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C. F. Abdy Williams

M.A. Cantab. ; Mus. Bac. Oxon. et Cantab.

Illustrations and Portraits

London: J. M. Dent & Co.

New York : E. P. Dutton & Co.

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Many accounts have appeared of the life of the great
Saxon Musician who left his fatherland in the eighteenth
century in order to settle among us. Handel naturalised
as a British subject, and so identified his music with the
English character, that not only is his name a household
word amongst us all, whether musical or unmusical, but
in the " Dictionary of National Biography " he is given a
place as an English composer, and his remains lie in the
" Poets' Corner " of Westminster Abbey.

The following account is an endeavour to give a popular
narrative of the chief events of his life, without entering
much into technicalities which, though interesting to the
musician, are not perhaps so necessary for the general
reader. The exhaustive treatises of Dr Chrysander, M.
Victor Schcelcher, and the late Mr Rockstro are full of
details and discussions of the greatest interest and value
to the student who wishes to go deeply into the works of
the great composer.

I have avoided the irritating attempts of Hawkins and
others to represent Handel's pronunciation of the English
language by a spelling which makes many words almost
unintelligible : it is sufficient that the reader should know
that Handel's pronunciation of English, like that of many
foreigners, was imperfect, and that its imperfections

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chiefly consisted of using d in place of t; g in place
of hard c ; p in place of b, etc.

Original MSS. and small portions of the personal
property of Handel, carefully preserved by their present
private owners, are often exhibited to the public: for
instance at the International Exhibition of musical instru-
ments at the Crystal Palace in 1900, a special "Handel
Collection " was shown, in which might be seen his watch,
the autograph of his will, portions of his scores, a set of
orchestral instruments in use in his time, contemporary
play-bills and engravings, etc.

In order to interrupt the course of the narrative as
little as possible, I have dealt with the compositions in a
couple of short chapters at the end, and in a Glossa^ I
have given an outline of the life of some of the chief
characters who came into connection with Handel.

I take this opportunity of thanking those gentlemen
who have been kind enough to assist me ; especially the
Town Authorities of Halle, who caused two excellent
photographs to be taken for this work (pages 6 and 183) ;
Mr F. J. H. Jenkinson, Librarian of the Cambridge
University Library, who gave me special facilities, without
which the publication of my book would have been much
delayed ; and the Rev. H. E. Robertson, Rector of Whit-
church, for the photograph of the organ at Whitchurch
(page 70); also to Messrs C. Scribner & Sons for per-
mission to reproduce some pictures from their Cyclopaedia
of Music.

Bradfield, February 1 901.

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The condition of music and musicians at the end of the seventeenth century >
— Handel's ancestry— His birth and childhood— Visits Weissenfels—
Becomes a pupil of Zachau — Visits Berlin — Becomes organist of a
church in his native town ....... i


The Singspiel and Opera at Hamburg — Keiser — Handel joins the Opera at
Hamburg — Journey to Lubeck — Matheson — Handel fights a duel—
His first Opera— Description of Almira—His second Opera, Nero —
Keiser endeavours to rival Handel— Florindo— Handel goes to Italy
—Florence, Rome, Venice — Rodrigo — Agrippina — Enthusiasm of the
Venetians ......... 18


Rome — The ' ' Arcadians" — Ottoboni's Academy — La Resurrezione —
Contest with Scarlatti — Attempt to convert Handel to the Roman
Faith — // Trionfo del Tempo — Handel leaves Rome for Naples — Act,
Galatea e Pol{/emo—Boschi, the bass singer — Handel's social life at
Naples — Leaves Naples for Rome— Leaves Rome for Venice— Goes
to Hanover, and thence to London ..... 37


VThe condition of opera in England-VThe public demand for something better
-^Handel produces Rinaldo— Thomas Britton, the small coal man —
Handel returns to Hanover— The Opera at Hanover— Handel obtains
leave of absence— Produces // Pastor Fido in London— His life at
Burlington House — Teseo—Ode for the Birthday 0/ Queen Anne —
" Utrecht" Te Deum and Jubilate — Coronation of George I. 47


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The Elector of Hanover becomes George I. of England— Handel dares not
meet him— Silla— Amadigi—Paxody on Amodigi— Water Music—
Handel is received by George I.— A letter to Matheson— Handel goes
to Hanover with the King— Meets J. C. Smith— Returns to England
and becomes Capellmeister at Canons— Esther, Acts and Galatea —
The Harmonious Blacksmith Legends— Death of Handel's sister— He
is engaged by the Royal Academy of Music .... 62


Handel goes to Dresden to collect singers— Visits his family— The Royal
Academy of Music begins work — Radatnisto — Rivalries begin —
Muzio Scevola — Floridante — Swift's sarcasm — Bononcini's admirers
— Cuzzoni — Flavio — Presentment by the Grand Jury against
Ridottos — Giulio Cesare — Tamerlane — The fashion of publishing
Handel's operatic airs adapted to sacred words .... 80


Handel becomes a householder— Plays at St Paul's before the Royal Prin-
cesses — Letter to Michaelsen — Handel becomes a British subject —
Scipio — Alessandro — Faustina and Cuzzoni — Senesino has an
accident — Rival parties — Admeto — An opera stopped by hisses and
catcalls — Senesino retires — Bononcini again engaged to write an
opera — Death of George I., and accession of George II. — Handel's
salary is continued by the new king — Coronation anthems — Riccardo
— Sine — Tolomeo — Beggar 9 s Opera .....


Bononcini attacks Handel — Collapse of the Royal Academy of Music —
Handel goes into partnership with Heidegger — Goes to Italy to find
fresh singers — Lotario, Parthenope % Poro % Orlando — Gates performs
Esther— Handel protects himself by performing Esther— -Ante per-
forms Acts — Handel is forced to protect himself from Arne — Senesino
.deserts him for the rival opera, under Bononcini — Handel takes to
^oratorio — Deborah - Attack by Rolli— Another by Goupy .. . 113


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Handel goes to Oxford — Prejudice of some of the Dons against the
" Foreigner "-^Popularity of his music at Oxford — He refuses the
degree of Doctor in Music offered him— Further efforts to ruin him —
Handel in conflict with the aristocracy — Collapse of Bononcini —
Arbuthnot's satire in defence of Handel — Arianna — Carestini comes
to England — The engagement with Heidegger ends — Handel engages
a smaller theatre — Alexander s Feast — Arminius — Giustino — Handel
is bankrupt — Simultaneous collapse of the rival opera-house . 130


Handel returns from Aix-la-Chapelle — Is threatened with imprisonment for
debt— Death of Queen Caroline— Statue in Vauxhall— Royal Society
of Musicians — Saul— Israel in Egypt — St Cecilia's day — V Allegro*
il Penseroso edil Moderate . . . . .143


The Messiah — Handel goes to Dublin — Is received with great enthusiasm —
Returns to London — Samson. — The hostility continues — Semele —
Dettingen Te Deum— Joseph— Belshazzar— Hercules— Lord Middle-
sex's opposition company— -Handel is bankrupt again — He continues
the struggle—; Judas Maccabaus — Handel's music is used against him
—Joshua — Solomon — Susanna— Fire Music — Handel is made a
governor of the Foundling Hospital — Theodora .... 154


Handel gives an organ to the Foundling Hospital— Jephtha, his last wort —
He becomes blind — Triumph of Time and Truth— He continues to
perform in public — His death — His funeral — His will — His support
of the Foundling Hospital— Portraits ..... 169

Performances of Handel's music after his death — His character— Anecdotes 189


The operas ,\ ........ 200


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\ The Oratorios — Handel's use of the works of other composers — The Serenatas,
Concertos — Obsolete instruments — Organs with pedals — Chamber
music— Handel accused of noise — The origin of " additional accom-
paniments" ......... an

\ The influence of Handel on English composers .... 333




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List of Illustrations

Monument in Westminster Abbey (Photo-
gravure) ..... Frontispiece


Birthplace ..... To face 6

Interior of Whitchurch Church . . „ 70

Engraving on Title-page of "Alexander's

Feast" ..... 97

Facsimile of First Page of "The Messiah" 155

Facsimile of Last Page of "Jephtha" 171

Death Mask ..... 177

Handel's Signatures . 181

Statue at Halle .... To face 183

Portrait by T. Hudson in the National

Portrait Gallery . „ 186

Harpsichord in South Kensington Museum 229


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Chapter I

The condition of music and musicians at the end of the seventeenth
century— Handel's ancestry — His birth and childhood — Visits
Weissenfels — Becomes a pupil of Zachau— Visits Berlin— Becomes
organist of a church in his native town.

In the year 1685, which saw the birth of Bach and
Handel, the art of music was in a flourishing condition
in Italy, and the influence of Italian music ~ .. .
and Italian singers had spread over the f m ' %
whole of Europe. Instrumental music pure v. *f. SiC a ,
and simple was in its infancy : while opera Tr , J
and church music reigned supreme. Voices ~ . ,

were cultivated to a high point of perfection,
and many musicians were singers as well as composers.

In Frknce, Lulli (1633-1687), had introduced "accom-
panied recitative," and had made other improvements,
paying special attention to correct declamation, and settling
the form of the overture.

Italian music had reached Germany, and was much
cultivated at the various Courts; but native German
cantors were also busy, founding the school of church
and organ music which culminated in John Sebastian

The " Singspiel," a theatrical representation, in which
spoken dialogue was interspersed with songs, had been
much cultivated, especially at Hamburg, where, however,

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it was soon to give way before German opera under
Keiser. 1

In England, though music was still suffering from the
effects of Puritanism, a great composer had arisen in
p, ,. Henry Purcell, 1658-1695, one of a family

. Z ce , of native musicians. Purcell confessedly
h Tt /• "endeavoured a just imitation of the most
byltadtan famed 1^^ Masters." He was prolific in
every department of music then known,
and established a form of English opera, which was
used for a century and a half. Italian opera had not
reached England when he died. Except Purcell, no
English composers of this time can be said to have
established a European reputation. Their compositions
are mostly only adapted for performance in English
cathedrals, and the tendency to import foreign musicians
for all other than church music was becoming apparent.

Singers were "beginning to be of supreme importance.
- Both opera and church music were under their

, *L . influence. The dramatic element in the former

°J m * er was subservient to the necessity for providing
proper opportunities of display for the prima donna,
seconda donna, primo uomo, secondo uomo, etc., each of
whom must have his or her allotted arias, whether in
opera or oratorio. Much of the music was written for
artificial sopranos, some of whom became famous in
departments other than music; thus Farinelli, a male
soprano of noble birth, after making a reputation on most
of the stages of Europe, became the chief political adviser
of the King of Spain.

Church music was represented in both the Roman and
1 The Singspiel is still cultivated in Germany.

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Condition of Music

Lutheran Churches by the Mass, the Oratorio, the Church
Cantata, the Motet ; Passion music performed -, . . .
during Lent was a feature of the Lutheran n *J?f n a .
Church, and was often called oratorio : l and „ .

the Chorale, a form peculiar to this church,
was very widely cultivated.

In the early days of opera and oratorio, counterpoint
had been to a certain extent in abeyance, having given
way to the newly discovered charms of harmony ; but in
the latter decades of the seventeenth century the best
composers had reverted to the use of counterpoint, in
combination with the two modern scales, and the wider
harmonic horizon which had thus been opened up. The
old modes had almost disappeared, though they continued
for some time to come to influence composers, especially
those who wrote for the church.

Much instrumental music was composed, but it had
not the important position that it afterwards attained in
the quartet and symphony. The high school 7
of violin solo playing was . being founded /i^^"
by Corelli (1653-1713), Tartini, Vivaldi, m Mustc
Geminiani and others; and the famous Italian school
of violin makers had culminated in Stradivarius (1650-
1737). Organ music was being developed in Germany by
Pachelbel, Buxtehude and many others, among whom
the various members of the Bach family were prominent
The orchestra was gradually being improved, as an
1 Carissimi's oratorio, " Jeptha," followed the plan of the Passion
music : a " Historicus " narrates the events in recitative, while the
various persons and the chorus enter at appropriate places. The
work is in Latin, and the only instrument used to accompany is the

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accompaniment to the voices in drama and church music ;
and it was also used for dance music, the dances being
composed in " Suites " of pieces. Of these old dances,
the minuet still survives as one of the movements in the
sonata and symphony. In Italy every town had at least
one opera house ; in Venice there were six. In Germany
each town sustained a band of " town musicians " whose
duties were to play the accompaniments to the church
cantatas, and to provide whatever instrumental music was
required for public occasions. They, like the choirs,
were paid partly by the town and partly by the money
collected in the streets for out-door performances.

The position of musicians was not attractive from a
modern point of view. Their best chance of success
_- « . . was, as a rule, to obtain permanent employ-
ihezoeia ment ^ ^ esta bii snme nt of royal] or ducal
os ton of nouses> jjj wn ich they held the position of
ustaans servants . tne y cou id no t leave without per-
mission, which was frequently refused. But music was
just beginning to take a rank among the learned
professions, and we meet instances about this time of
troubles arising through musicians, unconsciously in
many cases, resenting the inferior position to which
custom relegated them. This feeling was, however, not
confined to musicians : most learned men were obliged to be
subservient to some rich patron, on whom they depended
for their living, and for getting their works published.
There was not as yet a public to appeal to. The arts
and sciences were merely looked upon as amusements or
recreations for the upper classes of society. In England
the practice of music was looked upon as a trade. One
Green, a blind organist of St Giles', Cripplegate, was, as

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Handel's Ancestry

late as 1724 fined £$ for exercising the trade of teaching
music within the City of London, he not being a member
of the Company of Musicians, and his means of living
was thus ruthlessly taken from him.

In 1609 there settled at Halle in Saxony a master
coppersmith from Breslau, name Valentine Hendel. 1 He
became a Burgher of the city, married the ~~

daughter of a coppersmith named Beichling „ . .

of Eisleben, and was succeeded in his business ~ »

by his two elder sons, Valentin and Christoph. *

His third son, Georg, born in 1622, became a surgeon
and barber. 2 At the age Si twenty he married Anna
Oettinger, the widow of a barber, and became thereby a
Burgher of Halle. 8 A few years after his marriage he was
advanced to the dignity of surgeon and valet-de-chambre
to the Saxon and Brandenburg Courts. By this marriage
he had three sons and three daughters. When he was
sixty-two years old his wife died, and he married Dorothea
Taust, daughter of the Pastor of Giebichenstein, a village

iThe name is variously spelt Handel, Hendel, Haendel (the
modern German form), Hendeler, Handeler, Hendtler, Hendall,
Handell, Handle, Hondel. In Italy Handel retained the original
spelling of Hendel ; his parents used Handel to distinguish their
particular branch of the Hendel family. After settling in England,
he always used the spelling familiar to us. In this work, which is for
English readers, the spelling Handel will be used throughout.

1 The profession of surgery was in those days nearly always com-
bined with that of a barber. The striped pole, still seen outside
some barbers' shops, is supposed to represent the bandages used in
' surgery.

'The widow was ten years his senior, and Chrysander supposes
Georg Handel to have been an apprentice of her former husband.

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on the Saale a short distance from Halle. The offspring ot
the second marriage consisted of two sons and two daugh-
ters. The eldest son died at his birth, and the younger,
born on February 23rd, 1685, was named Georg Friedrich.

It is interesting to notice the conditions under which
this child, who was destined to influence the whole
B ' ih f civihs^ world, entered it. His father was
q * sixty-four years old : a very respectable trades-
F d k man > w ^° k a d pushed himself by his own
H nd I ener gy and ability to the highest point in his
profession. He was ambitious of leaving a
good name behind him; seems not to have amassed a
fortune, but to have lived comfortably as a citizen of Halle.
The house in which he lived at this time was no mean one
as can be seen by the photograph, and he had purchased a
family vault in the churchyard for himself and his heirs.

The mother was thirty-three years old, and we are told
was "clear-minded, of strong piety, with a great know-
ledge of the Bible ; deeply attached to her parents ; with
little wish for marriage, even in the bloom of her youth ;
a capable manager, earnest and of pleasant manners. " *
We shall see that the child inherited the qualities of both
parents : from his father his ambition to distinguish him-
self by making use of the enormous genius with which he
was endowed : and from his mother that piety and filial
devotion and charity which were characteristic of him.

George Frederic was baptised at the Liebfrauenkirche
at Halle on February 24th, the sponsors being the Steward
of Langendorf, Anna Taust, an unmarried daughter of the
Pastor, and Zacharias Kleinhempel, a barber of Halle.

1 Funeral sermon on Dorothea Handel, quoted by Chrysander,
vol. i., p. 7, etc.


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Music began to attract the child's attention from his
earliest years. In the nursery his only toys were
trumpets, drums, flutes, and anything that _„ Ch .j*
produced musical sounds. For a time this ' s

caused amusement, but it soon began to be *

serious. In the opinion of old Georg Handel, music
was " an elegant art and a fine amusement ; yet, if con-
sidered as an occupation, it had little dignity as having
for its subject nothing better than mere pleasure and
entertainment," 1 and in this he undoubtedly expressed
the general opinion.

No doubt old Handel was not far wrong in thus con-
demning music from the point of view of a man living in
a small German town, and knowing nothing of the great
side of the art. At that time the town musicians were
often of a low class, who subsisted largely by " piping
before the doors" of the inhabitants. Organists and
cantors were, with few exceptions, poorly paid, and there-
fore thought little of, for the efforts of the Bach family to
raise the position of their art would scarcely have had
effect as yet in a town so far from Thuringia as Halle.
German opera was not yet invented : and in Italian opera,
old Handel would only see the fashionable amusements
of the wealthy, carried out by foreign hirelings. The

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Online LibraryCharles Francis Abdy WilliamsHandel → online text (page 1 of 19)