George Frideric Handel: A Life With Friends by: Ellen T. Harris
Most historical accounts credit George Frideric Handel with composing his famous oratorio, Messiah, in twenty-four days for the Charitable Musical Society of Dublin. Its premiere performance on April 13, 1742 supported three charities: the Society for Relieving Prisoners, the Charitable Infirmary and Mercer’s Hospital. Despite having origins aligning it more with Easter, the work has become a regular Christmas staple, particularly in the America. Every December, major orchestras and choirs across the United States and Europe stage extravagant Yuletide performances of this cherished work in attempts to capture the essence of the season. During his lifetime, the sounds of Handel’s music reached from court to theater, echoed in cathedrals and filled crowded taverns, but the man known to most as the composer of Messiah has proven a bit of a mystery. Though he took meticulous care of his manuscripts and even provided for their preservation after his death, very little information has survived concerning the intimate nature of his own life. But one document, Handel’s will, does offer a glimpse into the personal life of this enigmatic composer. In it, he remembers not only family and close colleagues but also competitors and rivals alike. Seeking to separate the man from the legend, author Ellen T. Harris has tracked down letters, diaries, personal accounts, legal cases, and other documents connected to these bequests. The result is George Frideric Handel: A Life with Friends, a tightly woven tapestry of London in the first half of the eighteenth century that interlaces the stories of Handel’s acquaintances like the subjects and countersubjects of a fugue and introduces readers to an ambitious, shrewd, generous, brilliant, and flawed man, hiding in full view behind his public persona.