Not far from Handel’s statue in the Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens was a statue of the seventeenth-century English poet John Milton. Though he died in 1674, Milton’s legacy extended well into the eighteenth century. Handel seems to have first become captivated by Milton’s poetry following an evening in November 1739 spent with Lord Shaftesbury, when the host’s brother-in-law read aloud the entirety of John Milton’s epic tragic drama Samson Agonistes.
The interest this experience sparked in Handel for Milton’s poetry resulted in some of his most ambitious vocal music — first in L’Allegro, il Penseroso ed il Moderato (1740) and ultimately in Samson (1743), set to a libretto adapted by Newburgh Hamilton. With Carolyn Sampson and Mark Padmore, two of the most accomplished Handel singers active today, in this final programme from St Giles’s Cripplegate Church (which also hosts a statue of Milton) we trace how Milton’s poetry inspired Handel to use music as a means of advancing and extending poetic meaning.