Composers Datebook®

Handel vs. Swift

Composers Datebook - Jan. 28, 2024


It’s nice when talent in one field recognizes and appreciates it in another. But this is not always the case. Take, for example, Jonathan Swift, one of the greatest English writers of the 18th century, and Georg Frideric Handel, one of that century’s greatest composers.

In 1742, Handel was in Ireland, preparing for the premiere of his sacred oratorio Messiah at the Music Hall on Dublin’s Fishamble Street, and wanted to use the choirboys from Dublin’s two cathedrals, Christ Church and St. Patrick’s. Swift was the dean of Patrick’s, and, on today’s date, the author of Gulliver’s Travels penned a flaming reply to his sub dean:

“I do hereby require and request not to permit any of the choristers to attend or assist at any public musical performances ... and whereas it hath been reported that I gave a license to assist a club of fiddlers in Fishamble Street, I do annul said license, entreating my said Sub-Dean to [refuse] such songsters, fiddlers, pipers, trumpeters, drummers, drum-majors or any [such] sonic quality.”

History does not record Handel’s response, but he did, in point of fact, eventually get to use the St. Patrick’s choir boys and other “songsters” he requested.

Music Played in Today's Program

George Frederic Handel (1685-1757) Messiah; Oregon Bach Festival; Helmuth Rilling, cond. Hännsler 98.198

On This Day


  • 1791 - French opera composer Louis Joseph F. Herold, in Paris;

  • 1898 - Italian-American composer Vittorio Rieti, in Alexandria, Egypt;

  • 1944 - British composer John Tavener, in London;


  • 1935 - Russian composer Mikhail Ippolitov-Ivanov, 75, in Moscow;

  • 1947 - Venezuelan-born French composer Reynaldo Hahn, 72, in Paris;


  • 1725 - Bach: Sacred Cantata No. 92 ("Ich hab in Gottes Herz und Sinn") performed on Septuagesimae Sunday after Epiphany as part of Bach's second annual Sacred Cantata cycle in Leipzig (1724/25);

  • 1828 - Schubert: Piano Trio in Bb, Op. 99 (D. 898), at a private performance by Ignaz Schuppanzigh (violin), Josef Linke (cello), and Carl Maria von Bocklet (piano);

  • 1830 - Auber: opera "Fra Diavolo" in Paris at the Opéra-Comique;

  • 1876 - Tchaikovsky: "Serenade mélancolique" for violin and orchestra, in Moscow (Julian date: Jan. 18);

  • 1897 - Glazunov: Symphony No. 5, in London;

  • 1915 - Ravel: Piano Trio in a, in Paris, by Gabriel Wilaume (violin), Louis Feuillard (cello), and Alfredo Casella (piano);

  • 1916 - Granados: opera "Goyescas," at the Metropolitan Opera in New York;

  • 1927 - Copland: Piano Concerto, by the Boston Symphony conducted by Serge Koussevitzky, with the composer as soloist;

  • 1941 - Copland: "Quiet City," at Town Hall in New York City by the Little Symphony conducted by Daniel Saidenberg; This music is based on incidental music Copland wrote for Irwin Shaw's play of the same name produced by the Group Theater in New York in 1939;

  • 1944 - Bernstein: Symphony No. 1 ("Jeremiah"), at the Syria Mosque in Pittsburgh by the Pittsburgh Symphony conducted by the composer, with mezzo-soprano Jennie Tourel as vocal soloist;

  • 1972 - Scott Joplin: opera "Treemonisha" (orchestrated by T.J. Anderson), in Atlanta;

  • 1990 - Joan Tower: Flute Concerto, at Carnegie Hall in New York, with soloist Carol Wincenc and the American Composers Orchestra, Hugh Wolff, conducting;

  • 1995 - Elinor Armer: “Island Earth” (to a text by sci-fi writer Ursula K. Le Guin), at the University of California, Berkeley, by the various San Francisco choirs and the Women’s Philharmonic, conducted by JoAnn Falletta; On the same program were the premiere performance’s of Chen Yi’s “Antiphony” for orchestra and Augusta Read Thomas’s “Fantasy” for piano and orchestra (with piano soloist Sara Wolfensohn);

  • 1997 - Morten Lauridsen: “Mid-Winter Songs” (final version) for chorus and orchestra, by the Los Angeles Master Chorale, John Currie conducting; Earlier versions of this work with piano and chamber orchestra accompaniment had premiered in 1981, 1983, and 1985 at various Californian venues;

  • 2000 - André Previn: "Diversions," in Salzburg, Austria, by the Vienna Philharmonic, the composer conducting;


  • 1971 - William Bolcom completes his "Poltergeist" Rag (dedicated to Teresa Sterne, a one-time concert pianist who was then a producer for Nonesuch Records); according to the composer's notes, the "Poltergeist" Rag was written "in a converted garage next to a graveyard in Newburgh, N.Y."

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About Composers Datebook®

Host John Birge presents a daily snapshot of composers past and present, with timely information, intriguing musical events and appropriate, accessible music related to each.

He has been hosting, producing and performing classical music for more than 25 years. Since 1997, he has been hosting on Minnesota Public Radio's Classical Music Service. He played French horn for the Cincinnati Symphony and Pops Orchestra and performed with them on their centennial tour of Europe in 1995. He was trained at the Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music, Eastman School of Music and Interlochen Arts Academy.

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