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Handel in London

Report of the lecture
given by Sarah Lenton
on July 23rd 2014

Sarah gave us a short introduction to Handel’s life from his birth in 1685 in Halle, and his periods of studying in Halle, Hamburg and Italy before coming to England.  These she illustrated by slides of paintings and snippets of music from the Baroque period.

Rubens ‘Samson and Delilah’ (1609-10)
reinterpreted by Handel in a dramatic oratorio of 1743

In Rome he played keyboard in operas and went on to composing and playing music in churches where he became very popular, particularly with the clergy.  He then spent time in Venice where he found that all lead soprano singers were eunuchs - no females at all.  Slides depicted these men in very ornate costumes.

Handel came to London in 1711 and produced his first opera, Rinaldo.  He was the subject of much criticism by the aristocrats and gentry in London, who preferred the literary works of Shakespeare to opera.

The Chandos Portrait ca. 1720

Sarah explained how he was unable to take “fools gladly” and was very bad tempered.  He turned to oratorios in the early 1730s and these were very well received by the middle classes.  His music was sung in English by English singers and was the first to use a Tenor in a lead role, again illustrated with paintings and short pieces of music from his works.

Handel became a very wealthy man and lived in Brook Street, Mayfair.  He purchased many Dutch paintings.  He was a Lutheran and arranged a performance of Messiah to benefit the Foundling Hospital where he was later to become governor in recognition of his patronage.  He was a generous and kind man and upon his death he left the rights of the Messiah to the Foundling Hospital and gave his wealth to his relatives, friends and other charities.

Sarah’s wealth of knowledge on theology and the life of Handel during the Baroque period were evident and her life spent studying opera backstage provided the ideal ingredients for an entertaining, lively and at times humorous lecture.

Brian and Hazel Vine

Related Links (open in new windows):

Handel House, Halle
Handel House Museum, London