Handel

Handel by Jonathan Keates Page A

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Authors: Jonathan Keates
opportunity for large-scale performances, either at the opera house or in the Lutheran court chapel. We know nothing of Handel’s other duties as kapellmeister or of his execution of them.The more we examine the circumstantial details surrounding it the more the appointment comes to seem like an inspired stopgap on the part of the Elector, probably assisted by the enthusiasm of his son and daughter-in-law, with whom he was still on good terms. This is borne out by his readiness to allow Handel to leave the court almost as soon as he had taken up his position, with the apparent intention of visiting England.
    It may have been during his first Venetian trip in 1708 that the idea of working in London was suggested to him. Mainwaring tells us that the invitation came from Charles Montagu, Duke of Manchester, then Britain’s ambassador to Venice, a noted enthusiast for the theatre. The Duke was currently corresponding with the architect and dramatist John Vanbrugh who, having designed and opened the Queen’s Theatre in the Haymarket, was now on the lookout for singers and musicians. Further encouragement may have been given Handel by Pietro Grimani, Cardinal Vincenzo’s kinsman, whom the Serene Republic named in 1710 as its envoy to England. On either of his Venetian visits the composer could also have been presented to other music-loving English noblemen enjoying the city’s pleasures on the Grand Tour.
    The Elector’s readiness to give his admired young kapellmeister a year’s leave of absence suggests that there may have been other agenda behind Handel’s projected visit to England. Relations between Hanover and the court of St James’s were now closer than ever, albeit on an unofficial level, as Queen Anne, after a dozen unsuccessful pregnancies and the deaths of the hydrocephalic Duke of Gloucester in 1700 and of her husband Prince George eight years later, was now seriously concerned with the impending succession crisis. There was, it is true, no love lost between her and the Hanoverians, and the collapse of the Whig ascendancy following the fall from favour of the Marlboroughs easily exacerbated this, but already shrewder politicians were looking towards Hanover with a view to feathering their nests, while at the same time keeping an eye cocked in the direction of Saint Germain and the Pretender. Georg Ludwig was a shrewd enough operator to see how advantageous the presence in London of a talented young German composer might be, especially one with the necessary savoir faire to make himself agreeable to persons of influence in court and government circles. Agostino Steffani’s example proved that the careers of musician and diplomat might be successfully combined.Handel, while neither an ambassador nor a spy, could keep his ear to the ground, passing on whatever information might be useful to the Elector as English politics entered one of its most volatile phases and the issue of Queen Anne’s likely successor remained questionable. Politics may thus have swept Handel to London: in one form or another they were to colour his English enterprises for the next thirty years.
    Before leaving Germany in the autumn of 1710 he went south to Halle to visit his mother. ‘Her extreme old age . . . tho it promised him but a melancholy interview, rendered this instance of his duty and regard the more necessary,’ says Mainwaring. Dorothea Handel was then fifty-nine, even by eighteenth-century standards not excessively old. He visited friends and relatives, ‘among whom his old Master ZACKAW was by no means forgot’, and then set off for Dusseldorf, where he had been invited some months before by the Elector Palatine Johann Wilhelm. The ubiquitous Steffani had for a time acted as Johann Wilhelm’s chief minister and had managed to carry the Palatinate successfully through the toils of the war, now in its ultimate phase. A further recommendation had been made by

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