John H. Roberts
University of California, Berkeley

Late or Soon: Cadential Timing in Early 18th-Century recitativo semplice

How to perform cadential chords in early eighteenth-century simple recitative is one of those questions that seems never to go away. For many years it was assumed that however they were notated the two continuo chords should be delayed till after the voice had finished. Then gradually, under the influence of various scholars, the pendulum swung in the direction of sounding the chords earlier, overlapping with the vocal cadence. Nonetheless there has been continuing confusion about how widely and in what way this principle should be applied, and some performers have invented solutions that have no basis in historical practice. This paper interrogates contemporary sources, textual and musical, in an effort to clarify this pervasive but slippery convention, with particular reference to Handel.

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John H. Roberts is Professor of Music Emeritus at the University of California, Berkeley, where for twenty years he was also head of the Hargrove Music Library. As a musicologist his work has centered primarily on Handel. His articles have appeared in Music & Letters, the Journal of the American Musicological Society, the Händel-Jahrbuch, Göttinger Händel-Beiträge, and numerous book collections, and he edited the nine-volume facsimile series Handel Sources (Garland, 1986).