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Handel in London: The Making of a Genius

by Jane Glover

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594360,239 (3.29)3
Presents an account of the composer's life after following his princely master to London, discussing the music-making and musicianship as well as the courts and cabals of eighteenth-century society."A rich and evocative account of the life and work of one of the world's favorite composers. In 1712, a young German composer followed his princely master to London and would remain there for the rest of his life. That master would become King George II and the composer was George Friedrich Handel. Handel, then still only twenty-seven and largely self-taught, would be at the heart of musical activity in London for the next four decades, composing masterpiece after masterpiece, whether the glorious coronation anthem, Zadok, the Priest, operas such as Rinaldo and Alcina, or the great oratorios, culminating, of course, in Messiah. Here, Jane Glover, who has conducted Handel's work in opera houses and concert halls throughout the world, draws on her profound understanding of music and musicians to tell Handel's story. It is a story of music-making and musicianship, but also of courts and cabals, of theatrical rivalries and eighteenth-century society. It is also the story of some of the most remarkable music ever written, music that has been played, sung, and loved throughout the world for three hundred years. "--Dust jacket.… (more)
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Showing 4 of 4
Fab and enormous detail but gave up cos too dense - shame cos brilliant
  MarilynKinnon | Apr 15, 2020 |
I found this a delightful book. I bought it more on less on a whim, seeing it on display in Daunt Books and succumbing, as I invariably do in those august surroundings, to impulse. I have often had my fingers burned that way, but on this occasion, I earned a rich reward/

I remember as an elven year-old boy being taught about music by Mr Clifford Smith, a flamboyant character markedly different from the rest of the staff at Loughborough Grammar School. Bolstered by a substantial private income, he felt no need to show obeisance to the school’s syllabus and sought instead to teach his pupils matters that he thought a rounded person should simply know. A truly Falstaffian figure, both physically and with regard to the veracity of his immensely entertaining anecdotes, which kept my fellow pupils and I rapt in attention. His stories didn’t necessarily tell us much about music, but we certainly had an insight into aspects of life hitherto shrouded from our view.

One task that I do recall him setting us was the creation of timelines showing the births and deaths of the major composers, the introduction of new instruments and major events to render some wider historical context. As a consequence of that, now forty-five years later I still know that Handel was born in 1685, making him as exact contemporary of Johann Sebastian Bach and Domenico Scarlatti. Although it meant very little to me back then, I also now realise that Handel was born just three years before the Glorious Revolution that saw the removal of King James II, and paved the way for the Jacobite risings of the eighteenth century and ultimately for the transition to the Hanoverian dynasty. Interestingly, intergenerational royal strife seemed endemic at that time. Not only had the Princesses (later Queens) Mary and Anne conspired against their father, James II, but both George II, and then his son who would become George III, experienced prolonged and bitter estrangements from their respective fathers.

Jane Glover clearly understands the value of historical context, and her book offers a clear exposition of the political, cultural and industrial trends unfolding in London, and the country more widely. She does this, however, with an elegance and lightness of touch that is informative yet never oppressive.

Georg Friederich Handel was already an established figure in the European musical firmament when he first came to London in 1712. He had earned a reputation as a virtuoso harpsichord player in Halle and Hamburg, and had also shown skill as music tutor to the nobility, and as a composer of religious works. In 1710, he secured the office of Kapellmeister to Prince Georg, the Elector of Hanover, who would, four years later, become King George I of Great Britain and Ireland. After an earlier visit in 1710, in which he experienced considerable success as a performer and composer, Handel moved permanently to London in 1712, and fairly took the city by storm. From his earliest works there, he drew critical acclaim, accompanied by financial patronage, quickly becoming a favourite of Queen Anne, the last monarch of the Stuart dynasty.

It would add little for me to list his astounding musical success here, and, besides, Jane Glover, as an accomplished conductor, musical director and historian, writes far more knowledgeably and engagingly about them. I was unfamiliar with many of the compositions that she describes, and have eagerly been scouring Spotify ever since, and have perhaps come a little closer to fulfilling Mr Clifford Smith’s hopes of a rounded and informed pupil.

This was one of my favourite non-fiction books of the year, and I shall be immersing myself in both Handel’s and Jane Glover’s works wherever I can. ( )
  Eyejaybee | Dec 20, 2019 |
Interesting, notably since Glover's perspective as a person deeply steeped in the world of music generally and in the symphony in particular, adds a layer that an historical account alone could not reach. The historical account alone would be perhaps, enough on its own standing on excellent research and thoroughly intertwined with a dynamic society. Being a student of lesser mettle, alas, I had to set it aside, not being able to shoulder the length. ( )
  danhammang | Mar 22, 2019 |
Handel in London is a showbiz tour of the 1700s, far more than a biography. Jane Glover has filled a book with details of operas and concerts and especially their stars. Readers get profiles and the inside poop on endless Italian singers, English impresarios, and of course all the trashy goings on in the royal family. Handel – not so much.

Glover has all the experience in the world to write an appreciation of performances, and she doesn’t disappoint on that level. She examines every aria in Handel’s operas and oratorios. She notes key changes and their significance. She finds great significance in the mix of instruments employed in different acts. She reviews nearly every work, every venue and every performance. She takes prices, box office, subscriptions, politics and even the weather into account. There is also much on the importance of stardom, how much different singers were paid, and how London sought to make itself the entertainment capital by buying out stars from Dresden to Rome and everywhere in between. The evolution of the set, the evolution of the audience, and (especially) the length of the run are the backbone of Handel in London.

There is not very much on Handel, however. He was a teenage success in his native Hanover, and from that early start, managed to have people in power pay his way around Europe and to England. He had a large stipend from Hanover, even for the first year he lived in London. But he didn’t need it, as he was offered a job right off the boat. His life was one success after another. He even managed to sell his shares in the South Seas bubble before it popped.

There were lots of connections to royalty, as the Electors of Hanover took over the English Throne when Queen Anne died, leading to an unimpressive series of King Georges, who were difficult people. They provided scandals and food for gossip, and paid Handel with even more in English pounds after they cut off his Hanover stipend. The fact that Hanoverians were running England was a crucial ingredient in Handel’s ascent and network. By the time he was 30, he was set for life, even if he never wrote another piece.

He wrote over 70 major works. He was endlessly inventive and creative. And fast. He wrote so fast some thought he was lazy. He knew every nuance of every performer’s talents, and adjusted his works every year, to account for who was playing in them. He justifiably became a national treasure of Great Britain.

After 20 years, London finally tired of a German writing Italian operas for an English audience. Handel’s productions began to fail and his star began to fade. At the age of 52, he suffered a massive stroke, and it changed his approach. He bent to the fashion and began producing in English. But the decline, though gentle, continued. The real end was total blindness, which plagued him until his death six years after it was confirmed.

Late in the book, Glover tells us that someone was part of Handel’s “small circle of friends”, the first mention of such a thing, but she never tells us more. Handel apparently had a short temper and an “imperious and extravagant will”. He had an “essential humility and generosity that belied the bluster of his outgoing, confident personality.” Near the end, now blind, he hired the son of his oldest German friend to help him, because he knew Handel’s methods and his “foibles”. But Glover never tells us what those were. That’s about all the detail there is on George Frideric Handel for all his 74 years.

Handel was single all his life. He never had really close friends. He didn’t bring relatives over from Hanover. He didn’t entertain at home. He wasn’t a social butterfly or a post-show partier. At least, not that Glover recounts. His personal life goes unexplored, compared to all the performers he engaged, whose lives get the full gossip treatment. The book is thorough, but as a collection of liner notes rather than a biography of a genius.

David Wineberg ( )
1 vote DavidWineberg | Dec 22, 2018 |
Showing 4 of 4
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Presents an account of the composer's life after following his princely master to London, discussing the music-making and musicianship as well as the courts and cabals of eighteenth-century society."A rich and evocative account of the life and work of one of the world's favorite composers. In 1712, a young German composer followed his princely master to London and would remain there for the rest of his life. That master would become King George II and the composer was George Friedrich Handel. Handel, then still only twenty-seven and largely self-taught, would be at the heart of musical activity in London for the next four decades, composing masterpiece after masterpiece, whether the glorious coronation anthem, Zadok, the Priest, operas such as Rinaldo and Alcina, or the great oratorios, culminating, of course, in Messiah. Here, Jane Glover, who has conducted Handel's work in opera houses and concert halls throughout the world, draws on her profound understanding of music and musicians to tell Handel's story. It is a story of music-making and musicianship, but also of courts and cabals, of theatrical rivalries and eighteenth-century society. It is also the story of some of the most remarkable music ever written, music that has been played, sung, and loved throughout the world for three hundred years. "--Dust jacket.

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