OP0617. MUZIO SCEVOLA (Handel, Bononcini & Amadei), recorded 1991, w.Rudolph Palmer Cond. Brewer Baroque Chamber Orchestra; Edward Brewer (Harpsichord); D'Anna Fortunato, Julianne Baird, John Ostendorf, Erie Mills, Jennifer Lane, Andrea Matthews, Frederick Urrey, etc. 2-Newport Classics 85540. Very long out-of-print, Final Sealed Copy!
"MUZIO has anecdotal as well as musical interest; it was set up as a competition between Handel and a rival opera composer, Giovanni Bononcini. Each act was a self-contained story. Act 1 set to music by Filippo Amadei (a musician now mercifully forgotten), Act 2 by Bononcini and Act 3 by Handel. Handel was declared the winner - though Bononcini's music is by no means negligible - and a fickle public soon forgot about the opera once the excitement of competition was over. Handel's music deserved a longer life, and he later thriftily recycled much of it into several other operas, including OTTONE. The Newport Classic recording presents all of Handel's act, four numbers from Bononcini's and two arias from an earlier MUZIO SCEVOLA by Bononcini, all in first-class performances.”
- Joseph McLellan, THE WASHINGTON POST, 24 Jan., 1993
In November 1719 the Italian composer Giovanni Bononcini, then resident in Rome, had received an invitation from the Royal Academy of Music to provide an opera for the King’s Theatre in London. The Academy’s second season opened on 19th November 1720 with his Astarto which was to be performed an astonishing 24 times. Almost immediately a rivalry between Handel and Bononcini developed – not between the two composers themselves, but rather their fans. The Duke of Marlborough and most of the aristocracy supported Bononcini, while Handel had the backing of the Prince of Wales and his associates. The satirist John Byrom summed up the rivalry in a catchy verse:
“Some say, compar’d to Buononcinny
That Mynheer Handel’s but a Ninny.
Others aver, that he to Handel
Is scarcely fit to hold a Candle:
Strange that this difference there should be
Twixt Tweedle-dum and Tweedle-dee!"
Handel’s biographer John Mainwaring reports that, in order to alleviate this apparent antagonism between their two star composers, the Academy decided to have them compose an act each of a new opera. Such joint compositions were not unusual in the 18th century, and even into the 19th century, but this is the only record of such an arrangement being seen as a direct competition between the individual composers.
The first act was set by Filippo Amadei, the principal cellist of the Royal Academy orchestra who had previously been employed in Rome by one of Handel’s Italian patrons, Cardinal Ottoboni. There are few surviving compositions by Amadei and it seems that after about 1724 he abandoned composition in favour of his skills as a performer. Bononcini set the second act, and Handel set the third. The general opinion was that Handel’s music was far superior to that of his collaborators.