The transformation of Handel's oratorios from commercial entertainment to national heritage in 18th-century Britain is an extraordinary cultural phenomenon and the earliest of its kind in music history. A genre that was single-handedly established by Handel turned in the space of half-a-century into a musical affirmation of the British people. Describing and evaluating this process forms the subject of the present dissertation.
This is the first detailed study of the early reception of Handelian oratorio in Britain. Drawing entirely on primary sources, the dissertation has three objectives: to offer a collection of hitherto unpublished references on Handel and English oratorio; to provide a continuous narrative on the reception of the genre in the 1732-1784 period; and to initiate a critical response to its cultural evolution within this half-a-century.
The Narrative part, structured around theatrical seasons, provides a detailed survey of oratorio performances in London, from the premiere of Esther to the Handel Commemoration Festival. A number of exceptional moments in the history of the genre receive individual discussions in part two as Studies. These culminate in a comprehensive account of factors that facilitated the cultural mutation of the oratorio. The 870-page collection of contemporary sources provides documentary support to the other two parts and supplements Otto Erich Deutsch's documentary biography of the composer from 1955.