Baroque composer George Frideric Handel (1685-1759) created one of the most famous choral works ever – the Messiah , with its well known “Hallelujah Chorus.” But a trip to the Handel House in London revealed an interesting connection to a famous 20th century musician. It’s a connection that appears to have grown stronger since our 2013 visit.
The Handel House is probably one of the nerdier Nerd Trips. My friend Mark (who is a historical musicologist) was the only person I could convince to come on this excursion, and I think he was actually more interested in the walk than the house itself.
The Handel House does not allow photos, so we are limited in what we can show you.
As you may know from previous posts, I was on a quest to find the homes of famous figures, marked by the round blue plaques from the English Heritage Trust. What a surprise to see Handel’s blue plaque (25 Brook Street) and on the house next door (23 Brook Street), a plaque for Jimi Hendrix! Yes, they were next door neighbors more than 200 years apart.
When we visited, there was a small exhibit on Hendrix, but according to the website, Hendrix’s flat has been restored to its 1968-1969 state and advanced booking is recommended! The demand for Handel was not as high, but we did have to wait a bit because the rooms were small.
Our impression of the Handel House was greatly influenced by the weather – it was unusually hot in London that summer, and the Georgian style house was not air conditioned (I have been spoiled by living in air conditioning most of my life.) I can’t imagine how people of Handel’s era felt in those heavy clothes and wigs.
We entered the house through the back of the building, buying our tickets and taking a lift upstairs where a video was showing. However, it was too hot to sit and watch, so we entered Handel’s dressing room. There were volunteers around, but the heat may have sapped our interest in asking questions. Our visit consisted mostly of reading laminated sheets of information, so we thought the experience was dry and a bit boring (and that’s from a historical musicologist and a person with a Nerd Trips blog). Maybe we should have followed the kids’ activities in the family guide?
Here’s something I did enjoy, the house does not shy away from Handel’s personality “quirks.” The composer was reportedly an extremely private person, and the Handel House curators (and maybe it’s the style of the Brits, in general) give you the straight scoop, they described his surviving correspondence as “terse and uninformative.”
Handel (originally born in Germany) lived in the London house for more than three decades where he indulged in food and drink and “grew noticeably portly.”
He sounded like he could be kind-of a pill, including having tantrums and locking himself in his composition room (he allegedly wrote the Messiah in 24 days). Some online articles suggest some of his irritability may have been attributed to lead poisoning from drinking cheap port, which may also have contributed to his 1759 death in the London house. Handel had many health issues in his life, including several strokes and eventual blindness.
Besides being a prolific musical genius, Handel had redeeming qualities, including giving lots of money to help orphans, including donations to the Foundling Hospital.
I also liked the area of the house where you could put on headphones and listen to Handel’s music, I enjoyed the Birthday Ode for Queen Anne. There was also a very talented young harpsichordist playing in one of the rooms; the Handel House has frequent musical performances.
As for the house itself, it does retain many original features, including its floors, which my notes describe as “very creaky.”
The Handel House may be best reversed for true Handel enthusiasts or maybe on a day when it’s not so hot and stuffy (even if Handel himself could be stuffy). The addition of the Hendrix flat should amp up the interest for modern audiences, who, while there checking out Jimi’s space, can learn about a musical genius of another era.
If you want to learn about admissions, local transpiration and other tips, check out our “On the Map” page.
Next up: A museum dedicated to “the lady with the lamp.”