Big news in the world of baroque music!

The “big name” composers of the baroque era, including George Frideric Handel and Antonio Vivaldi, have a recognized body of work that has been thoroughly studied and documented. Thanks to ongoing scholarly research over the centuries since the baroque era ended in 1750, we continue to learn more about these musical giants and their contemporaries, and to deepen our understanding of their influences.

Sometimes musicologists unearth previously unknown works, for example, or find new instances of composers borrowing from one another. Recycling musical material was a common practice for baroque era musicians, who often had to provide music on short notice for ceremonies, church holidays, or commissions from impatient patrons. Handel famously reused a significant amount of musical material throughout his long career, borrowing from his own works, as well as music by other composers.

Sometimes new scholarly discoveries challenge our understanding of the genre and its major players, such as the recently released findings of two musicologists specializing in baroque era sacred vocal music. The Italian scholar Giovanni Barzellatta and his German colleague Johann der Witz analyzed hundreds of manuscripts, diary entries and correspondences, and have presented convincing evidence that substantial sections of George Frideric Handel’s beloved oratorio MESSIAH were largely pilfered from an earlier, little-known composition by Antonio Vivaldi. One of the more shocking of their findings is that the famous Hallelujah Chorus from MESSIAH is an almost note-for-note transcription of a Concerto for 5 cellos by Vivaldi recently discovered in the Turin archive. British musicologist and Handel expert Helen Cantrip-Banter has raised questions about the authenticity of some of the source material.

The controversial Barzellatta/Witz report was published in the April 1 edition of the scholarly journal, Diario de la Música Tonta.