Handel's House Becomes Museum
The 18th-century house where George Frideric Handel composed "Messiah" and other great works has become the first museum in London devoted to a composer. Restorers have converted the upper floors at 2The 18th-century house where George Frideric Handel composed "Messiah" and other great works has become the first museum in London devoted to a composer. Restorers have converted the upper floors at 25 Brook St. in the Mayfair district to its condition when Handel lived there for 36 years until his death in 1759.
It is a tall, narrow house with a basement kitchen, a front and back room on each of three floors, and garrets for the servants at the top. Fashionable Bond Street is close by, as is Claridge's hotel, Grosvenor Square, and the United States embassy. To get details of the building and fabrics right, the restorers worked from Handel's will, an inventory of his house after his death and other houses in Brook Street built at the same time, 1717-26.
Beginning tomorrow (Nov. 8), visitors can wander through the main rooms of his house, which are quite small, and see where he composed operas, oratorios, concertos, the coronation anthems, and music for the royal fireworks. They can see Handel's bedroom, paintings, prints, and memorabilia associated with him and his friends and more in the house next door, No. 23, where Jimi Hendrix lived in 1968-69. The Handel House Trust also acquired it for exhibition space and educational activities.
Handel must have covered his walls with art. The catalog of a sale in 1760, now in the Frick Art Reference Library in New York, lists over 80 paintings he owned; he also bequeathed two Rembrandts to a friend. Paintings have been loaned to the museum by Queen Elizabeth II and state museums.
Stanley Sadie, editor of the New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, said he had the idea for the museum in 1959. But it was only a decade ago that he and his wife Julie Anne made the first moves to set up a trust and establish a museum in the house. "Composers seem to be remarkably mobile. There are very few examples in music history of people staying in the same premises for more than a brief period, and almost none from the 18th century," said Sadie, who is president of the Handel House Trust.
"It's taken a long time, this museum, but it's been done at last," said Jacqueline Riding, the museum director. "It honors Handel and will promote knowledge of his contribution to British and international cultural life. We will have students and musicians rehearsing and practicing his music."
Riding described the house as "very middle class, a classic example of the building of a speculative developer. It has a simple interior and is a real bachelor pad."
Yoon Park, 28, from Seoul, South Korea, a postgraduate student at the Royal Academy of Music, was already at work during yesterday's preview, performing Handel on a harpsichord which she learned to play in England. "I came to London to study baroque music because early Western classical music is not popular in my country," Park said. "This room is too small for an audience but it is very good acoustically."
To celebrate the relationships and diversity between Handel and Hendrix, one of the museum's first educational ventures is a composition project for schools in Hackney, a deprived inner London district.
The Handel house, which today has a women's fashion shop on the ground floor, became a boarding house and then shops and art dealers' offices after Handel died. The museum project cost $7.4 million, funded by over 3,000 supporters, notably the National Lottery and the insurance company which owns the freehold. For more information, visit the museum's official Web site.
In 1742, Handel paid 50 pounds a year rent for his Brook Street house, the equivalent of $5,600 in today's dollars. A similar house in that area today could rent for $5,600 a week and $4.4 million to buy.
Handel was born in Halle, Germany, in 1685, and there is a large museum dedicated to him on the site of his birthplace. He settled in London in 1711, moving to Brook Street in 1723 at age 38. He remained there, unmarried, until his death at age 74.
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