Changing cultural space: The public molding of Handel's Esther into an

English Oratorio (1732)

English oratorio engendered lasting changes in music history, yet the social context

of its genesis remains under-explored. No convincing explanation has been

offered for the Oratorio’s revivals as Esther in February-March 1731/2 and the

events leading to Handel’s ambitious production two months later are still obscure.

Moreover, scholarly emphasis on the textual affinities between the two

works threatens to reduce its birth into mere compositional updating. This essay

promotes Esther’s cultural autonomy by shifting attention from music text to

context, and from composition to reception. It examines the oratorio’s historical

milieu and suggests that political and cultural tensions in 1731–32 informed Handel’s

molding of a piece of chamber music into a public-oriented genre. It also upgrades

the press as a shaping force in the new market of musical products and

finds that rhetorical and typographical choices in Esther advertisements encoded

ideological tensions between progressive and antiquarian claims on the oratorio.

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