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Telling Tales: The Israelite Oratorios of George Frideric Handel as a Platform for Social Thought in Early Eighteenth-Century Britain Open Access


Other title
Eighteenth-Century Britain
Type of item
Degree grantor
University of Alberta
Author or creator
Rheubottom, Nicholas D
Supervisor and department
Gramit, David (Music)
Examining committee member and department
Moshaver, Maryam (Music)
Gier, Christina (Music)
Department of Music

Date accepted
Graduation date
Master of Arts
Degree level
"Identity is built on the ideologies of a collective nation"; there is no statement that rings clearer in the case of eighteenth-century Britain. This thesis examines the formulation of British identity as evidenced through allegorical narratives in Handel’s Israelite oratorios. As part of this investigation, three modes of inquiry are considered: what is the nature of the interrelationship between narrative and identity; why is the interrelationship successful; and how is this interrelationship reflected in the medium of oratorio? Each chapter tackles one of these questions directly. After establishing the methodology behind the project, the major motivation behind Chapter 1 is to outline the characteristics that defined the nature of narrative in eighteenth-century Britain. Factors such as the religious influence of deism, the role of the classical epic, and the subversive politics of satire became platforms for British self-expression, an expression that measured the nation’s worth by the actions of its predecessors. Chapter 2, “Solomon,” examines the role of music in the oratorio as a potential narrative for corroborating the social values pertinent to the British people. It aims to illustrate how music uniquely expresses signatory traits that could not necessarily be inferred through other artistic forms. While not independent from text, musical aspects such as form and harmonic structure aid in capturing certain ideas predominately expressed by the libretto. Chapter 3, “Judas Maccabeus,” demonstrates that if such actions determined contemporary social thought, then a historical paradigm organized under an allegorical narrative could most effectively reflect that link between past and present. After comparing separate accounts of the same historical event, a correlation is recognized that in this period, the narrative organization of an event was intended to reflect political positions contemporary to the author; therefore, with varied opinions came varied historical accounts. In other words, it was the narrative’s effectiveness in legitimizing social values, as opposed to exemplifying historical accuracy, which made allegory a powerful device for carrying over ideas existing in both the fictional and real world. Finally, in the conclusion we examine how the different forms of interpretation explored come together under one social theory, how these different perspectives come together in the analysis of a single oratorio, and the potential directions that might stem from the insight gleaned in this thesis. Through these chapters, one concludes that, from an eighteenth-century perspective, the identity of the individual is formulated by the collective values that their nation observes in its history. The narratives of the Israelite oratorios provided an effective representation of Britain’s connection with its past, pointing to a sense of power and unity forged between God and his chosen people. To borrow a term from Ruth Smith, these oratorios conveyed a second story beyond the biblical narratives, one of a transcendent people: the British Israel.
This thesis is made available by the University of Alberta Libraries with permission of the copyright owner solely for the purpose of private, scholarly or scientific research. This thesis, or any portion thereof, may not otherwise be copied or reproduced without the written consent of the copyright owner, except to the extent permitted by Canadian copyright law.
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