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GEORGE FRIDERIC HANDEL—GLOBALIST PART 2

COMPOSER HANDEL WAS quite the globalist in an era when many folks only rarely left the villages of their birth. By his early 20s, he had already resided in Halle, Hamburg, and Florence, this last locale, not for very long.

Rome. Handel apparently didn’t think much of Florence and soon moved to Rome. There, opera was under a Papal States ban, so the composer focused on sacred music for the clergy, as well as oratorios and cantatas for the wealthy. (Not that Rome’s clergy weren’t wealthy, mind.) 

Nor did Handel give up opera: He wrote Rodrigo for a Florence production in 1707 and Agrippina for a Venice production in 1709. 

Agrippina. The opera Agrippina is worthy of note here. Agrippina the Younger, 15 A.D.–59 A.D., was younger sister of Emperor Caligula (who may have made his horse a priest—or worse), wife of Emperor Claudius (whom she might have poisoned), and mother of Nero (who likely arranged her assassination). Nice family, eh? 

The Agrippina libretto was written by Cardinal Vincenzo Grimani. Wikipedia observes, “Of the main characters, only Otho is not morally contemptible. Agrippina is an unscrupulous schemer; Nero, while not yet the monster he would become, is pampered and hypocritical; Claudius [Grimani’s caricature of Pope Clement XI] is pompous, complacent, and something of a buffoon, while Poppaea, the first of Handel’s sex kittens, is also a liar and a flirt.” 

Agrippina ran for 27 successive nights in 1709, Handel being heralded as Il caro Sassone, “the dear Saxon.” Of a 2020 production, mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato, the Met’s Agrippina, says, “Parts of opera felt as if they had come off the nightly news.” 

Though an opera seria (in noble and “serious” style), Agrippina was and is a biting satire of political power-grabbing. The Met’s 2020 production is a hoot; see A QUARANTINE QUERY.

Joyce DiDonato, left, in the title role and Kate Lindsay as Nerone in Handel’s Agrippina. Image by Sara Krulwich/The New York Times.

Hanover. In 1710, Handel served as Kapellmeister to George, Elector of Hanover. Within four years, Handel’s patron became George I of England, though Handel beat him to London in 1712. Indeed, Handel almost outlived George II as a Brit.

London. Handel’s London years were the most prolific of his life. Among familiar works are his Water Music, 1717, performed originally for King George I and his guests on the River Thames. Wikipedia says this piece spurred reconciliation between Handel and the king, who had been angered that the composer left Hanover before he did.

Handel, center, and King George I on the River Thames, July 17, 1717. Portrait by Edouard Hamman, 1819–1888.

In 1727, Handel composed four anthems for the Coronation of King George II. One of these, Zadok the Priest, has been played at British coronations ever since, typically prior to the sovereign’s anointing. 

Aachen. The German spa town of Aachen deserves mention in Handel’s travels, because in 1737, at age 52 he apparently suffered a stroke. A six-week stay in Aachen, with long hot baths, led to his remarkable recovery.

Still to Come in London. Handel composed the Messiah in 1741. It was first performed in Dublin in 1742, in London in 1743. His Music for the Royal Fireworks came in 1749, with more than 12,000 people attending its first performance. This same year, his oratorio Solomon was first performed, from which comes the familiar “Arrival of the Queen of Sheba.”

Handel’s “Arrival of the Queen of Sheba from the oratorio Salomon.

In 1750, Handel arranged a performance of Messiah to benefit London’s Foundling Hospital. Today, the Foundling Hospital has a permanent exhibition of Handel’s works, including a copy of Messiah bequeathed to the institution upon his death.

The Foundling Hospital, Brunswick Square, London.

Health Problems. In August 1750, Handel was seriously injured in a carriage accident on the road between the Hague and Haarlem. In 1751, an eye started to fail, likely attributed to treatment by the medical charlatan Chevalier Taylor. (See JOHN TAYLOR, GEORGIAN RASCAL PART 1.) Handel went completely blind by 1752.

George Frideric Handel died at home in London’s Brook Street at the age of 74 in 1759. He is buried in Westminster Abbey. 

What with his adventures of globalism throughout Europe, Handel had been a naturalized British subject since 1727. ds 

© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2020

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