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#2087959 - 05/24/13 12:15 PM Haendel, the Prince of Wales and the Castrati ...?
Kristina1 Offline
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Registered: 02/24/13
Posts: 123
Loc: UK
For many years Haendel has been one of my favourite composers (some of his compositions are real “majestic” treats on a “rainy day”... ) and because of that I have been reading up on quite a few books about Haendel and his music.

What I found interesting, is the fact that in some of the books about Haendel (which were written & published before the 1920’s) it has always been stated very clearly that Haendel was extremely disturbed that he was supposed to use an Italian male Castrato in his operas.

At Haendel’s time the Italian Castrati were "very fashionable" and they were especially supported by the Prince of Wales... whereas his father, the King of England was disgusted by the Castrati and so was Haendel.

That conflict eventually culminated with the Prince of Wales and his “hangers on”, along with the great influence they had on the audiences, boycotted Haendel and his music and when Haendel refused to compromise with the Prince of Wales and would still prefer female sopranos to the Castrati, Haendel went eventually bankrupt as a result...

Haendel made it publicly known that he abhorred the idea that little boys were being castrated in order to keep their “little boy’s voice” going.

Haendel made it very clear that he thought this was a very cruel and barbaric practice on innocent little Italian boys...

... I remember very clearly that I read these facts about Haendel’s life and his music in books which were written & published before the 1920’s.

But - these facts are not even mentioned anymore these days (21st century) in books published about Haendel and his music. I wonder why not ?

Strangely enough these days Haendel’s music is also often performed with a Castrato singing (these days they are not called “Castrato” anymore, but instead they are being called “Countertenors” (perhaps in imitation of the Castrati...)

It seems also very significant that in “Google” and some other “modern information” etc., Haendel is now all of a sudden being written about almost as if he promoted the Castrati...

Naturally I am a little confused about such very conflicting information ... has anyone had also their own thoughts about this?

Thanks from Kristina.

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#2087975 - 05/24/13 12:30 PM Re: Haendel, the Prince of Wales and the Castrati ...? [Re: Kristina1]
Morodiene Online   content
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This is good to hear, as a soprano who loves to sing Handel arias. It was also not considered "ladylike" for women to appear on stage, to there was a bit of a stigma the other way as well.

IMO, "countertenor" is a fake vocal fach, and only one that has come about in recent times since the decline of the practice of castrating boys for the purpose of singing. I do not enjoy hearing it and would much rather hear a woman sing his beautiful music. He knew what he was doing wink .
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#2087982 - 05/24/13 12:38 PM Re: Haendel, the Prince of Wales and the Castrati ...? [Re: Kristina1]
Andy Platt Offline
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I think it is highly dangerous to place today's morality and apply it to centuries ago. After all, the founding fathers of the US were, many of them, large slaveholders but we still celebrate their achievements.

To say that Handel supported Castrati by writing for them falls into that category and I wouldn't give it a second thought.

You are either incorrect, or the language comes out differently from your intention: Countertenors are (male) altos; often they are using falsetto though many have a very high natural head voice range too. Castrati were surgically altered so that puberty was impacted and their voice didn't break. Therefore they could sing (some of them) in the soprano range. Yes, some were altos like countertenors.

In our choir we've had to get used to saying upper and lower voices because we have a countertenor; though he doesn't mind too much when it's referred to as the women's choir.

Lastly, wondering something: You list yourself as in the UK but you spell Handel with the French spelling?
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#2087986 - 05/24/13 12:41 PM Re: Haendel, the Prince of Wales and the Castrati ...? [Re: Andy Platt]
Morodiene Online   content
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Originally Posted By: Andy Platt
I think it is highly dangerous to place today's morality and apply it to centuries ago. After all, the founding fathers of the US were, many of them, large slaveholders but we still celebrate their achievements.

To say that Handel supported Castrati by writing for them falls into that category and I wouldn't give it a second thought.

You are either incorrect, or the language comes out differently from your intention: Countertenors are (male) altos; often they are using falsetto though many have a very high natural head voice range too. Castrati were surgically altered so that puberty was impacted and their voice didn't break. Therefore they could sing (some of them) in the soprano range. Yes, some were altos like countertenors.

In our choir we've had to get used to saying upper and lower voices because we have a countertenor; though he doesn't mind too much when it's referred to as the women's choir.

Lastly, wondering something: You list yourself as in the UK but you spell Handel with the French spelling?
Most countertenors I know used to be baritones. They simply sing like women do in headvoice rather than a chest-dominant sound like the other males voices do.
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#2088003 - 05/24/13 01:08 PM Re: Haendel, the Prince of Wales and the Castrati ...? [Re: Morodiene]
Andy Platt Offline
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Originally Posted By: Morodiene
Most countertenors I know used to be baritones. They simply sing like women do in headvoice rather than a chest-dominant sound like the other males voices do.


Really? All the ones I know sing tenor if they aren't singing countertenor. I'm a baritone and, admittedly I don't have the greatest upper range, but I only overlap with a few notes at the very bottom of an alto. Some people refer to falsetto as head voice but, of course, the two things are different.
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#2088081 - 05/24/13 02:48 PM Re: Haendel, the Prince of Wales and the Castrati ...? [Re: Kristina1]
zrtf90 Offline
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Handel was a very private man and has had very little of his own thoughts kept in writing. I was always under the impression that although most of the castrati couldn't act they were better actors than the sopranos were actresses and it was this that disgruntled impresarios such as Handel.

I don't know what is meant by a fake vocal 'fach', Morodiene, I assume (Americanism or typo) you mean the term countertenor is a false name for the voice, which itself is not fake.

Here's an interesting clip from Andreas Scholl, who bowled me over last summer with his Ombra Mai Fu.

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#2088291 - 05/24/13 08:02 PM Re: Haendel, the Prince of Wales and the Castrati ...? [Re: Andy Platt]
Morodiene Online   content
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Originally Posted By: Andy Platt
[quote=Morodiene]Most countertenors I know used to be baritones. They simply sing like women do in headvoice rather than a chest-dominant sound like the other males voices do.


Really? All the ones I know sing tenor if they aren't singing countertenor. I'm a baritone and, admittedly I don't have the greatest upper range, but I only overlap with a few notes at the very bottom of an alto. (/quote] Countertenors train to sing like women do, in head voice.
Quote:
Some people refer to falsetto as head voice but, of course, the two things are different.
You are correct. Head voice has some chest muscle action but it is mostly falsetto action. Falsetto in its purest form has no chest action.
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#2088455 - 05/25/13 07:52 AM Re: Haendel, the Prince of Wales and the Castrati ...? [Re: Kristina1]
Kristina1 Offline
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Registered: 02/24/13
Posts: 123
Loc: UK
Thank you, Morodiene,

I am not aware, that it was not “lady-like” to sing publicly in a concert?
Of course, the Vatican could not possibly employ a female soprano, that goes without mentioning, but Haendel in his concerts? Even the Film “The Great Mr. Handel” (produced in England in 1942) documents very clearly that Haendel preferred female Sopranos in his Operas ...
I would attend many more of the Haendel Operas if there would be female Sopranos instead of the “usual” Countertenors...

Thank you, Andy Platt,

I don’t know anything about Haendel’s morality... but I have read that the King of England was a bit pious and very curious about this matter (especially since Haendel was personally employed by the King as a Court composer and music teacher to the children of the King and the fact that Haendel was a foreigner...) ... and so the King employed one of his own personal "snoops" to find out... it was duly reported to the King that Haendel had indeed a few close relationships with lady-friends, but Haendel wanted to keep his private life personal, like a real gentleman is supposed to do ... and the King was apparently very satisfied with the report on Haendel...

...it is true, that Haendel did not support Castrati but it is so difficult for a student/music-lover to find out the facts these days, especially with so many conflicting books: books written before the 1920’s and “modern books”, including Internet information etc... I personally trust rather the books which were written before the 1920’s, because the writers/authors of that time had much more integrity and reputation at stake...

I spell Haendel the original way: he was born in Germany and his name consists of the German Umlaut “ ä” which is rather difficult to locate every time I write Haendel’s name on my “English Computer”; as a compromise I replace the “ä” with an "ae" which is another way to write the Umlaut... and I consider it important and respectful that I write and pronounce the name of every composer/writer as their name was originally meant to be written...

Thank you, zrtf90.

Don’t get me wrong, I am not against countertenors, but they are not for me... I once wanted to find out about this and so I made the effort and listened to Andreas Scholl many years ago at the London Proms... if I remember correctly, he also sang Haendel’s “Ombra Ma Fui” at that concert and it did not quite convince me... I can’t help it but I still prefer a Soprano to sing Haendel’s compositions, especially his "Ombra Ma Fui"... sorry about that...

Best wishes to all from Kristina.






Edited by Kristina1 (05/25/13 07:54 AM)

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#2088463 - 05/25/13 08:13 AM Re: Haendel, the Prince of Wales and the Castrati ...? [Re: Kristina1]
Morodiene Online   content
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Originally Posted By: Kristina1


Don’t get me wrong, I am not against countertenors, but they are not for me... I once wanted to find out about this and so I made the effort and listened to Andreas Scholl many years ago at the London Proms... if I remember correctly, he also sang Haendel’s “Ombra Ma Fui” at that concert and it did not quite convince me... I can’t help it but I still prefer a Soprano to sing Haendel’s compositions, especially his "Ombra Ma Fui"... sorry about that...

Best wishes to all from Kristina.



I agree. This was a bit later in her career, but it's still a great voice:
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#2088464 - 05/25/13 08:32 AM Re: Haendel, the Prince of Wales and the Castrati ...? [Re: Kristina1]
Schubertslieder Offline
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Registered: 02/02/13
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I remember discussing "castrati" brought many smiles in the classroom back in college.
I don't remember a single subject bringing that much smile and joy in class among my colleagues, smile.
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#2088465 - 05/25/13 08:34 AM Re: Haendel, the Prince of Wales and the Castrati ...? [Re: Kristina1]
-Frycek Offline
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For what little it's worth for the biography - and it's worth quite a bit for the music- in the movie Farinelli, Handel went to great lenghts to (unsuccessfully) recruit Farinelli to sing in his company though I have no idea how much of this is factual. There is one memorable scene that takes place in the raftered attic of a theatre during a rehersal, when Handel, the consumate professional and pragmatic frenemy, decides to "fix" an opera written by Farinelli's brother and plops down right there, snatches off his wig, lays it on a rafter and sets to work over the score like a frustrated schoolmaster with a bad composition.

Farinelli
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#2088469 - 05/25/13 09:16 AM Re: Haendel, the Prince of Wales and the Castrati ...? [Re: Kristina1]
Piano*Dad Offline
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Originally Posted By: Andy Platt
I think it is highly dangerous to place today's morality and apply it to centuries ago. After all, the founding fathers of the US were, many of them, large slaveholders but we still celebrate their achievements.

To say that Handel supported Castrati by writing for them falls into that category and I wouldn't give it a second thought.


Two points:

First, I think the second paragraph is the opposite of what Kristina said. She asserted that the earlier texts from the 1920s revealed Händel's dislike of Castrati, not his approval.

Secondly, although I agree that uncritical transference of contemporary moral standards to the past is a dangerous path, we should also recognize that people in the past were moral beings who wrestled with difficult issues. Thus they are not completely immune from ethical discussion.

The Castrati faded out in the 1700s because of growing qualms about the practice, and those qualms were seemingly present in earlier times as well. The Händel story seems to verify that. It was a live ethical issue then, so we should not presume that "our view" was somehow unknown to them.
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#2088481 - 05/25/13 09:45 AM Re: Haendel, the Prince of Wales and the Castrati ...? [Re: Schubertslieder]
malkin Offline
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Originally Posted By: Schubertslieder
I remember discussing "castrati" brought many smiles in the classroom back in college.
I don't remember a single subject bringing that much smile and joy in class among my colleagues, smile.


Like saying "underwear" in a room full of 5-year-olds.
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#2088619 - 05/25/13 03:19 PM Re: Haendel, the Prince of Wales and the Castrati ...? [Re: Kristina1]
-Frycek Offline
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One of Anne Rice's earlier works is a non supernatural novel called Cry to Heaven, set among the Venetian castrati of the early 18th century. It was well researched and accurate in depicting the physical lives of the castrati. Apparently, how much or little sexual activity a castrati was capable of was dependent on at what age he was castrated. Those castrated later (almost at puberty) were capable of almost normal function but were, of course, sterile, a convenience appreciated by some of the more wonton ladies of the era.
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#2088722 - 05/25/13 05:49 PM Re: Haendel, the Prince of Wales and the Castrati ...? [Re: Kristina1]
packa Offline
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Originally Posted By: Kristina1
I spell Haendel the original way: he was born in Germany and his name consists of the German Umlaut “ ä” which is rather difficult to locate every time I write Haendel’s name on my “English Computer”; as a compromise I replace the “ä” with an "ae" which is another way to write the Umlaut... and I consider it important and respectful that I write and pronounce the name of every composer/writer as their name was originally meant to be written...

I wonder whether respect for a person's name should include the preferences of the person himself or herself. Handel was obviously born in Germany. Although the name is still written as "Händel" there, that spelling is seldom used outside of Germany, particularly as Handel himself adopted a spelling without the umlaut when he moved to England. "Handel" is the spelling he used when he applied for English citizenship and it appears that way on his English publications (and in his will). See the Wikipedia article for a facsimile of his "English" signature, where he also styled himself "George Frideric" rather than his registered birth name of "Georg Friederich."

Despite his birth, Handel is often considered an English composer since he seems to have whole-heartedly adopted that country and its musical life. If one chooses the last usage by a person as more authoritative, then "Handel" might be more reflective of his own preferences. I note that the UK-based Grove Dictionary (the most authoritative music encyclopedia in the English language) and the US Library of Congress Cataloging Division both use "Handel, George Frideric" as the authoritative form of his name.

Of course, in Italy, he adopted the spelling "Hendel," so who knows the truest right answer (see this link for an interesting discussion with reproductions of various historical documents involving the many forms of Handel's name).
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#2088728 - 05/25/13 05:54 PM Re: Haendel, the Prince of Wales and the Castrati ...? [Re: packa]
Morodiene Online   content
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Originally Posted By: packa


Of course, in Italy, he adopted the spelling "Hendel," so who knows the truest right answer (see this link for an interesting discussion with reproductions of various historical documents involving the many forms of Handel's name).
More than likely so the Italians would pronounce it phonetically correct.
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#2088740 - 05/25/13 06:17 PM Re: Haendel, the Prince of Wales and the Castrati ...? [Re: Morodiene]
packa Offline
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Originally Posted By: Morodiene
Originally Posted By: packa


Of course, in Italy, he adopted the spelling "Hendel," so who knows the truest right answer (see this link for an interesting discussion with reproductions of various historical documents involving the many forms of Handel's name).
More than likely so the Italians would pronounce it phonetically correct.

As Howell points out in the linked discussion, this is quite likely correct. However, by the time he settled in England, Handel had apparently given up trying to trick the British into pronouncing the German sound.
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#2089016 - 05/26/13 04:58 AM Re: Haendel, the Prince of Wales and the Castrati ...? [Re: packa]
Kristina1 Offline
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Registered: 02/24/13
Posts: 123
Loc: UK
Thank you, morodiene for giving us a chance to listen to the beautiful voice of Renata Tebaldi.
I have always appreciated Renata Tebaldi (...and Rosa Ponselle, especially when she sang with Ezio Pinza)...

Sorry, Frycek, I don’t know much about Farinelli...
I have only read that lots of “artistic licence” was used in the film you mention about Farinelli... and I remember reading in books that Haendel preferred to go bankrupt instead of “taking on” any of the Castrati in his operas.... If I remember correctly, the Castrati were known to put their own “interpretations” to the songs of composers and Haendel did not accept if anyone took such liberties...
Haendel pointed out very clearly that he wanted his songs to be sung how they were composed and, as I have mentioned before, Haendel would not have anything to do with the Castrati professionally or otherwise...

I could not comment on the lives of Castrati, I have only read that they hated their parents...

Thank you packa, for your explanation. I agree, Haendel was born in Germany and eventually became an English citizen with German/Italian/French/English musical influences. I always considered Haendel to be really and truly a “majestic” composer of the world...

Best wishes from Kristina.

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#2089025 - 05/26/13 05:38 AM Re: Haendel, the Prince of Wales and the Castrati ...? [Re: Kristina1]
chopin_r_us Offline
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I don't know where these Handel quotes are coming from but a perusal of Angus Heriot's The Castrati in Opera will inform you that Handel was using them all the time. And why not? They were the David Beckhams of their day - poster boys highly trained and highly skilled in their art. If Handel had any reservations it was that they always made the music their own using considerable ornamentation. You know Allegri's Miserere? It's actually quite plain - it was castrati who wrote the bits you like!

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#2089030 - 05/26/13 06:11 AM Re: Haendel, the Prince of Wales and the Castrati ...? [Re: Kristina1]
ShiroKuro Online   content
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I read Cry to Heaven, it's been a while but I remember really liking it!

Also, with regard to male vocal range, IIRC, countertenors are male singers who use head voice to reach the soprano range. However, there are some men, well only very few, who can sing with a full voice but sing in the female soprano vocal range. I heard one sing in person, it was amazing.

Tomotaka Okamoto (Wikipedia)
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#2089035 - 05/26/13 06:27 AM Re: Haendel, the Prince of Wales and the Castrati ...? [Re: Kristina1]
chopin_r_us Offline
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That sounds like an alto voice to me - not castrati like at all.

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#2089038 - 05/26/13 06:48 AM Re: Haendel, the Prince of Wales and the Castrati ...? [Re: Kristina1]
Morodiene Online   content
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Kristina1...perhaps you can provide some of the actual quotes from these books you are referring to? It sounds like there are conflicting references, so it would be good to see which scholars are saying what.

And I love Ponselle too...she was awesome!
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#2089043 - 05/26/13 07:13 AM Re: Haendel, the Prince of Wales and the Castrati ...? [Re: Kristina1]
chopin_r_us Offline
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Heriot says he used: Berenstadt (hired by Handel for the Royal Academy), in 1729 Bernacchi ('La Partenope'),in 1733 Carestini ('Arianna, 'Il Pastor Fido', 'Ottone Re di Germania', 'Ariodante' and 'Alcine') 1711 Nicolino in Rinaldo and Guadani in some of his oratorios "(particularly 'The Messiah' and 'Sampson')".

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#2089045 - 05/26/13 07:18 AM Re: Haendel, the Prince of Wales and the Castrati ...? [Re: Kristina1]
TrapperJohn Offline
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Very interesting (and informed) discussion - thanks to all contributors so far - here's one of my favorite CDs, which was recorded some time ago but is still an absolute delight to listen to:

Emma Kirkby: Handel Italian Cantatas


And here's Emma with her wonderful voice as smooth as silk:


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#2089090 - 05/26/13 09:50 AM Re: Haendel, the Prince of Wales and the Castrati ...? [Re: TrapperJohn]
Kristina1 Offline
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Posts: 123
Loc: UK
I mainly read books which were written and published BEFORE the 1920’s...

...and they were many... most of them came from libraries etc...

I am sure that anyone who wants to find out about Haendel and his work will come across the same information as I did...

... especially if they rely on scholarly researched books...
written BEFORE the 1920’s and more specifically BEFORE the 1930’s...

... because ever since the 1930’s most books have been used for propaganda... one way or another...

Best wishes from Kristina.

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#2089103 - 05/26/13 10:20 AM Re: Haendel, the Prince of Wales and the Castrati ...? [Re: Kristina1]
-Frycek Offline
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Originally Posted By: Kristina1
... because ever since the 1930’s most books have been used for propaganda... one way or another...

Best wishes from Kristina.


Really? Please elaborate.
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#2089130 - 05/26/13 11:08 AM Re: Haendel, the Prince of Wales and the Castrati ...? [Re: Kristina1]
chopin_r_us Offline
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That's just too weird.

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#2089430 - 05/26/13 07:27 PM Re: Haendel, the Prince of Wales and the Castrati ...? [Re: Kristina1]
malkin Offline
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Originally Posted By: Kristina1
I mainly read books which were written and published BEFORE the 1920’s...

... especially if they rely on scholarly researched books...
written BEFORE the 1920’s and more specifically BEFORE the 1930’s...

... because ever since the 1930’s most books have been used for propaganda... one way or another...


Ah, so you're saying that texts from before the1920s and 1930s which may be found in libraries are completely factual and without bias?
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#2089499 - 05/26/13 09:30 PM Re: Haendel, the Prince of Wales and the Castrati ...? [Re: Kristina1]
Morodiene Online   content
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Registered: 04/06/07
Posts: 11436
Loc: Boynton Beach, FL
Originally Posted By: Kristina1
I mainly read books which were written and published BEFORE the 1920’s...

...and they were many... most of them came from libraries etc...

I am sure that anyone who wants to find out about Haendel and his work will come across the same information as I did...

... especially if they rely on scholarly researched books...
written BEFORE the 1920’s and more specifically BEFORE the 1930’s...

... because ever since the 1930’s most books have been used for propaganda... one way or another...

Best wishes from Kristina.
While the phenomenon of propaganda probably became more widely used after this time (though it certainly was used prior to this, wasn't it?), I really don't know how anyone would benefit from making the world think Handel liked castrati if he really didn't. More than likely there is conflicting information out there so it just depends which references each author chooses to support their thesis.
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#2089708 - 05/27/13 05:04 AM Re: Haendel, the Prince of Wales and the Castrati ...? [Re: Morodiene]
Kristina1 Offline
Full Member

Registered: 02/24/13
Posts: 123
Loc: UK
Thank you very much Morodiene... I agree with you wholeheartedly:

...there certainly is conflicting information out there, so it just depends
which references each author chooses to support their thesis...

...I personally would also add that many professional musicians seem to choose
to support authors who “fit their own agenda” (with or without taking artistic licence) ...

...and it is my personal experience that after the 1930’s
literature has become far more unreliable in integrity
due to multi-various reasons and (sometimes hidden) agendas...

Best wishes from Kristina

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