One of Handel’s most curious works is brought to you by the letter M; with mirth, melancholy and moderation being the keywords in this oratorio-style work that primarily sets two of Milton’s most famous poems. 


In a bid to restore his ailing musical fortunes, Handel spent a fortnight during the freezing London winter of 1740 composing this work with the literary help of Charles Jennens, who was soon to provide him with the libretto of Messiah, and another friend, philosopher James Harris.

Harris and Jennens cleverly wove together texts from Milton’s L’Allegro and Il Pensersoso, poems respectively describing a lively character and a melancholiac, for the first two parts of the work. At Handel’s request, Jennens composed text for a third part, Il Moderato, extolling the virtues of moderation. (Coffee house wits of the day unkindly referred to Jennens’ text as Il Moderatissimo.)

Handel clearly relished setting Milton to music, producing a colourful, characterful score that not only includes wonderful opportunities for the singers (including...