His timing was perfect. The newly established Italian opera company at the Queen's Theatre in Haymarket was searching for a composer, so Handel’s Italian opera career in London quickly got up and running. They had loved him in Hanover and, largely, they loved him in London.
What a flexible chap he was. During his early years in London, Handel started to attract people interested in English church music, people who would have heard his music at St Paul's Cathedral in those early years. And later oratorio, as well.
What was the difference between opera and oratorio? Like an opera, an oratorio included the use of a choir, soloists, an ensemble, various distinguishable characters and arias. But opera was musical theatre, complete with characters, costumes and scenery. Oratorio, on the other hand, was just a concert piece.
Handel's Georgian terrace house in Lower Brook St, Mayfair
In 1723 Handel finally moved into his own place: a newly-built Georgian terrace house in 25 Lower Brook St Mayfair, three storeys high as you can see from the image, plus garret rooms for the servants. Despite the fact that Handel never married and had no children, he also took the upper floors of the adjoining house at 23 Brook Street.
The two nicest rooms for were quiet composing, towards the rear, and performing /rehearsing with guests, towards the front. His home was close to the theatres in which he would be working, yet in a neighbourhood filled with people of substance.
During the 1730s he performed in the newly-built Covent Garden theatre, giving both operas and oratorios there. In the 1740s, Handel started to prefer English oratorios; for these, Covent Garden theatre remained his favourite venue.
Because he lived in Lower Brook St for most of his decades in London, the house naturally became the location where his wrote his most beloved pieces. Two of his best known oratorios, Messiah and Samson, came out of the Lower Brook St study in 1741, as well as Zadok the Priest and Music for the Royal Fireworks.
Even in his later years, Handel seemed to have attended the oratorio performances, and even occasionally performed in them. Although he didn’t have many social engagements during his later years, people could still visit him at home. He died in 1759.
I am not sure what happened to the house between 1759 and the Edwardian era, but I do know that in 1905 the house was bought by an antiques dealer for himself, his children and his grandchildren. The changes the Edwardian dealer made to the house were naturally incompatible with the Handel era.
When, in 2000, the Handel House Museum Trust took over the job of returning the house to how it would have looked in Handel's day, there were some problems. No original architectural interiors remained from the early 18th century, except for the staircase. And because none of Handel's original furniture has been found, a contemporary inventory had to be used as a guide for installing age-appropriate furniture back into the house.
It is wonderful that this very house has recently become Handel House Museum, opened to the public to celebrate Handel’s life and works. Since music was always played in this house during Handel’s residence in the mid 18th century, music is again played there now. The museum offers a programme of weekly concerts, music rehearsals and educational events throughout the year. And since it was after all a home and not a conservatorium, portraits of Handel and his contemporaries are now displayed in finely restored Georgian interiors. Exhibitions in the House Museum bring this very English world of Handel's to life.
Of the 76 years that Handel spent on this earth, 49 of them were in London, living as a proper English gentleman, albeit with a strange German accent. So Britain's love afair with Handel continues today. Founded by musical director Denys Darlow in 1978, the London Handel Festival has been part of a Handel revival, specialising in the performance of his lesser-known works. In 1981 the London Handel Orchestra and London Handel Singers made their debut at the Festival.