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Acis and Galatea

George Frideric Handel

The first idea of Handel's famous pastoral "Acis and Galatea," is to be found in a seranata, "Aci, Galatea, e Polifemo," which he produced at Naples in July, 1708. The plan of the work resembles that of the later pastoral, though its musical setting is entirely different. The story is based on the seventh fable in the thirteenth book of the Metamorphoses -- the sad story which Galatea, daughter of Nereus, tells to Scylla. The nymph was passionately in love with the shepherd Acis, son of Faunus and of the nymph Symaethis, and pursued him incessantly. She too was pursued by Polyphemus, the one-eyed Cyclops of Aetna, contemner of the gods. One day, reclining upon the breast of Acis, concealed behind a rock, she hears the giant pouring out to the wood sand mountains his story of love and despair. As he utters his complaints, he espies the lovers. Then, raging and roaring so that the mountains shook and the sea trembled, he hurled a huge rock at Acis and crushed him. The shepherd's blood gushing from beneath the rock was changed into a river; and Galatea, who fled to the sea, was consoled.

The overture to the work, consisting of one movement, is thoroughly pastoral in its style and introduces a chorus ("Oh, the Pleasures of the Plains!") in which the easy, careless life of the shepherds and their swains is pictured. Galatea enters seeking her lover, and after the recitative ("Ye verdant Plains and woody Mountains") revives her heart with an outburst of melodious beauty ("Hush, ye pretty warbling choir!"). Acis answers her, after a short recitative, with another aria equally graceful ("Love in her Eyes sits playing and sheds delicious Death"). The melodious and sensuous dialogue is continued by Galatea, who once more sings ("As when the Dove"). Then in a duet, Sparkling in the happiness of lovers ("Happy we"), closing with chorus to the same words, this pretty picture of ancient pastoral life among the nymphs and shepherds comes to an end.

The second part there is another tone both to scene and music. The opening chorus of alarm ("Wretched Lovers") portends the coming of the love-sick Cyclops; the mountains bow, the forest shake, the waves run frightened to the shore as he approaches roaring and calling for "a hundred reeds of decent growth," that on "such pipe" his capacious mouth may play the praises of Galatea. The recitative ("I melt, I rage, I burn") is very characteristic, and leads to the giant's love-song, an unctuous, catching melody almost too full of humor and grace for the fierce brute of Aetna ("Oh ruddier than the Cherry!").

In marked contrast with this declaration follows the plaintive, tender song of Acis ("Love sounds the Alarm").Galatea appeals to him to trust the gods, and then the three join in a Trio ("The Flocks shall leave theMountain"). Enraged at his discomfiture, the giant puts forth his power. He is no longer piping to Galatea and dissembling his real nature, but a destructive, raging force; and the fragment of mountain which he tears away buries poor Acis as effectually as Aetna sometimes does the plains beneath. The catastrophe accomplished, the work closes with the sad lament of Galatea for her lover ("Must I my Acis still bemoan?") and the choral consolations of the shepherds and their swains ("Galatea, Dry thyTears, Acis now a God appears").

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See also:
Middle Ages Music
Renaissance Music
Baroque Era Music
Classical Era Music
Romantic Era Music
Nationalist Era Music
Turn of Century Music

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