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Hard Fall


Handel was having enough trouble as it was. When a competitor came to town, his situation could only get worse. In November 1721 his opera Arsace failed to attract London audiences, and its successor met a worse fate. After Floridante flopped, two operas by Handel’s new rival, Giovanni Battista Bononcini, played to packed houses.

Bononcini had been brought in from Rome by Lord Burlington, who disliked the court of German-born King George I, and, by association, the music of the German-born Handel. With his tuneful operas and warm Italian songs, Bononcini became the darling of London.

Some said that Handel was on the way out.

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But Bononcini had a fatal flaw.

While Handel took a hard look at his failures, imported a spectacular if quarrelsome soprano, and wrote better and better operas, Bononcini turned to plagiarism.

He supplied an amateur musical club with a composition that was revealed to be by a composer living in Vienna. He presented the Academy of Ancient Music with a madrigal in five voices. Three years later it was proved to have been written by Antonio Lotti twenty-three years earlier.

He enjoyed the protection of the Duchess of Marlboro, who had hired him to be her house composer. Under her roof, he continued to weather the storm of his plagiarisms.

Then she died.

By the end of the opera season in 1732, he had long since run out of ideas. Fifteen years later he died in poverty in Vienna. Handel started the new season with the opera Orlando, and scored a rousing success.

Poet John Byrom parodied both composers in an epigram that ended with the first appearance in print of another famous duo:

Some say, compar’d to Bononcini

That Mynheer Handel’s but a Ninny.

Others aver, that he to Handel

Is scarcely fit to hold a Candle.

Strange all this Difference should be

‘Twixt Tweedle-dum and Tweedle-dee!