Bodley Head, £25. Order for £22.50 (free p&p) on 08700 798 897
Handel: the man and his music, By Jonathan Keates
Guide to the art of a composer hits the high notes
Thursday 14 August 2008
Since celebrity culture has put sex at the heart of biography, Handel has lost out. As Jonathan Keates observes, there's no documentary evidence on that aspect of his private life, so all we can do is conjecture. But he was well-built, handsome and assured, and his operas suggest a profound understanding of heterosexual sensuality. Keates suggests his peripatetic professional life was a likelier bar to marriage than the oft-alleged closet gayness.
This expanded edition of a book Keates published 23 years ago takes in a wealth of new knowledge, and combines biographical and musicological analysis in a way that will appeal both to the general reader and the aficionado. Handel's early years come into high relief: his stubborn attachment to music (smuggling a clavichord into his room, despite his doctor-father's prohibition), his literary education in Protestant Halle, and his teenage appointment as a church organist, are seen to shape the phenomenal talents that served his genius.
Keates is illuminating on Handel's early journey to Italy as a keyboard virtuoso and budding composer. In Venice, he was sought out by an admiring Scarlatti, while in Rome he fell under Corelli's benign influence; he was ravished by the pifferari music played in the street by Abruzzi shepherds, which he later reproduced in his Messiah. In Rome, he encountered the cantata, a form he quickly made his own. When he arrived in London aged 25, the city was as ready for him as he was for it.
George I became Handel's enthusiastic patron, as did Queen Anne. London's opera-mania provided the perfect climate in which Handel could blossom. Keates follows the sinuous thread of his career: helping launch the Royal Academy, collecting castrati and sopranos, building his first company and becoming rich, then hitting choppy waters as competition spurred by political divisions threatened to put him out of business.
With its astute commentaries on the operas, this book makes a brilliantly lucid guide to Handel's evolving art. Though anecdotes remain scanty – most reflecting Handel's gastronomy and famously short fuse – Keates fleshes him out without resorting to novelettish invention. How English was he? Not very, despite the citizenship he claimed. His thick "Cherman" accent was mocked. But he was admired and loved: his progressive blindness and gracefully uncomplaining death led to universal mourning, followed by an even greater surge in his music's popularity.
tv Review: Miranda Hart and co deliver the festive goods
tvReview: Older generation get hot under the collar this Christmas
comedy Erm...he seems to be back
tvReview: No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa
tv Gymnast Louis Smith triumphed in the Christmas special
Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites
TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 The Boy in the Dress, TV review: David Walliams' Boxing Day treat is a celebration of being different
- 2 Exclusive: Abusers using spyware apps to monitor partners reaches 'epidemic proportions'
- 3 Andy Murray takes to Twitter to show off his Christmas jumper
- 4 Margaret Thatcher 'expressed fears of Asian rising' at Anglo-Irish summit in 1984
- 5 Katie Hopkins speaks out on childhood obesity: 'Parents of fat children should be prosecuted for child cruelty'
Downton Abbey Christmas special 2014, review: Love is everywhere, actually
The Boy in the Dress, TV review: David Walliams' Boxing Day treat is a celebration of being different
Madonna Rebel Heart: Pharrell Williams collaboration and 13 more songs leaked
Vagina canoe artist defends herself over ‘obscenity’ charges
Doctor Who Christmas special, review: No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa
British actor Idris Elba cannot star as James Bond because he is black, says shock jock Rush Limbaugh
Rozanne Duncan: Ukip expels councillor for 'jaw-dropping' comments made in BBC TV interview
Germany anti-Islam protests: 17,000 march on Dresden against 'Islamification of the West'
Ukip member gets into Christmas spirit with Union Flag plea to Santa 'for our country back'
BBC director Danny Cohen: Rising UK antisemitism makes me feel more uncomfortable than ever
Katie Hopkins speaks out on childhood obesity: 'Parents of fat children should be prosecuted for child cruelty'