Court Musical Director
Journey to London
A Sensational Success
Intermezzo in Hannover
Return to London
In Italy Handel had made the acquaintance of men of influence who were destined to play an important part in his later career. Among them were the Duke of Manchester, who is believed to have given Handel an invitation to come to England, Baron Kielmannsegge, and also perhaps Prince Ernst August of Hanover, the Elector’s brother. Further invitations came from the Tyrol and Düsseldorf. Handel visited these places but clearly the decision had already been taken in favour of Hanover.
Court Musical Director
In February 1710 he left Italy and in the middle of that year - after a trip to his mother in Halle - arrived in Hanover. In June 1710 he was appointed Kapellmeister (musical director) to the Elector Georg Ludwig. He was to receive an annual payment of 1,000 thalers - a princely salary considering the far from onerous duties expected of him and all the other exceedingly liberal conditions of employment he was to enjoy. Supposably it was here too that Handel became acquainted with Caroline von Ansbach, the future Queen of England, to whom a cordial and lasting friendship was to unite him until her death in 1737.
The Princess Sophie of Hanover wrote to her granddaughter, the Prussian Crown Princess Sophie Dorothea, in Berlin:
" I pay a daily visit to our Princess [Caroline von Ansbach] , who is now in good health and no longer lies in bed; she takes great pleasure in the music of a Saxon, which excels all that I have so far heard on the keyboard and in composition. He was greatly fêted in Italy ..." (4 June 1710)
"... There is nothing new here except that the Elector has taken into his service a musical director named Hendel, who plays wonderfully on the harpsichord for the pleasure of the Elector and his wife. He is really a fine looking man and gossip has it that he was Victoria’s lover ..." (14 June 1710)
In addition to writing chamber music for the members of the Elector’s family Handel’s principal duty seems to have consisted in composing music for performances by the court orchestra in the castle and gardens of the Elector’s summer residence in Herrenhausen. There between 1689 and 1693 - contemporaneously with the Hanover Opera House - a charming garden theatre had been built.
When after the death of Duke Ernst August in 1695 the opera ensemble was disbanded, it was mainly instrumental music and French performing practice. It was through this practice that Georg Philipp Telemann while still a grammar-school pupil in neighbouring Hildesheim got to know the French style of music-making. Furthermore the “ excellent instrumentalists” had caused him to become “ stronger” on his instrument. In his autobiography of 1718 he said: “ Here the best seed of France’s art has grown into a tall tree and ripe fruit.” According to Mainwaring one of the liberal conditions set down in Handel’s contract permitted extended leave for journeys sanctioned in principle.
Journey to London
About the end of 1710 Handel came to London. “ The report of his uncommon abilities had been conveyed to England before his arrival ... He was soon introduced at court and honoured with the marks of the Queen’s favour ...” (Mainwaring).
On his way to England Handel had made a stopover in Düsseldorf. An invitation to go there, even the offer by the Elector, Johann Wilhelm, of an appointment as court musical director, had already been sent to him in Italy. From 1659 there had existed in Düsseldorf a theatre equipped in the most up-to-date manner and an excellent opera ensemble. But neither this nor a generous gift from the Elector was enough to stop the young composer from continuing his journey. However much Handel felt himself devoted to Italian opera, this was obviously not the only, or even the main, consideration that weighed with him. Rather “ did Handel love his freedom all too much”, as Mainwaring remarks: and indeed he had never shown more than a passing interest in permanent appointments. Clearly London proved very attractive to the young composer. And it can be confidently assumed that arrangements for his visit had already been made. Handel left Düsseldorf in September.
It is a matter for surprise, even astonishment, how easily this young man, who certainly had a flair for languages but could have known little English, found his way about the gigantic world-metropolis which was London, and overcame tremendous obstacles in gaining access to the most exclusive social circles, aristocratic and bourgeois alike. This could only have been made possible by the intervention of influential men.
The first people that Handel met in London once more were the Boschi couple, Francesca and Giuseppe, both singers. A year previously they had helped to make Agrippina the success it was in Venice and both enjoyed prestige and influence at the Haymarket Theatre. Francesca Vanini-Boschi made what must have been an unmistakable reference to Handel’s recent arrival in London by inserting an aria from Agrippina into a performance of Scarlattis’s opera Pirro e Demetria on 6 December 1710. Another singer, Elizabetta Pilotti, who was also in London at the time, had met Handel in Hanover. Later she sang in Rinaldo. Among the men who must have been very helpful to Handel during this first stay in London were Johann Ernst Galliard, a German musician from the town of Celle and pupil of Steffani, and another German named Andrew Roner.
New and significant acquaintances were Aaron Hill, lessee of the Haymarket Theatre, Giacomo Rossi, who later wrote the libretto for Rinaldo, the poet John Hughes, John Jacob Heidegger, and the coal merchant Thomas Britton, who organised concerts on the floor over his coal warehouse, concerts which enjoyed great popularity. But connections between Handel and the nobility in London must have existed, since otherwise Handel’s fist visit to Queen Anne, reported by his biographers, could hardly have taken place.
A Sensational Success
Aaron Hill commissioned Handel to compose the music for the opera Rinaldo on Rossi’s libretto. This opera proved a sensational success for Handel, both artistically and socially, but stirred up against him the foremost critics of the Italian opera, especially Richard Steele and Joseph Addison.
At the beginning of June 1711 - by this time Rinaldo had been given 15 performances - Handel returned to Hanover. But he had no intention of staying there for long. He prepared carefully for his next England trip and maintained an uninterrupted flow of correspondence with his English friends and acquaintances.
Intermezzo in Hannover
In Hanover, too, Handel had made many acquaintances and formed a number of friendships. Among the particularly interesting personalities of this period was Wilhelm Leibniz. This universal genius, one of the founders of the European Enlightenment, also had a special interest in music. And, as we have seen, a faithful friendship bound Handel to Princess Caroline, the wife of the future King George II of England, which lasted until her death.
Return to London
In the late autumn Handel began his second “holiday” in London, there to take up, as the near future was to show, permanent residence. As with his first stay in London, Handel’s prime concern on returning was with the opera. He hoped to repeat the tremendous success he had with Rinaldo.
But his next opera, Il Pastor Fido HWV 8a, only ran to six performances. The libretto, patched together by Rossi from Battista Guarini’s pastoral of 1585, was weak, nor had Handel worked with his usual carefulness.
In Francis Colman’s opera register we read briefly: “ The scene represented only ye country of Arcadia, ye habits were old - ye Opera Short.” This failure did nothing to deter Handel, on the contrary it purred him on to new heights of achievement. By December 1712 he had completed the opera Teseo HWV 9, and this was given a thorough preparation for its successful premiere on 10 January 1713. Part of the credit for this must go to Niccolo Francesco Haym’s competent libretto. A fruitful working partnership was to develop between the two men, despite the fact that at first Haym had been one of the young German’s many prominent critics. Even if material success did not immediately ensure (a certain Owen McSwiney, who had taken over the direction of the Haymarket Theatre from Aaron Hill, absconded with all the takings from two performances of Teseo) Handel seems to have had no financial worries. - If we disregard that the run ended with a special performance “ For the benefit of Mr Hendel”. -
Upon his second arrival in England he became the guest of Mr. Henry Andrews at his residence, Barn Elms (now Barnes, in Surrey) and afterwards stayed from 1714 to about 1716 with Mr. Richard Boyle in Piccadilly. In both these places his carefree material circumstances may be compared with those he had enjoyed in Italy. In the young Boyle, Earl of Burlington, and especially in his mother, countess and lady-in-waiting to Queen Anne, but also in the Royal Physician, Dr John Arbuthnot, a regular visitor at Burlington House, Handel found the right intermediaries to secure him access to the court. This was something the young composer obviously felt to be important. Relieved of all material cares in Burlington House he could devote himself entirely to his work.
On 14 January 1713 he completed the composition of a Te Deum for the official celebrations of the impending Peace Treaty of Utrecht. The prospect of such a musical commission called for a goodly measure of optimism, since in the ordinary course of event the performance of it would have been unthinkable: Handel was still the servant of a foreign prince, he was still “ Maestro di S. A. E. d’Hanover”, as he was called in the press notices of Il Pastor Fido and Teseo. In this case a performance could only take place expressly by royal command, which must have been given at the latest by 7 July 1713, when the official Thanksgiving Service took place - as was the tradition, in St. Paul’s Cathedral; for this Handel had added to his Te Deum a Jubilate HWV 179.
Burney’s report, “ Handel was chosen before all others, and, it appear, without any grumblings from the inland musicians, to receive the commission, to write the anthems of thanks and triumph on this occasion” is not supported by any other evidence but we cannot doubt that Handel did receive this commission even if in the first instance unofficially. Queen Anne was not present at the celebration but heard these works afterwards, whereupon she is said to have granted the composer an annuity of £ 200 for life. Handel expressed his thanks with his Ode for the birthday of Queen Anne HWV 74 in 1714. The Queen died a few month later.