen as a

gloss on Ovid's tale of Pyramus and Thisbe from the

Metamorphoses, which has been retold countless

times, including by the Mechanicals in Shakespeare's

Midsummer Night's Dream, and is the origin of the

tragedy of Romeo and Juliet, and therefore of

Westside Story. In this case the librettist, and

Handel himself, would have had some of these

resonances in their minds. The chief difference 

is that the cantata text has an open, rather than

a tragic end. (The full Italian text of the cantata,

together with an English translation can be found

on pp. 50-51 of the main text.)


The text and its walls

A lament for lost love, sung to unresponsive walls...


Care mura! in voi d'intorno

Già ch'invan raggiro il piede,

Se accoglieste Clori un giorno,

accogliete or la mia fede.


Dear walls! Since around you / Now I wander in vain, / 

If once you received Chloris, / Receive now my faith.

Translation from Harris (2014: 298-99)



The recording presents and discusses the text.



The Arcadians: their dreams and aspirations

That HWV 77 was ever performed at the Accademia

degli Arcadi is unlikely. But the Arcadian spirit most

definitely imbues the text, and the young Handel is

known to have taken part in the activities of the

Academy during his stay in Rome. There he met

Alessandro Scarlatti, who wrote acantata on the

same text. (I hope that the Scarlatti version will

also find its way into the Assaggio studio).


In 1786 Goethe became a member of the Academy,

and in his Italian Journey he provides a summary

of its aims and objects.(Goethe 1982 [1962]: 441-45]



1709 and the European climate

"L'anno terribile" 1709, the year of the great frost and of the Battle of Poltava, was the coldest year of the last 500. In France alone, 600,000 people died. In Germany there were the so-called Poor Palatines, of whom 13,000 emigrated as refugees to England between May and November. The ensuing political debate was highly charged, with some, such as Daniel Defoe, supporting immigration, and others strongly against it. Defoe's experience of the "Great Storm" of 1703 had resulted in his ground-breaking work of scientific journalism The Storm.


1709 keywords: climate, famine, war, refugees

MEDITATING WITH HANDEL IN THE STUDIO

— ASSAGGIO 1.0 


C. The RESEARCHER and his three personae


As introduced in my earlier exposition "trialling

the trialling: a doc|con" (not yet uploaded to

the RC), I have found it useful to think of myself

as having different roles in the research process.

The doc|con is a documentary concept developed

for Assaggio, and the present exposition is an attempt

to try out (trial) some of the approaches it outlines.


The three [dramatis] personae are:


— MT (Mark Tatlow): naive, believing, visionary

— TF (Theatrefox): sceptical, controlling, realistic

— WW (Wolverhampton Wanderer): meditating,

wandering, present


MT has all the initial ideas, and believes in them. His

thinking is ambitious, wide-ranging, and visionary, in

that it sees what might be possible, and longs to

achieve it.


TF, on the other hand, has experienced MT for many

years. TF is a realist, and knows that not all MT's

ideas are realisable. In the end, through the

application of a powerful sceptical antidote, TF wins.

 

MT and TF are each limited in their perspectives. As

Iain McGilchrist explains in his book "The Master and

his Emissary," MT is "right brain," and TF "left."

 

WW on the other hand avoids this dualism,

integrating the insights of both. WW is the wandering, 

meditating, historically present researcher, who is 

aware that he is personally entangled with his

research.


The musical material: scores, sketches and

recordings

To the right is my annotated photocopy of a

nineteenth-century edition of the cantata

movement, superimposed by images of the

studio. This corresponds to "Illustration: Score

extract (see RC)" on p. 53 of the main text.

Underneath and to the side there are a number

of close-ups of Handel's autograph manuscript,

which illustrate what I write on the same page:

Handel's manuscript is "very much work in

progress." These correspond to "Illustration: The 

facsimile (see RC) on p. 54.

The underneath close-up shows the very beginning

of the movement and Handel's clear choice of

instrument "cembalo," i.e. harpsichord.

Here is "Recording A (listen on RC)" on p. 53.

 

 

And here are three different versions of the

opening section, "Recordings B...(listen on RC)"

mentioned on p. 54.

 

 

In addition to the scores and recordings, the studio

environment invites me to work analytically with the

music: that aspect—sketching—is not shown in this exposition.

MEDITATING WITH HANDEL IN THE STUDIO

— ASSAGGIO 1.0 

 

D. The STUDIO: its activities and affordances 

 

The studio overlooks a garden. It is very much an

inside, but there is a porousness about it. As if to

emphasise this, it has several plants, as well as a

desk and chair, a variety of keyboard instruments,

a book-case, computer and recording equipment.

Off it there is a smaller room with mirrors

overlooking an apple tree. The floor-space is for

embodied research, the mirrors are complemented

by pinboards for freeing the mind of its habitual

attachments. Both rooms can be surprising...


The studio thus affords a range of activities, from

the meditative to the performative, for all three

[dramatis] personae. 



Postscript

 

Several important elements of Assaggio do not

figure in this exposition:


1. The use of a "performance" program. The film

that I will show at my 25% seminar will perhaps

go a little way to remedy this omission.


2. The playful and free-improvisational aspect of 

collaborative improvisation. 


Below left is a pdf file of an on-going "performance"

project. The text is in two parts: the first is a

preliminary exploration of the problem of putting

one's fingers on a keyboard. The second, shorter,

part is a "performance" text, which either spirals

inwards or outwards.


Below right is a short video "...whether..."

made at a recent Performance Documentation

course in Gothenburg, and inspired by the

following traditional rhyme:


"Whether the weather is cold,

or whether the weather is hot,

we must weather the weather,

(whatever the weather),

whether we like it or not."


In the end it relates, obliquely, to both

the climate and approaching the keyboard.

 


The "debris and phenomena" of today

Robert Macfarlane, whom I quote on p. 24 of the

main text insists on the importance of taking

account of the debris and phenomena of today,

i.e. now, in the present moment.


This Assaggio has opened up not just Handel's

cantata, but its temporal relationship to some

of the debris and phenomena of 1709. I identified

four of these: climate, famine, war, refugees.

The equivalent for 2020 might include these same

four, but add plague (COVID-19), and the BLM

movement, to name but two. The colonialism

of 1709, seen from today's perspective, must

also enter the picture. 


We are inextricably linked with our past. I am

linked with mine. As WW I am painfully aware

of my own background, and as a human being

and artistic researcher I cannot escape it. 


But what concerns me even more is the future,

and how an experimental method such as

Assaggio can influence it.


This will become all the clearer once I can

work with my co-authors.


Books and articles in the studio include, apart from dictionaries and other works of general reference:


* Dear, Michael. 2013. Why Walls Won't Work:

Repairing the US-Mexico divide. Oxford, New York:

Oxford University Press.New York,


Dixon, Susan M. 2006. Between the Real and the

Ideal: The Accademia degli Arcadi and Its Garden

in Eighteenth-Century Rome. Newark: University of 

Delaware Press.


Forment, Bruno. 2008. “Moonlight on Endymion: In

Search of “Arcadian Opera,” 1688–1721.” Journal of

Seventeenth Century Music, 14 no.1.


Goethe, Johann Wolfgang von. 1982 [1962]. Italian

Journey. Translated by W.H. Auden and Elizabeth

Mayer. San Francisco: Northpoint Press. Original

published 1786-88 as Italienische Reise.


Harris, Ellen T. 2004. Handel as Orpheus: Voice and

Desire in the Chamber Cantatas. Cambridge and

London: Harvard University Press.


Hirsch, Shirin. 2018. In the Shadow of Enoch Powell:

Race, Locality and Resistance. Manchester,

Manchester University Press.


Macfarlane, Robert. 2012. The old ways. London:

Penguin.


McGilchrist, Iain. 2009. The Master and his Emissary:

The Divided Brain and the Making of the Western

World. New Haven and London: Yale University Press.


Spatz, Ben. 2020:1. Making a Laboratory: Dynamic

Configurations with Transversal Video. Punctum

Books: Brooklyn, New York.

https://doi.org/10.21983/P3.0295.1.00


* Stengers, Isabelle and Martin Savransky (2018).

"Relearning the Art of Paying Attention:

A Conversation." SubStance #145, 47 no.1, 130-145


Swanston, Hamish. 1990. Handel. London: Geoffrey

Chapman.


* material that has not as yet found its way into the

bibliography on pp. 72-78 of the main text