Performing and contextualising the music of George Frideric Handel

Submitting Institution

Open University

Unit of Assessment

Music, Drama, Dance and Performing Arts

Summary Impact Type


Research Subject Area(s)

Studies In Creative Arts and Writing: Film, Television and Digital Media
Language, Communication and Culture: Cultural Studies, Literary Studies

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Summary of the impact

Extensive research conducted by Donald Burrows on the music and biography of Handel has had a significant impact on the way Handel's music is performed and heard. It has directly enabled and influenced a large number of public performances internationally, by a range of ensembles. It has also materially contributed to enhancing public awareness, and enjoyment of the music of this important composer, and of his historical significance, through publications and input to festivals, recordings, broadcasts and exhibitions. The research has facilitated and supported performances of Baroque music that are `authentic' in content and style, at a time when Handel's music has been a fundamental repertory for orchestras, choirs and opera companies.

Underpinning research

The research programme has produced outputs that have provided essential resources for performers, and have enhanced the understanding of Handel and his music in the general public.

The research has involved the simultaneous pursuit of musical and documentary sources, in order to establish the textual history of Handel's works, to interpret this history in terms of chronological, historical and biographical factors, and to present the results in forms that help performers make key decisions about the music.

The musical sources for most of Handel's major works are complex in content because the composer made many changes between composition, performance and revivals: identification of his various `performing versions' (and associated matters of performance practice) provides the basis on which good modern performances can be planned and executed.

Analysis of the source materials has required a combination of forensic skills (identifying rastra and watermarks as the basis for dating components), musical/stylistic awareness (as, for example, the characteristics of particular voices for which Handel wrote or revised his music), and a knowledge of the circumstances for which the works were originally composed.

A primary objective of the research has been to produce editions of Handel's major works that are both scholarly and practical (see list of editions in Section 3 below). In addition, the research programme has resulted in publications that provide essential resources for future studies of Handel and his music that will work though to performers and the general public: A Catalogue of Handel's Musical Autographs (Burrows and Ronish 1994) has provided the standard reference source for future work on Handel's musical scores, and George Frideric Handel: Collected Documents (Burrows, Coffey, Greenacombe and Hicks, 2013—, five volumes) will have a similar role for documentary material.

The breadth of reference that is inherent in the research programme has provided the authority for substantial literary publications, such as the biography of Handel in the `Master Musicians' series (Burrows 1994, 2nd edition 2012) and The Cambridge Companion to Handel (Burrows 1997), which have reached a wider readership than the specialised materials of scholarly articles and book chapters. Similarly, the accumulated research experience has provided the basis for participation in public events such as pre-performance talks, exhibitions and broadcasts.

Evidence for the quality of the underpinning research can be found in the outputs that have appeared in major refereed publications, in the presence of five publications among the open-shelf reference books at The British Library, and in the support that the programme has received from public research grants, all rigorously refereed at the point of application and conclusion.

References to the research

The following list provides references for the principal publications cited in Section 2.

Music editions of works by George Frideric Handel, edited by Donald Burrows:

Belshazzar, Novello Handel Edition, Novello & Co Ltd, London, 1993 (vocal score xix + 267 pp., plus full score and performing material) ISBN 978-0-85360-767-0

Imeneo, Hallische Händel-Ausgabe, Serie II, Band 40, HHA/Bärenreiter, Kassel, 2002 (lxviii + 338 pp.) ISMN M-006-49787-4; Vocal Score (Bärenreiter BA 4072a, xiii + 234 pp.) ISMN M-006-52064-0

Ariodante, Hallische Händel-Ausgabe, Serie II, Band 32, HHA/Bärenreiter, Kassel, 2007 (lxviii + 429 pp.) ISMN M-006-49779-9; also Preface to Vocal Score ISMN M-006-53285-8

Te Deum in A Major (vocal score ix+ 32 pp.) ISBN 978-1-78038-356-9 and Let God Arise (Chapel Royal version) (vocal score ix+30 pp.) ISBN 978-1-78038-357-6, Novello Handel Edition, Novello & Co. Ltd, London, 2011 (both works also with full score and performing material)

L'Allegro, il Penseroso ed il Moderato, Novello Handel Edition, Novello & Co. Ltd, London, 2013 (vocal score c. 250 pp., plus full score and performing material) ISBN 978-1-78035-431-2

Burrows, D. (1994) Handel (Master Musicians Series), Oxford, Oxford University Press, ISBN 019816470X

Burrows, D., and Ronish, M. J. (1994) A Catalogue of Handel's Musical Autographs. Oxford, Oxford University Press, ISBN 0193152509.


Burrows, D. (ed.) (1997) The Cambridge Companion to Handel, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press (volume editor (17 authors), author of introduction and two chapters) ISBN 0 521 4525 5. Japanese edition (Shunjusha Publishing Company, Tokyo, 2009) ISBN 798-4-393-93185-1.

Burrows, D. (2012) Handel (Master Musicians Series), 2nd edn, New York, Oxford University Press, ISBN 978-0-19-973736-9.

Burrows, D., Coffey, H., Greenacombe, J. and Hicks, A. (forthcoming 2013) George Frideric Handel: Collected Documents, Volume 1, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-1-107-01953-9. This will have five volumes: Volume 1 is scheduled to be published December 2013. Volumes 2 and 3 are currently in production.

Research funding

For music editions and surveys of sources:

April 2005—December 2006: £7,475 awarded by the British Academy to Professor Burrows for the SG 40526 project.

January 2004—December 2004: £4,497 awarded by the British Academy to Professor Burrows for the SG 37211 project.

June 1992—March 1996: £3,400 awarded by the British Council to Professor Burrows for the BC/DAAD Project 417 Italian Operas of G. F. Handel, Composed and Performed 1736-1741.

For the research project: George Frideric Handel: Collected Documents:

September 2007—August 2010: £383,968 awarded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council to Professor Burrows for AH/E007856/1, extended to April 2011 and increased for inflation full economic costing £486,106; supplemented by a continuing subvention (currently £29,500) from the Handel Institute's Winton Dean Fund.

Details of the impact

The results of Burrows's research have been brought to musical performers and to the wider public through his influence on performances and through direct contact with a range of audiences.

Impact on musical practice and the programmes of cultural institutions

The principal agent for this has been through published music editions which, in addition to their scholarly quality based on a thorough re-examination of the sources, present the scores in a manner that provides practical texts for modern performers. Older editions of Handel's major works either gave all the variant movements in an unsorted manner or arranged movements in a combination that was only relevant to the circumstances of a particular modern revival.

Burrows's volumes of two Handel operas, Imeneo (HHA II/40, 2002) and Ariodante (HHA II/32, 2007), in the new collected music edition (Hallische Händel-Ausgabe [HHA], published by Bärenreiter) established a model for presenting the music according to Handel's successive `performing versions'. This model has been followed by editors of subsequent volumes of the HHA, including Ottone (2008), Alcina (2009), Samson (2011) and Arianna in Creta (2012).

Editions in the Novello series present authoritative musical texts, with vocal scores as the first point of contact, in which the Prefaces include didactic sections directly addressed to performers. These include five works, including Te Deum in A major and Let God Arise HWV 256b (Novello, 2011), to which performers had previously had no access except through the scores of the nineteenth-century collected edition, which follow outdated conventions (e.g. in the clefs for the vocal parts).

Burrows's editions of Handel's operas have been taken up by festivals and opera companies throughout the world; the editions of the oratorios and church music have a broader dissemination through amateur as well as professional performing groups. The 2008 Halle Händelfestpiele programme included three major works in Burrows's editions. In the Handel anniversary year 2009, Belshazzar saw two performances in the UK, one in Denmark, three in the USA, two concert performances in France and four staged performances, five concert performances in Germany and eight staged performances (including a production by the Berlin Staatsoper).

Since 2008 Burrows's edition of Imeneo has seen performances by McGill Baroque (Montreal, 2011) and The Academy of Ancient Music (London, 2013); that for Ariodante has been performed in Vienna (2008), Helsinki (2009), Beaune (2009), Tokyo (2009), London, Malvern, Exeter, Snape and Cambridge (English Touring Opera, 2009), Karlsruhe (2010), Princeton (2010), Ulm (2012) and Basel (2012). Burrows's editions of Imeneo and L'Allegro were performed as the major works in the 2013 London Handel Festival, and since 2010 Burrows has acted as a consultant for the planning of the Festival programmes and performances.

Impact on public awareness and enjoyment of Handel's music

The main impact has been on audiences who have the opportunity to hear Handel's music in (to them) new ways. Impact is also achieved through media contributions, and public talks associated with concerts and opera productions. Since 2004 Burrows has participated in 11 radio programmes (five of them for BBC Radio 4) and two TV programmes (including an extended sequence on Handel's Water Music for The One Show, which has been broadcast at least twice). He also made a major contribution to Baroque Star, which was broadcast on principal TV networks in France and Germany as a one hour programme and subsequently released in a longer version as a DVD from Arthaus Musik.

Pre-performance talks and similar events have been associated with high-profile organisations (Royal Opera House, English National Opera, BBC Proms, English Touring Opera, The Sixteen), and with provincial amateur societies in (for example) Derby, Portsmouth, York and Wantage. In addition to being joint curator of the exhibition `Mr Handel's Friends' at the Handel House Museum in 2009, Burrows has participated in four other events there aimed at a non-specialist public.

Publications that have had an impact beyond the scholarly community include Burrows's biography of Handel in the series `Master Musicians', and a group of contributions to the Handel anniversary year in 2009: the facsimile editions of Handel's Will (Burrows 2009a) and of Messiah (Burrows 2009b). The Japanese edition of The Cambridge Companion to Handel (Burrows 1997, Japanese edition 2009) was awarded `Book of the Year' by the 22nd Music Pen Club Awards, Classical Music Division, Japan.

Sources to corroborate the impact

  1. Music editions See list of music editions in Section 3 above.
    Catalogues of publishers are publicly available to confirm publication.
    Bärenreiter (Hallische Händel-Ausgabe): confirmation of performances using the editions has been obtained from Herr Ulrich Etscheit, Head of Performance Promotions, Bärenreiter, Kassel.
    Novello Handel Edition: confirmation of performances using the editions been obtained from Mr Howard Friend, Managing Editor, Chester Music and Novello Co., London.
  2. Music Facsimiles
    Burrows, D., ed. (2009a) Handel's Will: facsimiles and commentary. London, Gerald Coke Handel Foundation, ISBN 978-0-956-09980-8
    Burrows, D. (2009b) Messiah: the composer's autograph manuscript, British Library R.M.20.f.2 in facsimile. Kassel & London, Bärenreiter, ISBN 978-3-761-82109-1
  3. Musical performers
    Confirmation of influence on performances has been obtained from: The Director, London Handel Festival, Academy of Ancient Music.
  4. Public dissemination:
    Exhibition: `Mr Handel's Friends', The Director, Handel House Museum.
  5. Performances
    Online performance schedules of opera houses and performing organisations can confirm dates of performances. File copies are also available of relevant items from programme books for the 2008 (Halle) and 2013 (London) Handel festivals.
  6. Available archive broadcasts (e.g. BBC Radio 3, The Essay: Handel's Working Practices:
  7. Catalogue of Arthaus Musik
    Baroque Star: George Frideric Handel, DVD including interviews and performances by Donald Burrows:
  8. Reviews of Handel (Master Musicians Series) quoted at