18 June 2011

George Frideric Handel - Georgian gentleman

George F Handel (1685-1759) had been a court musician in Hanover and didn’t travel to London until 1710, when he was 25. Apart from a brief return to Hanover where he regained the position of court musician in 1712, London became his permanent home. Fortunately Handel had no trouble finding homes of British friends and patrons who would allow him to lodge with them.

Handel, 1727, by Balthasar Denner, National Portrait Gallery London

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.

Front room, used for musical performances and rehearsals

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.


I wasn't going to mention this but in 1968 Jimi Hendrix moved into the top floor flat in 23 Brook Street with his English girlfriend. The flat is now the administrative office of Handel House Museum. To mark the 40th anniversary of Hendrix’s death in 1970, Handel House presented an exhibition called Hendrix in Britain. With images, music and objects, the exhibition followed his impressive career in London and his lasting impact on rock music universally. And the connection between Handel and Hendrix will continue to be marked... by an English Heritage Blue Plaque on the facade of Hendrix’s (and Handel's) residence.

Now the flat will be turned into a Hendrix Museum. Following the Dec 2013 news of Handel House Museum’s £1.2 million grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund, music fans can follow the Hendrix project in a blog called Hendrix at Home. The new museum should open in late 2015.


Alberti's Window said...

Great post! I enjoyed reading about the changes/remodels that Handel's house underwent. I didn't realize that the museum was restored as recently as 2000!

"Smithsonian" magazine put forth some articles on Handel relatively recently. You may be interested to read this one and this one. I especially enjoy the latter article which discusses Handel's private life a little bit. Handel had quite the appetite for fine food!

columnist said...

Thank you for this. Handel is my favourite classical composer, and I should go to the museum the next time I'm in London. That, along with a growing "to do" list.

Hermes said...

Love the music but never looked at the Museum site. Most interesting. Hendrix was a big hero as a teenager and I remember how shocked I was when a friend told me he was dead.

Jane and Lance Hattatt said...

Hello Helen:
An interesting post into the life and times of Handel who, as you suggest, is, at least by the British, thought to be more of an English composer than a German one.

It is indeed good that the house is now, as far as has been possible, restored to something of its original appearance as it might have been during Handel's lifetime.

Hels said...

thanks for the magazine references. They reminded me of the importance of King George I as patron.

When the old king died in 1727, it was Handel who wrote the music for the new king's coronation. And appropriate too... since Handel and both King Georges were all from Hanover.

Hels said...


yes, you deserve to travel soon :)

Many is the time that, without my bloggy colleagues, I wouldn't have known about an important new place or an old place that has since been renovated. For example, I visited Italy many times, including the Ponte Vecchio in Florence, but found out about the Vasari Corridor accidentally.

Hels said...


Back in the '60s as a student, I truly loved Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin. It was devastating when both of them died in 1970, very young.

Hermes said...

Just a snippet you might enjoy and for a change related to your post:


Hels said...

Jane and Lance

interesting, isn't it. Handel had the clothes, housing, customs, patronage and language of an Englishman. He selected a very pleasant part of London to live in, near friends and near Covent Garden theatre. I cannot imagine a more English lifestyle, elegant and refined.

Hels said...


Percy Grainger was a funny Australian bloke but he certainly paid his respects to Handel (as well as Haydn and Mozart). You did well, finding the connection to Handel In The Strand.

Andrew said...

I'm glad you did mention Hendrix. Interesting extra information.

Hels said...


Hendrix moved to London in 1966 and met his girlfriend on the first night he was there. She was already renting the Brook Street flat for herself, so it made sense that Hendrix would just move in. From what I can see from the old photos, it was a pretty dismal, hippy sort of top-floor flat back in 1966.

I don't suppose they knew Handel had lived there 240 years earlier, but he was such an obsessed musician, Hendrix probably would have loved the idea.

P. M. Doolan said...

Thanks for this interesting post Hels. Regarding Hendrix and the question was he aware of the Handel connection, according to the museum director Sarah Blackwell, he certainly was. She is quoted in The Guardian: "After moving to Brook Street in 1968, Hendrix learned of the Handel connection with the building and headed to One Stop Records in South Molton Street and HMV in Oxford Street to pick up whichever records of Handel music he could find. Clearly, he was intrigued by the connection and we're pleased to be celebrating his own legacy today."

BaliBoy said...

i confuse him to Frederic Angel a philosopher

Hels said...

PM Doolan,

I love it when history comes together like that. Many thanks for that quote.

Hels said...


Friedrich Engels (1820–1895) is not a bad comparison actually. The dates were not similar but when he was 22, Engels also moved from Germany to Britain (Manchester, not London) for a few years. He too returned to the Continent for a couple of years, then spent the rest of his life in Britain.

There were of course some major differences in political values and life styles, but like Handel, Engels was buried in England and his later London house (in Primrose Hill) also has a blue heritage plaque.

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Hels said...

Blog Commenting Service

agreed. Handel was a very accomplished musician and would have done well anywhere.

But there is something even more impressive about an individual who leaves all his knows and loves at home, and makes his considerable mark in a new society.

The Guardian said...

Jimi Hendrix's London flat is to become permanent museum. It should open at the end of 2015.

Hels said...

Many thanks.

I am adding the information to the original post.

Discover Britain said...

Your readers may be interested in the series called Blue Plaque London. It includes the Handel House Museum which is analysed room by room in images and text.

Discover Britain Magazine
Jan/Feb 2015

Hels said...

Thank you.

By the time I had heard of the the Handel House Museum Trust, the terrace house had already been renovated back to Handel's time. Loved it.

Adam Zamoyski said...

Some European composers were feted in England. The works of the leading German composers such as Mendelssohn, Schumann and Ignaz Moscheles were all the rage in England at the time, but those emanating from Paris were widely regarded with coolness if not outright distaste. Composers such as Liszt, Berlioz and Chopin did have a devoted following here, but it was much smaller. And there were many in London who believed them to be flawed practitioners of the art.

The critic of the London Musical World wrote in 1841. ‘Mr Chopin is by no means a putter-down of commonplaces; but he is, what by many would be esteemed worse, a dealer in the most absurd and hyperbolical extravagances.’ Chopin’s music as ‘very crude and limited’, thought his harmonies ‘clumsy’, his melodies ‘sickly’ and finished off by stating that: ‘The entire works of Chopin present a motley surface of ranting hyperbole and excruciating cacophony.’ For good measure, he added that Chopin was ‘an artistic nonentity’.

Adam Zamoyski
History Today, May 2010

Hels said...


thank you. Your historical analysis suggests that it was not just musical talent that differentiated between the German composers on one hand, and Liszt, Berlioz and Chopin on the other. Handel and his German compatriots were much loved by the Royal family and other major taste-setters in England; Polish-French Chopin was not.

Joseph said...

Exploring London celebrates the premiere of Handel’s Water Music this week, 300 years after composer George Frideric Handel premiered his composition on a River Thames barge.


Hels said...


perfect timing... thanks.

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