‘THE CONNECTION BETWEEN G F HANDEL AND ADMIRAL BYNG’:
by Thane Byng MA Anthropology of Art UCL 1997.
‘TRIUMPH OF TIME AND TRUTH’ is due to be performed this evening at King’s Place, London N1, on Friday, 19th October 2018. This oratorio is the last complete work by George Frederic Handel. He was the court composer of King George I and George II. ‘Triumph of Time and Truth’ is an extended English version of Handel’s first oratorio composed in Italian,‘Il Trionfo Del Tempo d Del Disinganno’ composed in 1707.
The first performance of ‘TRIUMPH OF TIME AND TRUTH’ was performed at Covent Garden 11th March 1757. The time and date are significant: three days later Admiral the Hon John Byng was executed 14th March. Admiral Byng was shot on his quarter-deck “pour encourager leas autres” as Voltaire wrote in his book, ‘Candide’ though it is generally known that Admiral Byng was made a scapegoat for the Government of the day.
What is the connection between Handel and Admiral Byng?
It cannot be a coincidence that Handel (who was nearly blind at the time) and/or his librettist, John Christopher Smith (made chief copyist and manager of Handel’s compositional workshop in 1722) brought out this first English version of ‘Triumph of Time and Truth’ a few days before Admiral John Byng’s world-shocking execution. The extra character, DECEIT, and several new choruses carrying a hidden meaning and tribute to a wronged and greatly maligned man.
George Frederic Handel lived in Brook Street, Mayfair, where he composed his major works while living in Britain. Brook Street is very close to Berkeley Street where Admiral Byng had his town house. Both men never married and both devoted their lives to Christianity and the service of their Country. Handel, born in Germany, was friends with both King George I and II – the first Hanoverian British monarchs. Handel and Byng would have met at St George’s Church, Hanover Square, where they both worshipped, and they would have moved in the same aristocratic circles. They were both painted by Thomas Hudson and conversations between painter and sitter would have passed on more details of information that the public pamphlets and papers did not print – or printed erroneous information.
Handel was loyal to his patron, King George II, because he owed his fame and fortune to the Hanoverian support of his musical talents and compositions. Handel would not have dared to publicly support Admiral Byng as several brave politicians and naval officers did. Artists abstract their emotions. Handel would have been affected by the news of King George’s refusal to grant clemency to an innocent Christian, a British MP, son of a Peer, a brave and courageous Admiral and a loyal patriot. Handel paid tribute to Admiral Byng by re-working and staging his work, which is scattered with significant symbolism on a symbolic date. One of DECEIT’s last lines: “Soon the scene closes” would not have gone unnoticed by the audience.
In the same light of there being a growing understanding that Samuel Johnson wrote Admiral Byng’s famous epitaph: ‘To the Perpetual Disgrace of Publick Justice ….’ so too Handel’s tribute to Admiral Byng.
Next year is the 260th Anniversary of Handel’s death. Admiral Byng’s annual memorial service will take place at St George’s Church, Hanover Square on 14th March 2019 as Byng descendants honour their forebear and all supporters pay tribute to Handel. The choir will sing the significant additions of ‘Triumph of Time and Truth’. All are welcome.
Another poignant point is that Tulip Siddiq MP has agreed to hand in ABC [Admiral Byng Campaign’s] Petition to Parliament demanding an exoneration.
Triumph of Time and Truth
“Instruments of Time and Truth are joined by Oxford Voices and a stellar line-up of soloists for this rare performance of Handel’s oratorio, both his first and last. Whether its theme – the need to invest in a higher good rather than in transient beauty – may have resonated with the composer in his final years, we don’t know. What we do know is that the work exudes Handel’s amazing fluency as a young composer, and his ability to recast his music in the light of a lifetime’s experience.”