Pavel Polka

Triumf času a pravdy

(The Triumph of Time and Truth)


The English music historian Charles Burney (1726-1814), inspired by Book IV of Alexander Pope's 'Dunciad', contrived for the composer George Frideric Handel (1685-1759) the original Latin designation 'Centimanus'; i.e. 'One with Hundred Hands'. Nowadays this nickname may figuratively imply a typical feature of Handel's art: namely the unusual versatility - be it an accomplished coping with all the styles of composition known in his day, or a highly individual comprehension of various musical forms, as if those 'hundred hands' were shaping not only a large choral oratorio, but also a miniature piece for solo harpsichord. In a single book it is therefore almost impossible to depict, even in passing, all facets of Handel's character, life and work.

Handel's life, though not devoid of dramatic events, does not astound us by similar tragedies as Mozart's, Beethoven's or Schumann's. Handel does not wet the note paper with tears! His music is not enshrouded in personal gloom, so popular with devotees of romantic composers. Handel's optimistic disposition, corresponding to a bright, unsentimental spirit of the 18th century, keeps him from lamenting over difficulties.

If we look for Handel's peers in other fields of culture, we would most likely think of the Flemish painter Peter Paul Rubens (1577-1640) and the Italian sculptor and architect Giovanni Lorenzo Bernini (1598-1680). With them he has in common above all the nature of the means of expression, which aim at forceful theatrical effect, at differentiated treatment of the given themes, at dazzling grandeur of ingeniously constructed art forms. Handel, a hero of baroque music, fills these forms, however, with an entirely new, specific message. After the London première of the oratorio 'Messiah' he said: '…I should be sorry if I only entertained the audience, I wish to make them better'…

In no lesser degree we also admire today Handel's imposing, surprisingly topical intellectual liberalism, germinating undoubtedly in the nursery of early Enlightenment. By virtue of it he was able to absorb so quickly and easily both the fundamental artistic and spiritual impulses of the then Europe, and disregard their geographical origin. He composed his music with equal measure of responsibility for the Germans, Italians, the English and Irish, for the Lutheran, Reformed, Catholic and Anglican churches. He had always considered as crucial the supranationally valid ideals of creative freedom and religious tolerance. Whole-heartedly and unostentatiously, with a deep inward concern, he professed a truly genuine humanism serving the common weal.

The title of the monograph 'Triumf času a pravdy' ('The Triumph of Time and Truth') has been chosen for two reasons: firstly, it is identical with the title of an oratorio that Handel wrote in his youth (1707), reworked at a mature age (1737) and brought to a close shortly before his death (1757). Secondly, owing to its urgent subject this work allegorically elucidates the main course of the master's human and creative existence. - The explanatory subheading of the monograph reads: 'Vyprávění o životě, díle a dědictví hudebního skladatele Georga Friedricha Händela' ('A Story of the Life, Work and Heritage of the Composer George Frideric Handel').

The first part of the book (pp. 15-96), consisting of nine chapters, deals with Handel's life and development as a composer, and at the same time pays attention to the most important works of individual periods. From Halle-on-the-Saale, Handel's native town, we 'travel' first to Hamburg, then to the principal music centres of Italy, followed by Hanover and finally London, where the great musician settled permanently in 1712. His activities in England, lasting nearly fifty years, take up, naturally, most of the space in the first part of the volume.

As to their objectives, the three following chapters are clearly outlined: 'Osobnost' ('Character and Personality'; pp. 97-102) gives an authentic picture of Handel the man, 'Dílo' ('The Work'; pp. 103-122) offers a general, yet at once rounded-off analysis and evaluation of all the musical branches with which Handel occupied himself (characteristic music examples are interspersed throughout the text). In the chapter 'Dědictví' ('Heritage'; pp. 123-135) we witness the reception of Handel's works from the year of the composer's death to the present day. At the end of this chapter the reader finds himself in the territory of Bohemia and Moravia.

An interesting feature of the book is the detailed family tree of Handel ('Händelův rodokmen'; pp. 137-139), divided into the paternal and maternal lines. It also advances new, so far unpublished information about the master's forebears from the Kingdom of Bohemia.

Handel's private affairs may be examined in 'Excerpts from Handel's Correspondence' ('Ukázky z Händelovy korespondence'; pp. 141-150), containing eight letters altogether (translated into Czech for the first time). Handel addressed one of these to his friend Johann Mattheson (1719), four to his brother-in-law Michael Dietrich Michaelsen (1719, 1725, 1731, 1733), one to the librettist Charles Jennens (1741) and two to Georg Philipp Telemann (1750, 1754).

A lighter, more amusing keynote is assigned for the collection of familiar and less familiar Handelian anecdotes ('Händelovské anekdoty'; pp. 151-157), which contribute - with certain reservations - to a better understanding of Handel's personal traits.

The appendices, concentrating on a wide range of diverse facts, include: 'Basic Data on Handel's Life and Work' ('Základní údaje o Händelově životě a díle'; pp. 159-166), 'Chronological Survey of Handel's Operas' ('Chronologický přehled Händelových oper'; pp. 167-170), 'Chronological Survey of Handel's Oratorios' ('Chronologický přehled Händelových oratorních děl'; pp. 171-173), 'Notes' ('Poznámky'; pp. 175-207 - 162 in all), 'Index of Personal Names' ('Rejstřík osobních jmen'; pp. 209 to 227), 'Sources and Supplementary Texts to the Illustrations' ('Prameny a doplňující texty k ilustracím'; pp. 229-291) and 'Bibliography' ('Bibliografie'; pp. 293-309).

In 'The Triumph of Time and Truth', 210 black-and-white illustrations are reproduced (partly unique), making one of the most extensive pictorial sets in Handelian literature. Many of the illustrations are believed to be completely new in this literature (e.g. No. 4, 10, 14, 15, 30, 32, 52, 54, 55, 71, 75, 77, 83, 86, 87, 89, 96, 109, 119, 121, 133, 153, 168, 171, 178, 181-186, 208). The photographs were provided by a great number of private collectors and public institutions (those who have financed the photographs are mentioned on pp. 289-291). Some pictures were taken by the author of the monograph (No. 4, 8, 15, 75, 89, 183, 186, 188, 189 & 191).

Česká Händelova společnost (The Czech Handel Society) - publisher of the book - was founded in Prague on 28th March, 1990 by a group of young intellectuals as a voluntary and independent special-interest association. It sets itself the aim, in accordance with the latest scientific knowledge and in the spirit of humanism, to acquaint the culturally-minded public with the life, work and heritage of George Frideric Handel.

Yet the publication of 'The Triumph of Time and Truth' could in no way be carried out if it were not for the indispensable material assistance from foreign supporters: their list is printed in the section 'Poděkování sponzorům' ('Word of Thanks to the Sponsors'; pp. 325-326).

Pavel Polka (b. 1957), author of the monograph, is the first Chairman of The Czech Handel Society, and ranks among our most active propagators of Handel's music. His collection of Handeliana, apparently the most substantial one in Czechoslovakia, comprises especially literature on Handel and recordings of the master's compositions. He has published not only in this country, but also in Germany and the U.S.A.