During his Italian stay, Handel spent the majority of his time in Rome under the patronage of Marchese Francesco Maria Ruspoli, Cardinal Benedetto Pamphilij, Cardinal Carlo Colonna and Cardinal Pietro Ottoboni.
Rome did not offer Italian opera, but Handel’s patrons were members of the Accademia degli Arcadi (‘The Arcadian Academy’). The Academy was founded in 1690, one year after the death of the exiled Queen Christina of Sweden, who had brought together a circle of poets, musicians and artists interested in new directions of Italian poetry, librettos and associated musical entertainments.
By the time Handel came to Rome, the meetings of the Academy often took place at the palaces of its members on Sunday afternoons, were known as ‘conversazioni’, and offered composers the opportunity to perform their latest works. Handel wrote a substantial number of cantatas for such gatherings following in the footsteps of composers such as Alessandro Scarlatti, who was one of the most prolific composers of the genre with over 600 cantatas attributed to his name. Handel, although under the patronage of members of the Academy, was never actually a member himself, however several other prominent Roman musicians with whom he had contact were, including Bernardo Pasquini, Francesco Gasparini, Benedetto Marcello, Arcangelo Corelli and Alessandro Scarlatti, all of whom composed and performed at ‘conversazioni’.
The aim of our project is to convincingly recreate what a ‘conversazione’ might have been like in Rome. We hope to revive the cultural atmosphere of the Roman conversazioni by performing music from the Accademia degli Arcadi, with a particular emphasis on Handel’s cantatas. The performances will be part of Contrasto Armonico’s ongoing project recording the complete Italian cantatas by Handel.
During some conversazioni an actor will be invited to read poetry linked to the themes of the cantatas. In others, we will have art historian Robert Newton present and discuss paintings relevant to the music. Enjoy music, poetry, and art – in the manner of the Accademia.