George Frideric Handel: A Life with Friends

George Frideric Handel: A Life with Friends

by Ellen T. Harris


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An intimate portrait of Handel’s life and inner circle, modeled after one of the composer’s favorite forms: the fugue.

During his lifetime, the sounds of Handel’s music reached from court to theater, echoed in cathedrals, and filled crowded taverns, but the man himself—known to most as the composer of Messiah—is a bit of a mystery. Though he took meticulous care of his musical manuscripts and even provided for their preservation on his death, very little of an intimate nature survives.

One document—Handel’s will—offers us a narrow window into his personal life. In it, he remembers not only family and close colleagues but also neighborhood friends. In search of the private man behind the public figure, Ellen T. Harris has spent years tracking down the letters, diaries, personal accounts, legal cases, and other documents connected to these bequests. The result is a tightly woven tapestry of London in the first half of the eighteenth century, one that interlaces vibrant descriptions of Handel’s music with stories of loyalty, cunning, and betrayal.

With this wholly new approach, Harris has achieved something greater than biography. Layering the interconnecting stories of Handel’s friends like the subjects and countersubjects of a fugue, Harris introduces us to an ambitious, shrewd, generous, brilliant, and flawed man, hiding in full view behind his public persona.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780393088953
Publisher: Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
Publication date: 09/29/2014
Pages: 496
Sales rank: 1,058,050
Product dimensions: 9.20(w) x 6.00(h) x 1.50(d)

About the Author

Ellen T. Harris is professor emeritus at MIT and has served on the music faculties of Columbia University and the University of Chicago. Her previous books include Handel as Orpheus: Voice and Desire in the Chamber Cantatas, and she has spoken at Lincoln Center and appeared on PBS NewsHour and BBC Radio 3. She lives in Newton, Massachusetts.

Table of Contents

List of Illustrations ix

Dramatis Personæ xiii

Prefatory Note xxi

1 Introductions: Handel and His Friends 1

2 Before London: (1685-1710: German training, Italian sojourn, arrival in England) 17

3 Politics, Patronage, and Pension: (1710-1727: Birthday Ode for Queen Anne to Riccardo primo for George II) 37

4 Commerce and Trade: (1711-1730: Rinaldo to end of Royal Academy) 77

5 Music at Home: (1715-1730: Chamber music and keyboard works, private concerts, publications) 115

6 Marriage, Wealth, and Social Status: (1728-1741: The "second" Academy to the last opera, Deidamia) 151

7 Ambition, Law, and Friendship: (1738-1749: Saul, Samson, Belshazzar, Susanna, Solomon) 189

8 Making and Collecting: (1738-1750: Roubiliac sculpture of Handel, Alexander's Feast, concertos, collecting) 227

9 Religion and Charity: (1739-1750: A look back at Esther, then Israel in Egypt, Messiah, Judas Maccabaeus, Theodora) 265

10 Sickness and Death: (1737-1759: First "paralytic attack," a look back to Admeto, then madness in Saul and Hercules, and Jephtha to The Triumph of Time and Truth) 301

11 Wills and Legacies 341

Appendix 1 Currency, Living Costs, Wages, and Fees 373

Appendix 2 A Very Select Discography 381

Acknowledgments 389

Select Bibliography 391

Notes 411

Index 455

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