Among the various formal structures employed in the arias of Handel's oratorios is a ternary form in which the last section is newly written, rather than being a verbatim repeat of the first section, as in the ubiquitous da capo aria. This form, for which I propose the term “recomposed return aria,” is rarely mentioned by scholars, and has never been the subject of a comprehensive study, despite its considerable aesthetic interest. In this article I focus on Handel's use of the recomposed return aria, exploring in particular the array of recapitulatory designs that it encompasses, and the reasons why Handel may sometimes have chosen this form instead of the regular da capo. I then turn to the oratorio Alexander Balus, as a case study through which to show how the compositional freedom intrinsic to the recomposed return aria allows for the portrayal of various aspects of erotic attraction experienced by the protagonists.
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