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.
Grace Dent on TV The Secret Life of the Pub is sexist, ageist and a breath of fresh air
Art Megumi Igarashi criticises Japan's 'backwards' attitude to women's sexual expression
tv Singer could become the most unlikely star of Westeros
Ray Davies' Sunny Afternoon scoops the most awardsTheatre
Grace DentChannel 4 show proves there's no app for happiness
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 BBC election debate: The one photo that summed up the whole 90-minute leaders debate
- 2 A bottle of wine a day is not bad for you and abstaining is worse than drinking, scientist claims
- 3 18th century sex toy found in 'toilet of sword fighting school' in Poland
- 4 'I wish my teacher knew...': Young students share their 'heartbreaking' worries in notes
- 5 Rebecca Francis accuses Ricky Gervais of using 'influence' to target female hunters after receiving barrage of death threats
Better Call Saul creator Peter Gould on the creative concerns of a prequel, season 2 and the mind-numbing realities of the small courts
Britain's Got Talent 2015: RSPCA investigating Marc Metral's miming dog after cruelty complaints
Star Wars 7: The Force Awakens trailer: The most extreme fan reactions on Twitter
The Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice trailer has leaked – watch
Madonna might be a stand-up comedy virgin - but she wasn't terrible
The only black face in the Ukip manifesto is on the page about overseas aid
Ukip is the only main political party to not address LGBT rights in its manifesto
If I’m being racially abused I don’t need a white stranger with a saviour complex to rescue me
BBC election debate: The one photo that summed up the whole 90-minute leaders debate
Religion isn't growing, it is becoming vigorous in its demise, says philosopher AC Grayling
Russian warships in English Channel 'to conduct anti-aircraft and anti-submarine military drills'