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SOLOMON, SUSANNA AND MOSES: LOCATING HANDEL’S LOST LIBRETTIST

  • ANDREW PINK
Extract

A mystery surrounds the identity of Handel's librettist for the 1749 Covent Garden oratorios Solomon (hwv67) and Susanna (hwv66). There are no known contemporary references to the texts’ authorship, whether in wordbooks (published by Tonson and Draper), the composer's autograph, printed scores (published by Walsh), press reports, financial records, correspondence or diaries. Indeed, there is very little contemporary comment of any sort relating to these two works, although we do know that they were profitable in so far as Handel had banked £300 after the first performance of Solomon and some £577 after performances of Susanna.

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1 Composed 5 May–13 June 1748 and 11 July–24 August 1748.

2 Dean, Winton, Handel's Dramatic Oratorios and Masques (Oxford: Clarendon, 1959, reprinted 1990), 526 and 546.

3 Dean, Handel's Dramatic Oratorio, 514.

4 Tarver, Anne, ‘Ellis, John (1698–1791)’, in Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004; online edition, <www.oxforddnb.com> (30 January 2015)).

5 Shelfmark: 1860 MEN. The Library and Museum of Freemasonry, London, is open to scholarly researchers. Its catalogue is online at <www.freemasonry.london.museum>.

6 The Mendes works in the Ellis notebook comprise a series of odes in imitation of Horace, poems on various subjects and some humorous, pseudonymous letters clipped from editions of the London Daily Advertiser and Literary Gazette of 1751 and annotated with Mendes's name.

7 Solomon is a recurring figure in eighteenth-century masonic imagery. Indeed, in 1753 an oratorio called Solomon's Temple, composed by Dublin-based composer and organist Richard Broadway (died 1760), was performed in Dublin for the ‘benefit of sick and distressed freemasons’. See Boydell, Brian, A Dublin Musical Calendar (Dublin: Irish Academic Press, 1988), 181. The lost music set a libretto by the Dublin poet James Eyre Weeks (died 1754), printed in Dermott, Laurence's Ahiman Rezon: Or, A Help to a Brother; Shewing the Excellency of Secrecy, . . . Together with Solomon's Temple an Oratorio, As it was performed for the Benefit of Free-Masons. (London: James Bedford, 1756), 225232. I have found nothing to link the creation and production of Handel's Solomon with freemasonry.

8 See Simpson's obituary: Anonymous, ‘A Sprig of Acacia: J. P. Simpson. P. A. G. Reg.’, The Freemason's Chronicle (29 January 1938), 76.

9 Simpson, John Percy, ‘Brother Moses Mendes, Grand Steward, 1738 (1690–1758)’, Ars Quatuor Coronatorum 18 (1905), 104109.

10 In most of the contemporary autograph sources the family name is spelled ‘Mendes’, and that is the spelling I adopt here, except where quoted sources use the variant spelling ‘Mendez’.

11 The actress Margaret Woffington (1720?–1760). This may refer to the poem ‘To Mrs Woffington by Mr Mendes’, which is found in the Ellis notebook on pages 184–186. It begins: ‘If when the breast is rent with pain, / It be no crime the Nymphs shou’d know it, / O Woffington accept the strain, / Pity tho’ you’ll not cure the Poet’.

12 The reference is to Matthew 6:28–29: ‘Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin: And yet I say unto you, That even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these’ (King James Bible). See also Luke 12:27. The suggestion in the poem is that Mendes had not done justice to his subject.

13 Taken up by Handel.

14 Based on a mid-nineteenth-century reference, the Oxford English Dictionary (<www.oed.com> (30 January 2015)) suggests that ‘candl’d’ indicates being held up to the light for close scrutiny, but I read the word's presence in the poem– with some poetic licence – to mean being burnt up by a candle.

15 ‘Jew’ refers to Mendes.

16 Playing the violin, or wasting time, or wasting time playing the violin. A ‘Moses Mendes Esq’ was a subscriber to the Six Solos for a Violin, Op. 7, by Michael Christian Festing (London: Smith, 1747). A Moses Mendes also subscribed to Handel's Twelve Grand Concertos, Op. 6 (London: Walsh, 1740). See Hunter, David, ‘Georg Frideric Handel and the Jews: Fact, Fiction, and the Tolerances of Scholarship’, in For the Love of Music: Festschrift in Honor of Theodore Front on His 90th Birthday, ed. Scott, Darwin Floyd (Lucca: Antiqua, 2002), 2425. So far as I can discern, there are no other Handel subscriptions in this name.

17 Spent time writing.

18 Mendes studied at Oxford, and Mitcham was the site of his family home.

19 The Oxford English Dictionary (<www.oed.com> (30 January 2015)) gives for ‘stitch’: ‘To stab, pierce; to afflict with a “stitch” or sharp sudden pain’. In other words, Mendes's prattling about his loves and writing about whores does not make him man enough to have sex with them.

20 ‘Stockjobber’ indicates a wholesale dealer or principal on a stock exchange (especially the London Stock Exchange) who buys and sells stocks for his or her own account: the Oxford English Dictionary (<www.oed.com> (30 January 2015)). Unless otherwise stated, biographical information about Mendes is taken from Thomas N. McGeary, ‘Mendez [Mendes], Moses (1690?–1758), playwright and poet’, in Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, <www.oxforddnb.com> (30 January 2015). The family home in Mitcham, called Eagle House, was built by Fernando Mendes in 1705; see Brown, Malcolm, ‘Anglo-Jewish Country Houses from the Resettlement to 1800’, Transactions of the Jewish Historical Society of Great Britain 28 (1981)/1982, 22. The house still stands and is owned by the London Borough of Merton. The house in Norfolk, Old Buckenham Hall, was destroyed by fire in 1952.

21 Lipman, Vivian David, ‘Mendes (Mendez)’, in Encyclopedia Judaica, ed. Skolnik, F. and Berenbaum, M., second edition (Detroit and London: Macmillan, 2007), volume 14, 4142. See also J. H., ‘Familiae Mendesianae & Costianae’, The Gentleman's Magazine 82 (January 1812), 21–24, based on material in the Common-place Book of Emanuel Mendes da Costa, British Library, Add. MS 29867.

22 J. H., ‘Familiae Mendesianae’, 21–24. In the first decades of the eighteenth century the families of Mendes and da Costa shared – and massively extended – Highgate House (now Cromwell House) in Highgate, London. See Brown, ‘Country Houses’, 21.

23 Information in Figure 3 is taken from ‘Familiae Mendesianae’, except in the case of Alvaro Mendes. He is identified as the son of Fernando Mendes in a court case of 1733 heard in the House of Lords: ‘Joseph Cortisos, gent. appellant. Anthony Mendes, James Mendes, and Lewis Mendes, the three surviving sons and executors of Dr. Fernando Mendes’ (London, 1733). His wife and children are identified in the 1753 will of his brother Lewis (London, Public Record Office, 11/800/63).

24 Richard Sharpe, ‘King, William (1685–1763), college head and Jacobite sympathizer’, in Oxford Dictionary of National Biography <www.oxforddnb.com> (30 January 2015).

25 Foster, Joseph, Alumni Oxonienses: The Members of the University of Oxford, 1715–1886, volume 3 (London: Parker, 1891), 942.

26 Bruce, Robert J., ‘Introduction’, in William Boyce, The Shepherd's Lottery (London: Stainer and Bell, 1990), xi, note 27.

27 It is worth noting that The British Magazine and Review (London: Harrison, 1782) published, in a series called ‘Original Letters by Eminent Persons Deceased’, six letters to a Solomon Mendes whom I have been unable to identify. Some of the letters are dated, and some are addressed to him at Clapton, near Hackney (London). They are from: 1. Richard Savage, from Ham, 26 May 1737 (174); 2. James Thomson, from Ham, 21 July 1737 (174–175); 3. James Thomson, 30 June 1741 (258–259); 4. James Thomson, 8 November 1744 (259); 5. the physician and poet John Armstrong (1709–1779) (334); 6. Robert Dodsley (334–335). This Solomon, whose correspondents are uncannily close to Moses Mendes's own literary circle of friends, has been described by Roth, Cecil, History of the Jews in England, third edition (Oxford: Clarendon, 1964), 209, as ‘a kinsman’ of Moses Mendes. Roth offers no corroborative evidence for this assertion.

28 ‘Moses Mendez’, in Spenser and the Tradition: English Poetry 1570–1830, ed. David Hill Radcliffe, <www.lib.vt.edu/find/databases/S/spenser-and-the-tradition-english-poetry-1579–1830.html> (30 March 2015).

29 Fiske, Roger, English Theatre Music in the Eighteenth Century, second edition (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1986), 213214.

30 Fiske, English Theatre Music, 214.

31 Bartlett, Ian and Bruce, Robert J., William Boyce: A Tercentenary Sourcebook and Compendium (Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2011), 68.

32 Bartlett and Bruce, William Boyce, 69.

33 These are, as given in COPAC (<www.copac.ac.uk> (30 January 2015)), ‘As blyth as the linnet sings in the green wood’, ‘I’ll sing you a song that shall suit you all round’ and ‘To an arbor of woodbine ye both shall be led’.

34 All three singers also appeared in Handel's oratorios, Reinhold in Solomon and Susanna.

35 Fiske, English Theatre Music, 218.

36 Cervantes, Miguel, Novellas Exemplares . . . A new edition: revised and compared with the original by Mr. Mendez, ed. Mendes, Moses (London: Hitch, 1743).

37 Anonymous, An account of the rise and progress of the Lying-In-Hospital for Married Women, in Brownlow-Street, Long-Acre (London, 1751). In Mendes's father-in-law's will of 1756 (London, Public Record Office, PROB 11/945/329, ‘Sir Francis Head of Hermitage, Higham, baronet’) he is identified as ‘Moses Mendes Esq. of St Paul Covent Garden, Mdx, Esq’.

38 Sheppard, F. H. W., ed., Survey of London, volume 36: Covent Garden (London: London County Council, 1970). Online version at British History Online <www.british-history.ac.uk> (30 January 2015).

39 Chapman, John H., ed., The Register Book of Marriages Belonging to the Parish of St. George, Hanover Square, volume 1: 1725–1787 (London: The Harleian Society, 1886), 48.

40 Mosley, Charles, ed., Burke's Peerage, Baronetage & Knightage, one hundred and seventh edition, volume 2 (Wilmington: Burke's Peerage (Genealogical Books), 2003), 1848.

41 Baker, David Erskine, ‘Moses Mendez’, in Biographia Dramatica; or, A Companion to the Playhouse, volume 1 (London: Rivington, 1782), 311.

42 Brookes, Brian and Smith, Cecil Humphrey, ‘Appendix III: Wardens and Masters’, in A History of the Worshipful Company of Scriveners of London, volume 2 (Chichester: Phillimore, 2001), 79. Scriveners drew up legal documents, were moneylenders and arranged property transactions.

43 Tarver, ‘Ellis’.

44 Ellis notebook, 301–302.

45 ‘An Account of Mr John Ellis’, European Magazine and London Review 4 (January 1793), 3–4.

46 [Will of] ‘Moses Mendes’. London, Public Record Office, PROB 11/837/170.

47 Simpson, ‘Brother Moses Mendez’, 108.

48 European Magazine (February 1792), 128–130.

49 European Magazine (October 1792), 251.

50 Ruth Smith, ‘Ideal and Reality’, notes to Solomon (Deutsche Grammophon 459–688–2, 1999).

51 Simpson, ‘Brother Moses Mendez’, 103.

52 Durling, Dwight L., Georgic Tradition in English Poetry (New York: Columbia University Press, 1935), 136.

53 In the Ellis notebook the poem is dated June 1754, and was first published under Mendes's name by The European Magazine and London Review 21 (February 1792), 128.

54 Dean, Handel's Dramatic Oratorios, 311, 514 and 537–538.

55 Burrows, Donald, Handel (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1994), 295: ‘Both may have been the work of the same author.’ Hicks, Anthony, ‘Handel and the Idea of an Oratorio’, in The Cambridge Companion to Handel, ed. Burrows, Donald (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997), 160: ‘Susanna and Solomon . . . appear to have the same anonymous author.’ Hurley, David Ross, ‘Solomon’, in The Cambridge Handel Encyclopaedia, ed. Landgraf, Annette and Vickers, David (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009), 596: ‘The librettist [of Solomon] is unknown but it may be the same anonymous author who wrote Susanna.’

I would like to thank Ellen Harris and Ruth Smith for their many helpful suggestions during the preparation of this essay.

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Eighteenth-Century Music
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