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put out of reach, and George was even kept from
school in case he should there learn something of the
tabooed art of St. Cecilia.

But George had managed to drag a rickety spinet
(a weak-sounding kind of piano) away up to the attic
where he slept, and when the rest of the household
were in bed he would creep quietly to the instrument
and exercise his tiny fingers until they ached and his
eyes blinked. In this way he succeeded in teaching
himself to play before any one knew anything about
it. The full discovery came about rather curiously.
Young Handel had a half-brother in the service of the
Duke of Saxe-Weissenfels, not far from Halle. One
day, in 1692, the father set off on a visit to the Duke's
place. He had not gone far when he found that his



1 6 MASTER MUSICIANS

seven-year-old George was running after the coach,
and having no heart to turn the boy back, he took
him along. The trifling circumstance formed the turn-
ing point in Handel's career. One day, at Saxe-Weis-
senfels, he stole unnoticed to the organ in the Duke's
chapel. He began playing. The Duke happened to
be near. He was a musical man, and he remarked the
unusual touch of the little fingers. That decided it.
He sent for Doctor Handel, told him he must not
think of making a lawyer of his son, and practically
gave orders that he should be set to the study of
music at once. So young Handel was put to work
with the cathedral organist at Halle. He laboured at
harmony and counterpoint, and canon and fugue, and
all the other dry bones of music ; perfected himself on
the organ and the harpsichord (another forerunner of
the piano) ; learnt the violin and the oboe ; and began
to compose.

Presently his father died, and having to get his
own living he went to Hamburg, at that time the
most musical city in Germany, as a violinist at the
opera. Here he drudged away for a while, always
looking for a better and more congenial appointment.
He had made friends with Johann Mattheson, a versatile
musician then singing as a tenor at the opera. One
day Mattheson and he started on what proved to be a
very amusing errand to Liibeck. An organist's post
had been declared vacant, and the pair determined to
try for it. Unfortunately, when they arrived at Liibeck,
they found that there was an impossible stipulation :



GEORGE FREDERICK HANDEL 17

the successful candidate had to marry the daughter
of the retiring organist ! One look at the lady was
enough. " She was not fair to see, and her years were
thirty-four," while Handel was only eighteen. A speedy
return to Hamburg was the result of the interview.
Handel, it may be said at once, remained a bachelor
to the end of his life. An Italian lady took his fancy
as a young man, and he became engaged to her, but
for some reason the match was broken off. Subse-
quently, he would have married an English lady of
large fortune if she had not insisted that he must give
up his profession. Perhaps it is as well that he re-
mained unmated. He was an irascible person, and he
might have done as Beethoven did with his cook, and
thrown the soup in his wife's face when something
went wrong with his temper.

It was at Hamburg that Handel produced his first
operas. But there is no occasion to talk of his operas,
for they are all completely forgotten now, though airs
from some of them are occasionally sung. One incident
of the Hamburg period must, however, be mentioned.
Mattheson and Handel were both crack harpsichordists,
and the harpsichord was an essential of the theatre
orchestra in those days. At the opera Handel usually
played the violin, while Mattheson played the harpsi-
chord. But Mattheson had written an opera, Cleopatra,
which was being staged at Hamburg. He was to sing
in it himself, so Handel took his place at the harpsi-
chord. But Mattheson, it appeared, sometimes did the
double duty of playing on the stage as well as in the

C



1 8 MASTER MUSICIANS

band ; and on this occasion, after the death of
Antony, he came down into the orchestra and de-
manded his accustomed seat there. Handel refused to
rise, and a quarrel immediately ensued. Nothing less
than a duel could be expected, and as soon as they
were outside the theatre, the rivals drew their swords
and began slashing at each other. Mattheson was the
better fencer, and Handel was only saved to posterity
by a big brass button on his coat, which broke the point
of Mattheson's sword.

Having put past some money, Handel now set off
on a pilgrimage to Italy, the "land of song." He arrived
in Florence in 1707, and he remained in Italy, studying
her native masters, composing operas and other works,
for about three years. Artistically this visit was of
great use to him, adding the grace of a refined, melo-
dious style to the bold, majestic, but somewhat rugged
strength of his work as a German of the somewhat
severe type. When he left Italy in 1709, it was for
Hanover. He had met the Elector of Hanover (the
future George I.) at Venice, and was invited to visit the
Court. On more intimate acquaintance, the Elector
conceived a strong liking for him, and made him his
kapellmeister at a salary of ^"300 a year. He would
allow Handel, he said, a year's holiday whenever he
asked for it. Handel asked for the holiday straight
away, and in the winter of 1710 he saw London, his
future home, for the first time. Little can he have
thought then of the English capital as the scene of his
greatest artistic triumphs, or of how the English people



GEORGE FREDERICK HANDEL 19

were to become the most ardent admirers of his genius.
Very likely he looked upon this first visit as a mere
pleasure-trip ; yet the ultimate outcome was a series of
masterpieces in oratorio without which Handel's genius
would never have been fully revealed, and in the ab-
sence of which his name would exist now only in the
dull pages of musical history.

When Handel came to England, Purcell had been
dead for fifteen years. Arne, the composer of " Rule,
Britannia!" was only just born, and the few good men
who were living and working were devoted almost
entirely to minor forms like the anthem, the glee, and
the madrigal. The time was therefore ripe for a genius
like Handel. Opera was in such a low state that one
work actually contained a part for a pig. Aaron Hill,
the manager of the Queen's Theatre in the Hay-
market, got hold of Handel at once and asked him
to write an opera for his establishment. Rinaldo was
chosen for a subject, and Handel went to work with
such eagerness that the poor librettist could not provide
him with the words fast enough. When the thing was
finished, the librettist made this plaintive appeal to the
public : " I implore you to consider the speed I have had
to work, and if my performance does not deserve your
praises, at all events do not refuse it your compassion ;
for Herr Handel, the Orpheus of our age, has scarcely
given me time to write while composing the music ;
and I have been stupefied to see an entire opera set
to harmony with the highest degree of perfection in no
more than a fortnight." We shall hear more of the



20 MASTER MUSICIANS

phenomenal rapidity with which Handel composed.
Rinaldo proved to be the finest opera that had ever
been produced in England, and its success was quite
brilliant. Walsh, the London music-seller, published it
soon after, and made so much more out of it than
Handel himself, that Handel observed to him : " You
shall compose the next opera and I will publish it."

By this single work Handel had fully established his
fame in London. But Handel himself was not estab-
lished there just yet. He was drawing the Hanover
salary, and he must return to his Hanover duties. In
reality, he remained only sixteen months at Hanover,
which he found excessively dull after London. He
asked a fresh leave of absence and came back to us in
1712. That year he was out with a new opera at the
Haymarket ; wrote an Ode for Queen Anne's Birthday
in 1713 ; and was commissioned by her Majesty to com-
pose a Te Deum and Jubilate to celebrate the Peace of
Utrecht the same year. Anne was so delighted that
she gave Handel a pension of 200 a year. Thus pro-
vided for, the composer stayed on in London, indifferent
about his Hanover engagement. He only realised the
awkwardness of his situation when Queen Anne died
and the Elector came over from Hanover to be crowned
as George I. He found himself persistently ignored at
Court, the King declining to have any intercourse with
him. A reconciliation was at length effected in this
way : Baron Kielmansegge, a mutual friend of King and
composer, having been invited to form one of the Court
party in an excursion on the Thames, advised Handel



GEORGE FREDERICK HANDEL 21

to prepare music for the occasion. Handel took
the hint and wrote what is known as his Water
Music, It was performe/d in a boat which followed the
royal barge, Handel himself conducting. George was
charmed with the effect, and inquiring as to the source
of the music, was told all about it by Kielmansegge,who
at the same time interceded on Handel's behalf. George
could hold out no longer. He took Handel metaphori-
cally to his arms, and bestowed on him a further
pension of 200 a year.

Handel made a visit to the Continent in 1716, but
he was back in London in 1717, and in London he
remained ever after. He secured an important appoint-
ment as musical director to the magnificent Duke of
Chandos, who had built himself a splendid mansion
at Cannons, in the suburbs. The Duke had a private
chapel where a daily musical service was performed by
" a choir of voices and instruments superior in excel-
lence and numbers to that of any sovereign potentate
in Europe." Handel's duty was to train and lead the
choir, to play the organ, and write music for the chapel.
It was here that he wrote Esther, the first of those great
oratorios (itself not of the great) upon which his fame
rests. The Duke paid him .1000 for it, though it was
performed at Cannons only three or four times. It was
at Cannons, too, that Ads and Galatea was written.
And then there was the famous pianoforte piece known
as The Harmonious Blacksmith^ one of a suite des
pieces written for the harpsichord. There is a familiar
but rather questionable story connecting it with one



22 MASTER MUSICIANS

Powell, a blacksmith at Edgware in Handel's time.
The story is that one day, during a heavy shower,
Handel took shelter in the blacksmith's, and was so
charmed with the musical sound of the blacksmith's
hammer on the anvil that he went home and wrote the
air and its variations. But Handel's biographers tell us
that this particular piece was almost certainly written
before Handel went to Cannons at all ; and it is signi-
ficant that the title of Harmonious Blacksmith was
given to it, not by Handel himself, but by a music
publisher in Bath whose father was a blacksmith and
was fond of the tune. The anvil story is a pretty story,
and one hesitates to spoil it, but it has really no solid
foundation.

Handel's service with the Duke of Chandos con-
tinued until 1721, but two years before that he had
embarked on a gigantic operatic enterprise under the
title of the Royal Academy of Music. For this under-
taking he wrote a large number of operas, all long
since buried in oblivion, but the finances of the enter-
prise proved so disastrous that he twice became bank-
rupt. In any readable account of Handel's career, the
main interest of this period is the way he managed
his operatic vocal team. Singers are proverbially
touchy and troublesome ; none more so than operatic
singers, who are a continual thorn in the flesh of the
impresario. In Handel they found their match and
more. His first encounter was with Francesca Cuzzoni,
a distinguished Italian vocalist, who, from being the
reigning star of her day, ended by making silk buttons



GEORGE FREDERICK HANDEL 23

tor a living. Handel had written an air expressly for
her, and she flatly refused to sing it. This was too much.
It was a case of Greek meeting Greek. "I know, madam,
that you are a very devil," roared Handel, " but I will
let you see that I am Beelzebub, the prince of devils."
And with that he seized her in his arms and was
preparing to throw her out of the window, when she
eagerly declared that she would sing.

Something of the same kind happened with Carestini,
who declined to sing an air which Handel had written
purposely to show off his voice. " You dog ! " he cried,
" don't I know better as yourself what is good for you
to sing? If you will not sing all the songs I give you,
I will not pay you ein stiver." And, as had happened
with Cuzzoni, that particular song was the one in which
Carestini produced his greatest effect.

Handel's characteristic boldness was further illus-
trated by his engagement of Faustina, who was
Cuzzoni's deadly rival just as if Jenny Lind and
Madame Patti had been pitted against each other.
How Handel could have hoped to get the pair into the
same opera " cast " it is impossible to imagine. Horace
Walpole tells a very amusing story of his mother's
attempts to keep the peace bet ween them. On Sundays,
when Sir Robert Walpole was absent, she used to in-
vite them both to dinner, and by discreet diplomacy
obtained sufficient concession from both sides to ensure
a pleasant meeting. One evening, however, when all
the rank and fashion of London were present at one
of her receptions, she found it so difficult to settle the



H MASTER MUSICIANS

question of precedence between the rivals that she had
almost given up all hope of hearing them sing, when,
by a lucky inspiration, she spirited Faustina away to a
distant room under pretence of showing her some curious
china. Cuzzoni, assuming that her opponent had gone,
consented to sing ; and when her songs were finished,
Lady Walpole armed her away upon a similar pretext,
while the company listened to Faustina !

Of course at the opera there could be no expedients
of that kind, and Handel's trick was to compose duets
for the rivals, in which the voice parts were so nicely
balanced and crossed each other so frequently, for the
purpose of giving each singer the upper part by turns,
that nobody could tell which was singing first and
which second. Each of these stars received two thou-
sand guineas per annum for her services. It is recorded
that Cuzzoni took a solemn oath never to sing for less
than Faustina ; and that Handel, wishing to get rid of
her, offered her two thousand guineas and Faustina
two thousand and one, whereupon she retired. As a
matter of fact, Handel was never out of hot water with
his singers. There is a story of one getting into a
passion because the composer did not accompany him to
his taste. " If you do not change your style of accom-
paniment," cried the angry vocalist, " I will jump upon
the harpsichord and smash it." Handel looked up with
a twinkle in his eye. " Let me know when you will do
that," he replied, " and I will advertise it. I am sure
more people will come to see you jump than will come
to hear you sing."




HANDEL



HANFSTAENGL COLLECTION



GEORGE FREDERICK HANDEL 25

It is curious to reflect upon the consequences of
Handel's financial failures with opera. There was some-
thing in the form as well as in the subjects of oratorio
music especially appropriate to Handel's genius; yet
such were the force of habit and the tyranny of fashion
that if Handel had made money by his operas he would
probably have gone on writing operas and nothing
else to the end of his days. The Fates had happily
ordered it otherwise. Julius Caesar won all his great
victories after he was fifty. When the earlier of his
great oratorios were written, Handel had reached the
same epoch of life a time when genius is supposed to
have lost some of its vigour, when both the mental and
the physical powers are at least not in the ascendant.
But Handel was a marvel.

He had written about forty operas, besides other
works, when, in 1738, he turned finally to oratorio,
and produced his Saul, composed in a little over two
months. Saul is never heard now, but everybody
knows its deeply impressive " Dead March," which
occurs towards the end, just after the news of the death
of Saul and Jonathan is brought to David. A year
later came Israel in Egypt (written in fifteen days),
which, after the Messiah and Judas Maccabceus, is
perhaps the most popular and the most frequently
performed of all Handel's oratorios. It was not a great
success when first given in London in 1739, but that
was due largely to the fact that the chorus-singing
of Handel's time was quite unequal to a work so
gigantic in conception and execution. Choruses were



2 6 MASTER MUSICIANS

comparatively small then, and were, besides, composed
entirely of male voices.

Handel was naturally disappointed with the London
reception of Israel ; and so, when he had completed
his Messiah, the greatest of all his oratorios, he carried
the score to Dublin, and had the work performed there
for the first time, in April 1742. The manuscript is
still in existence, and from dates inscribed on it we
gather that the entire work was begun and completed
within twenty-three days ! The Dublin audience had
been called together by the following advertisement :
" For the Relief of the Prisoners in the several Gaols,
and for the Support of Mercer's Hospital, in Stephen's
Street, and of the Charitable Infirmary on the Inn's
Quay, on Monday, the I3th of April, will be performed
at the Musick Hall at Fishamble Street, Mr. Handell's
new Grand Oratorio, called ' The Messiah,' in which
the Gentlemen of the Choirs of both Cathedrals will
assist, with some Concertos on the Organ by Mr.
Handell." The advertisement further requested the
ladies to come without their hoops and the gentlemen
without their swords, which would "enable the stewards
to seat seven hundred persons instead of six." Even
so late as Haydn's visits to London these impedimenta
of the ladies gave serious concern to concert makers.
Thus we are told that the royal Princesses wore hoops
so wide that the Court attendants had to hold up the
monstrosities in order to enable their wearers to pass
through the doorways. And yet we hear continual
talk about a proposed revival of the crinoline !



GEORGE FREDERICK HANDEL *y

" Mr. Handell's " oratorio was received with extra-
ordinary fervour by the Dublin people. A clergyman
in the audience is stated to have so far forgotten himself
as to exclaim at the close of one of Mrs. Gibber's airs,
"Woman, for this be all thy sins forgiven thee!"
Another enthusiast dropped into poetry and delivered
himself of the following couplet :

To harmony like his celestial power was given,

To exalt the soul from earth and make of hell a heaven.

A sum of ^"400 was realised by the performance, which,
deducting only 20 for expenses, was divided among
the three institutions named in the advertisement.
It was the most triumphant event in Handel's life.
Already he had lost a fortune by Italian opera ; the
colossal Israel in Egypt had been received with cold
indifference. But now all this was amply atoned for,
and Handel stood approved as the greatest composer
of the greatest oratorio that had ever been written.
The Messiah was not performed in London until
March 1743, when it was produced at Covent Garden.
It had at first nothing like the success it achieved in
Dublin, but gradually it got to be appreciated, and its
position now is known to all lovers of music.

Back in London in 1742, Handel went on with his
oratorio work, producing Samson, Judas Maccabceus,
Solomon, Theodora, and Jephtha. Although these are
not well known, certain portions of them are familiar
enough : such, for instance, as " Honour and Arms "
and " Let the bright Seraphim " from Samson ; the
beautiful soprano air " Angels, ever bright and fair,"



28 MASTER MUSICIANS

from Theodora; the equally beautiful "Waft her, angels,
to the skies," from Jephtha ; and " See, the conquering
hero comes," from Judas Maccabczus. Of this latter a
story may be told. Soon after Handel had completed
it, he played it to a friend and asked him how he liked
it. " Not so well as some other things of yours," was
the candid reply. " Nor I, either," said Handel, " but
you will live to see it a greater favourite with the people
than some of my finer things." The truth of which
forecast has been abundantly proved.

It was in 1751 that Jephtha, the last of the long line
of Handel oratorios (22 in all), was composed. By this
time the master's eyesight was seriously failing. Three
painful operations ended in total blindness, and Handel,
heartbroken over the misfortune, began to anticipate,
if not to wish for, his end. His powers gradually
weakened, and his thoughts continually reverted to
death. He said he would like to die on Good Friday,
that he might meet his Lord and Saviour on the day
of His crucifixion. His desire was granted, for it was
on the Good Friday of 1759 (April 13) that his spirit
fled. He had conducted his Messiah seven days before,
and the effort proved too much. His body was laid in
the Abbey, where a monument may be seen, represent-
ing him in the act of writing " I know that my
Redeemer liveth," one of the best-known solos in his
great oratorio. In spite of his repeated losses, he died
a rich man. He not only paid all his debts, but left
^"20,000, of which 1000 was bequeathed to the Royal
Society of Musicians.



GEORGE FREDERICK HANDEL 29

In person and character Handel was, like his music,
large and powerful. He was somewhat unwieldy in his
movements, but he had a countenance full of fire and
dignity. He was imperious in the extreme, with a
temper at times perfectly volcanic. In illustration of
this, one typical anecdote may be chosen from many.
Handel's nerves were too irritable to stand the sound
of tuning, and his players therefore tuned their instru-
ments before he arrived. One evening, when the Prince
of Wales was expected to be present, some wag, for a
piece of fun, untuned them all. When the Prince
arrived, Handel gave the signal to begin con spirtto,
but such was the horrible discord that the enraged
conductor started up from his seat, and, having over-
turned a double-bass that stood in the way, seized a
kettle-drum and threw it with such force at the leader
of the violins that he lost his wig in the effort. Without
waiting to replace it, he strode bareheaded to the front
of the orchestra, breathing vengeance, but so choked
with passion that he could hardly utter a word. In this
ridiculous attitude he stood staring and stamping for
some moments, amidst the general convulsion of
laughter. Nor could he be prevailed upon to resume
his seat until the Prince went in person and succeeded
in appeasing his wrath.

Prince or plebeian, it was all the same to Handel.
If anybody talked during a performance, he not only
swore but " called names." For all this, he was a deeply
religious man. When writing the Hallelujah Chorus
he said : " I did see all heaven open before me and the



jo MASTER MUSICIANS

great God Himself." He knew his Bible so well that for
several of his oratorios he was his own librettist. At
the coronation of George II., the Bishops chose the
words for the anthem and sent them to Handel to set
to music. " I have read my Bible very well, and shall
choose for myself," was the reply he returned with the
Bishops' manuscript.

Many stories have been told of Handel's almost
unappeasable appetite, some of them certainly exagger-
ated. There is a caricature of his time representing
him with the head of a hog, seated at the organ, while
the instrument is garnished with hams, sausages, and
other coarse foods. The most familiar anecdote is that
which tells of him going to a tavern and ordering dinner
for three. Having sat a long time without any signs
of the dinner, he called the landlord. The landlord said
he was waiting till the company arrived. " Then bring
the dinner prestissimo" replied Handel, " for I am the
company." There is another story of a social evening
at his house in Brook Street, Hanover Square. During
supper, Handel frequently called out, " Oh ! I have a
thought," and retired to another room on pretence of
writing it down. At last some suspicious guest had the
curiosity to peep through the keyhole into the adjoin-
ing apartment. What he discovered was that Handel's
" thoughts " were being bestowed on a fresh hamper of
Burgundy which had been sent him in a present by one
of his admirers !

There is little need to sum up Handel as a composer.
Sir Hubert Parry puts it very well when he says that


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Online LibraryJ. Cuthbert (James Cuthbert) HaddenMaster musicians; a book for players, singers and listeners → online text (page 2 of 17)