phone mail2 facebook twitter play whatsapp
Advertisement

Death of Handel 14 April 1759

2 April 2012

"In 1750 Handel arranged a performance of the Messiah for the hospital with members of the Foundling choir among the singers. It was a sensation. Such fundraising concerts followed annually. They were so popular that the organisers had to employ bouncers, force ladies to leave their dress hoops at home, and require gentlemen to relinquish their swords outside."

‘I know that you are a she-devil, but I am Beelzebub, Lord of all Devils, and if you do not do what I say, I will throw you out of the window!’ said George Frederic Handel to one of his leading prima-donnas. Here, and throughout his life, Handel’s personality and music fizzled in a riot of colour, passion and wit.

Handel died on 14 April, 253 years ago. He introduced the English court and public to a new music – music for the heart, one that made you laugh and cry, and that filled you with nostalgia and joy. Handel’s musical dawn was marked by struggle, however. Although passionate from a young age, his family were indifferent to what they saw as his youthful indiscretion. They even forbade musical instruments in the house. According to legend, Handel got over this by smuggling a spinet harpsichord into his attic bedroom and practicing on the sly after his family had gone to sleep. Luckily his father eventually gave up on this ban and Handel’s extraordinary talent was hidden no longer.  

Like many young gentlemen in the 18th century, Handel travelled to Italy on a Grand Tour. He spent much of his time in Florence, home of the Medici family, opulence, and music. He then returned to his native Germany, where he was appointed capella master to George Elector of Hanover. In 1714 this George became George I, King of England. However, Handel got to England first, perhaps sent as a cultural representative to the English court. He soon became a hit among the fashionable higher echelons of society; royal and aristocratic patrons fought to hear his exquisite tinkering and divine compositions. 

In 1723 Handel rented a house on Brook Street. He stayed there for the rest of his life. Musicians tend to be nomadic by nature and to set down roots like this was deeply unusual. Five years later, Handel became British.

Handel’s success in London was unprecedented for an 18th century musician, but he was no scrooge. The Foundling Hospital – now commemorated by the wonderful Foundling Museum – was perhaps its greatest beneficiary. In 1750 Handel arranged a performance of the Messiah for the hospital with members of the Foundling choir among the singers. It was a sensation. Such fundraising concerts followed annually. They were so popular that the organisers had to employ bouncers, force ladies to leave their dress hoops at home, and require gentlemen to relinquish their swords outside. Foundlings always sang in the choir. Handel directed. His thick German accent bellowed and boomed instructions and encouragement.

Handel’s explosive temper was just one of his character’s many faces. Greed was another. He was known, for instance, for storing the best food at his own dinner parties for his personal impressive stomach. That said, he was also generous, kind, warm, funny, charming, witty and caring. Music was, however, his chief passion. The Messiah, his great masterpiece, was written in just 24 days, an astonishing feat. We are told that he remarked of it: ‘Whether I was in my body or out of my body as I wrote it I know not. God knows’. 

Handel’s sight deteriorated towards the end of his life and he was blind for his last five years – a cruel blow for a composer. He died in 1759. He had been a great servant to his trade and many outside it. He left us 42 operas, 29 oratorios and 120 cantatas, duets and trios; he established the Royal Academy of Music; and he was one of London’s greatest musical philanthropists. It does not strike me surprising that his funeral was awarded full state honours at Westminster Abbey. Over 3000 mourners attended. 

 ‘Silence, the truest applause, succeeded, the instant that he addressed himself to the instrument; and that was so profound, that it checked respiration, and seemed to control the functions of nature.’

To learn more about Handel, come on Rose’s Georgian London tour on Wednesday 20 June, where you will visit Handel’s beautifully restored Brook Street house and the Foundling Museum.
 
{ad-placement-MPU1}

Most popular

What to See at The Cinema

What to See at The Cinema

Your go-to guide to what's on the silver screen
Advertisement
Top 5 Bars and Restaurants for Shisha-Lovers

Top 5 Bars and Restaurants for Shisha-Lovers

The five finest spots in London to shoot the breeze and pass the pipe
Advertisement
Top Theatre of the Week

Top Theatre of the Week

Where to get the best of new theatre openings in London
Advertisement
Top Exhibitions of the Week

Top Exhibitions of the Week

The place to come for all the best current exhibitions in London...
Advertisement
Top Gigs of the Week

Top Gigs of the Week

From underground indie to rap stars to house legends, we've got you covered...
Where to Eat: Desserts in East London

Where to Eat: Desserts in East London

Even if the Easter bunny doesn’t visit your garden this month, there are plenty of ways to get your sweet fix this springtime
Where to Eat for a Fiver or Less

Where to Eat for a Fiver or Less

We go on a mission to find the absolute cheapest eats in London
Marvellous May Half-Term Activities for Families

Marvellous May Half-Term Activities for Families

Disco dancing, circus flipping, science discovery, barbecue eating...
Review - Avalanche: A Love Story

Review - Avalanche: A Love Story

Maxine Peake delivers a gutting performance in this fertility drama
Best Parks for Picnics in South London

Best Parks for Picnics in South London

Grab a wicker basket, fill it with treats - perhaps a bottle of bubbly - and get lost in these peaceful evergreen parks

Your inbox deserves a little culture!!

Advertisement