Hello friends! Our first concert of the new season is almost here and rehearsals are underway. The process of preparing new music for a concert is probably slightly different for everyone. My habit is to play through it a couple of times before making any decisions on fingerings and bowings, then I start listening more closely to my own playing, perhaps listen to a couple of recordings, and only then get down to real business.
But another thing I do is delve into the lives of the composers. I am not really interested in their professional activities. I like to read letters and accounts of their everyday lives and activities, learn about the quirks of their personalities.
I knew only the basics about Handel that every musician knows but the more I delved, the more I loved Handel! There is an enormous amount of information out there; lots of his friends (and frenemies) wrote about him during his lifetime. Somehow I had missed knowing many elements of his life and personality and I feel so happy knowing what a fantastic person he was.
Some of the tidbits I enjoyed and want to share with you include this marvelous portrait of the man. Charles Burney, the wonderful writer of the music scene in London wrote in 1785 of Handel:
“He was impetuous, rough and peremptory in his manners and conversation, but totally devoid of ill-nature or malevolence; indeed, there was an original humour and pleasantry in his most lively sallies of anger or impatience, which, with his broken English, were extremely risible… Handel’s general look was somewhat heavy and sour; but when he did smile, it was his sire the sun, bursting out of a black cloud. There was a sudden flash of intelligence, wit and good humour, beaming in his countenance, which I hardly ever saw in any other.”
Wouldn’t you like to spend an evening, maybe have dinner with him?
Or maybe not! The famous painter Joseph Goupy was invited to dinner by Handel who explained it would have to be a “plain and frugal meal” because of his financial situation. After dinner Handel excused himself for several minutes and Goupy (concerned or snoopy?) peered through a door and saw Handel eating “delicacies” he had not offered his friend! Goupy went home and drew a mean-spirited picture of Handel as a pig and that was the end of their friendship. Many people commented on Handel’s, shall we say, generous physique, with his friend and biographer, John Mainwaring writing in 1760: “He paid more attention to food than is becoming to any man.”
But, in a final note, let me also mention that Handel was extraordinarily generous and initiated benefit concerts throughout his years in England, donating money associated with The Messiah in particular. His annual performances for the Foundling Hospital in London alone raised over £7000 which is roughly equivalent to £1,419,510.76 in our time.
Musicians of his time (and ever since) have regarded Handel as a giant. I now approach the Trio Sonata and Concerto Grosso we will perform with deep affection and respect for this complex and passionate man whose legacy includes not only his mind-boggling number of masterpieces in a mind-boggling variety of genres, but also a lifelong determination to help the less fortunate.