The Handel Institute

  • David Vickers article about the newly opened museum (originally published 11 December 2001 by the now-defunct ANDaNTE).

  • The Daily Telegraph 22 December 2001 article about the museum.

  • David Vickers interview with Jacqueline Riding.

  • The New York Times 30 December 2001 article about the museum.

Handel House Museum at 25 Brook Street was home to the great baroque composer George Frideric Handel from 1723 until his death in 1759. The only composer museum in London, this landmark address is where Handel composed some of the greatest music in history, including Messiah, Zadok the Priest and Music for the Royal Fireworks.

Handel House Museum at 25 Brook Street was home to the composer from 1723 until his death in 1759. The only composer museum in London, this landmark address is where many of his greatest works were composed and probably rehearsed. The finely restored Georgian interiors display portraits of Handel and his contemporaries, and frequent music rehearsals, weekly concerts and special musical events in addition to regular exhibitions bring Handel's world to life.

Who's that in the window?

The bottom of this picture states:

The House in Lower Brook Street (at present, 1839, numbered 57), in which Handel lived and died;
- as it appeared before the fronts of the Attic Story was raised


Handel in London

Handel first came to London in the autumn of 1710 and, apart from a brief return to Hanover (where he held office as a court musician) in 1711-12, his musical career thereafter centred on London, i.e. the Cities of London and Westminster. Initially he was attracted to London because the recently-formed Italian opera company at the Queen's Theatre, Haymarket, was in need of a composer, and the successive London opera companies provided the key to his career for the following 20 years. Their popularity fluctuated, but overall Handel fared well in London, and seems to have received personal support from the Hanoverian Royal Family. During his early years in London, Handel also made his mark in English church music, and in particular with the music that he composed for the 'Utrecht' Thanksgiving service at St Paul's Cathedral in 1713, and he also maintained a reputation as a keyboard player. When the opera company ceased performances briefly in 1717-19 he spent more time writing anthems for James Brydges (later Duke of Chandos) at Cannons, Edgware, and prepared his harpsichord suites for publication.

For most of Handel's early years in London we do not have an exact knowledge of where he lived, but all this changed in the summer of 1723 when he moved into a newly-built house in Lower Brook Street (Westminster). This was close enough to his professional venues (the theatres and the house of his music copyist), yet sufficiently detached to give Handel some privacy. (His neighbours were MPs and military officers rather than tradesmen.) It was at this house that he composed the major musical scores between the operas Giulio Cesare and Tamerlano (1723-4) and Jephtha (1751), his last major English oratorio which was completed against the background of a struggle against failing eyesight. (Two of his greatest oratorios, Messiah and Samson, were composed there in 1741.)

The shift in Handel's career from Italian opera to English oratorio was a gradual one. During the 1730's he performed and composed works in both genres, and his choices seem to have been guided by accidental or short-term influences, such as the availability of particular singers and theatres, and the rivalry that his productions faced from another opera company. For a time in the 1730's he performed in the newly-built Covent Garden theatre, giving both operas and oratorios there, and introducing organ concertos into the latter. After his return to London from a visit to Dublin in 1741-2, his career swung decisively to the performance of English oratorios, for which Covent Garden theatre was his principal venue, though he also gave annual performances of Messiah at the Foundling Hospital from 1749 onwards. In his last years, in spite of blindness, he seems to have attended the oratorio performances, and even occasionally performed in them, right up to the last week of his life, though he probably undertook few social engagements after 1751.

Donald Burrows
9 March 2001

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Last updated: 26 September 2013 · Site design: Duncan Fielden and David Vickers