Giordano Bruno | Wherever I am, I am. | 12/05/2008
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Ephemera" is the Greek word for 'mayflies,' those little bugs that live but a day. GF Handel wrote thousands of songs - "airs" or arias in the parlance of the 1700s - the building blocks of his operas and cantatas. The songs recorded here are his ephemera: marginalia found in the backs of his manuscripts, ditties he composed for his scribbling friends, a few occasional theater songs, and one minor cantata from his years in Rome, written in French (Sans y penser) for his patron the Marchese Ruspoli. None of them represent Handel at his finest. Some of them are positively mediocre.
To record a whole program of such trivia and make it listenable would require the utmost vocal and instrumental elegance. Unfortunately, such art is not in evidence on this CD. Charles Daniels sounds sadly off-hand, as if he were sight-reading. The sublime Emma Kirkby sounds thin and out of tune; one suspects she was having a bad 'air' day.
The most interesting part of this package is the poetry of the texts. Not that it's good poetry! It's doggerel at best, but for a social historian it's a peek into the closet of Handel's intimate circle of friends. Georgian England was rife with misogyny; women's legal status in fact deteriorated throughout the 18th Century. Handel's song-texts are sophomorically misogynist. Text after text decries the fickle cruelty of women and declares that the author/singer will eschew their company henceforth, preferring the company of the bottle and/or other men. Handel's writer friends included some of the foremost of his era: Jonathan Swift, John Gay, Alexander Pope, Tobias Smollett, John Arbuthnot, all of whom were the subjects of gossip about sexual "inversion" in the terminology of the times. John Gay was most surely gay indeed, and Pope, the bosom friend of fashionable ladies, was probably a "pathic," a passive partner in inverted sex, again in the terminology of the 1720s.
Swift, Gay, and Pope traveled together in Berkshire in 1726, stopping for a while at The Rose Inn in Wokingham. There they found 'inspiration' in the company of the innkeeper's daughter, Molly Mogg. John Gay commemorated Molly in a 'crambo,' a kind of poem that uses as many rhymes for the subject's name as possible: Mogg, flog, bog. clog, cog, hog, frog, fog, jog, log, dog, eclogue, & agog! The poem made Molly and her inn famous around jolly England, with prosperity the outcome. Here's the first verse:
Says my uncle, 'I pray you discover
What has been the cause of your woes,
That you whine and you pine like a lover?'
I've seen Molly Mogg of the Rose.
'Oh nephew, your grief is but folly,
In town you may have better PROG,
Half-a-crown there will get you a MOLLY,
A molly much better than Mogg.
'Prog' is an archaic synonym for 'poke'; the meaning is obvious. A 'molly' was, in 1726, a boy prostitute, working in one of the many 'molly houses' of London. The eight verses of Gay's crambo conclude by suggesting that Molly was already taken up in an affair with the local vicar. Handel was not present in this particular party of travelers. He merely provided the 'air' for their scurrility. Judging by the company he kept, however, he was not the pious composer of The Messiah in his spare time."