Heron Island, Great Barrier Reef, Australia

Sunday, 17 February 2008

Handel and Hendrix

Following up on my visit to the Foundling Hospital, and the generosity which which Handel supported it, I went to the Handel House Museum today.

I was brought up on his music, or at least, it was always there in my childhood - not just Messiah, but the Water Music, the Fireworks Music, and the Coronation Anthem Zadok the Priest (of course, since the 1953 Coronation was the first big public event I remember).

His house, in Mayfair, is handsome, though not as grand then as it would seem today. The exhibition has an introductory video, and a series of rooms which tell, rather than show, you his life and work and the life of London all around him. There are portraits and caricatures galore, but you get a better feeling of the raucous vitality of eighteenth-century London from the association with Hogarth at the Foundling Museum. Of Handel's own personality there are text descriptions, but somehow he doesn't quite to come to life. It needs the music for that, and they do occasionally have recitals there.

Coincidentally, the very next house - incorporated into the Museum - was once lived in by Jimi Hendrix, who is not forgotten in the display. Heaven knows what Handel would have made of his music, but I'm sure he would have been intrigued by the showmanship and fascinated by the business side of the modern music industry. And the rock lifestyle and spats among the Spice Girls wouldn't totally have surprised a man capable of threatening to defenestrate a recalcitrant singer, and coping with rival leading ladies having a punch-up in front of royalty.

You can find the Museum quite easily on Brook St, by the junction with New Bond St: just watch out for the blue plaques and the red flag (which reminds me - one of the joys of the blue plaques is "Well, I never knew that" moments such as I found on leaving the tube: Ernie Bevin, a titan of the trades union and Labour movement, lived throughout the 1930s on South Molton St: what would he make of it now?).

But back to the main topic. Handel was one of music's great humans - not just as a composer and supporter of charities, but in the sympathy and understanding in his music:

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