English 165

Special Topics: Handel's Art in Setting English Words to Music

Section Semester Instructor Time Location Course Areas
2 Spring 2018 Hanson, Kristin
MW 3:30-5 305 Wheeler Pre-1800 Requirement
English Language and Linguistics
British 18th-Century
Special Topics

Other Readings and Media


A reader with poetic texts and secondary readings will be available from University Copy.



George Frederick Handel, Acis and Galatea, Dunedin Consort, Linn Records, 2008

George Frederick Handel, Alexander’s Feast.  The Sixteen, Coro, 2005

George Frederick Handel, An Ode for St. Cecilia’s Day, The King’s Consort, Hyperion, 2004

George Frederick Handel, L’Allegro, il Penseroso ed il Moderato, The King's Consort, Hyperion, 1999

George Frederick Handel, Messiah, Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra, Harmonium Mundi, 2005 


John Blow, Venus and Adonis, Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, Harmonium Mundi 1999 

Henry Purcell, Dido and Aeneas, Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra, Harmonium Mundi, 1994, rereleased 2006

Henry Purcell, King Arthur, Les Arts Florissants, Erato, 1995

John Gay, The Beggar’s Opera, The Broadside Band, Hypoerion


Rhythm is a significant source of artistic effects in both poetry and music.  However, while the forms it can take in the two arts are similar in some ways, they are different in others.  An interesting window into these similarities and differences is textsetting, the art of setting words to music; and a fascinating period of textsetting in English is the 18th c., when the emergence of English opera and oratorio involved much collaboration between poets and musicians.  This course will introduce some techniques for formalizing textsetting, survey some issues in English textsetting from the Renaissance through the 18th century, and explore some enchanting and illuminating textsetting of Handel, who with the help of various librettists set to music poetry of Dryden, Milton, Pope, Gay and others, as well as the King James Version of the Bible.  It will include outings to hear live performances of works by Handel and his contemporaries.  No prior musical training is required, as needed concepts will be introduced along the way.

This section of English 165 satisfies the pre-1800 requirement for the English major.

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