Handel/Mozart: Timotheus oder Die Gewalt der Musik
In November 1812, the Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde in Vienna was inaugurated with a grand performance of Handel’s Alexander’s Feast, or the Power of Music (1736), re-entitled Timotheus after the bard in Dryden’s text who subjects Alexander the Great to the various emotional effects of music and then yields his power to St Cecilia. Mozart’s 1790 filling out of the score for full orchestra was used, but with multiple doublings and additions, including bass drum, by the conductor Ignaz von Mosel. Indeed, no less than 100 voices and some 600 players were involved – Mosel controlling them, apparently for the first time in Viennese musical history, with a newfangled conductor’s baton. The performance materials survive and these CDs preserve last year’s bicentennial reconstruction of the event, complete with audience applause and a comic speech in German from Nikolaus Harnoncourt.
It is immediately evident from the Overture that the orchestral sound is going to be rich and ponderous, and, although Harnoncourt works wonders in varying the dynamics and getting the rhythms to dance, once the heavy brass and bass drum are let off the leash in some of the later choruses, the effect is more suggestive of those gigantic mid-Victorian Handel events in the Crystal Palace than anything that Mozart, let alone Handel, could have imagined. There is a fine trio of soloists, however, who make most of their more lightly scored arias. And while those who already regard Mozart’s Handel arrangements as a crime against authenticity will faint at the monstrousness of it all, this reconstruction does at least suggest how early 19th-century music lovers understood Handel.