HANDEL’S LOST LYRICS

Written by Ray Turner for the British Columbia Music Magazine in 2006.

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SCENE: An English inn in 1718 A. D. George Friedrich Handel is enjoying a glass of sherry. He is humming to himself happily and making notes on a scrap of paper. He is joined by John Foxwell, a fellow composer.
George Frideric Handel
        1685-1759
Foxwell. Well met, Handel. (he also takes a sherry) Cheers! That is a catchy tune, rather joyful. Have I heard it before?

Handel. Well, it is as new as anything is in our world of music, my dear Foxwell. It came to me in the night. (he hums the melody again) It is a joyful tune, now you mention it.

Foxwell. Let me hear it again. Louder, if you please.

Handel (sings). Lah, lah, la, lah, la, lah, lah, lah ... Here, I’ll write it out for you. It is very simple. (he quickly sketches out the notes)


Joy notation

(Foxwell takes a recorder from a bag at his hip and plays)

Foxwell. Why, it is simple – just a D major scale played downwards instead of up. I like this joyful tune. Congratulations! Cheers! (they take healthy sips of sherry. Foxwell plays the melody on his recorder again. Sherry drips out of the holes.)

Foxwell. It seems a little familiar. But I hardly ever hear a good new tune these days.

Handel. So true, so true.

Foxwell. But this is somehow different. What is the accompaniment - just three chords?

Handel. Yes, but not right away. I was thinking the root for the first four bars then the fourth and the fifth. It has to be played majestically.

Foxwell. And joyfully. Any idea of a title? Words?

Handel. All I’ve come up with so far is, (he sings)
Who stole my beer? It was right here...”

Foxwell. Good, good. There’s much joy in beer.

Handel: And sherry, for that matter.
(they pour themselves more sherry)
You know, better than most, Foxwell, that I am not a lyricist. But we both know the words of a work are vital to its popularity.

Foxwell. I can just hear it being sung in the inns. The joy of beer, and so on. It is going to be a hit. Right up there with your Messiah. Has the Archbishop heard it?

Handel. Not yet. I have to get the words done. I will present it at the Mid summer pageant. A small orchestra: spinet, bass clarinet and kettledrum. I will have a choir available, of course. The whole town will be there. The only thing is the lyrics – and a title. Let’s see ... beer ... dear ... near ... fear ... sincere ... reindeer . . .

Foxwell. The words are always the hardest for me, too, Handel.(there is a silence as the composers ponder the difficulties of rhyming composition.)

Handel. One thing is certain, Foxwell. I want to bring joy to the world. For the first time, I shall give my song freely to everyone, not just the royalty, clergy and merchants. Everyone shall be free to sing, hum and whistle my music, anywhere they choose, forever.

Foxwell. What do you mean, give your song freely to the world? That’s taking joy too far. We composers deserve a living, do we not? Why, with good marketing and a solid copyright you can make good money from this.

Handel. Pshaw! I am not worried about anyone reproducing my music. I am not a possessive man and I have enough guineas in the bank. Fortunately, I have been supported by generous patrons. Besides, I have never really believed that creations of art should be owned. I hear some of the museums are buying paintings and sculptures from artists and then charging people just to look at them.

Foxwell. They deserve it!

Handel
. Not necessarily. Do you think Leonardo put restrictions on people copying his Mona Lisa? He made drawings of a flying machine and a screw for lifting water but never had a thought of patenting them. Those were wonderful, joyful ideas – except maybe for the confusion around right and left hand threads. All these creations should be available to everyone, rich or poor, for education and enlightenment. Did the Lord say we artists are born for purely business reasons? I think not!

Foxwell
. No, no. Handel, your ideas are full of joy but they are a ridiculous fantasy. You have to control your masterpiece. That’s what is done with land, horses and guns. Otherwise, the Italians and French will be covering it, selling printed music, making money by the bagful.

Handel. My friend, we have to disagree on this. I have made my decision. I do not want some merchant intervening between my art and the public’s pleasure.

Foxwell
. Well, I suppose you can do what you want. But you will regret this.

Handel. Thank you, my friend. I will let the world decide. Have a joyful day.

Foxwell. (he leaves, bowing) Good day, Handel. And good luck with the lyrics.

(NOTE: The theme for this work might well have originated with Handel, or much earlier, but the score for this popular hymn and Christmas carol is generally attributed to religious composer Lowell Mason in 1836. Covers by Mariah Carey and Three Dog Night followed.)

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