It has been a fascinating few days in London.
We visited George Frideric Handel’s home, located on Brook Street in Mayfair. The two-story townhouse was one of many built here in the eighteenth century. In 2001 it became open to the public, and the Trust has done an outstanding job with each room, explaining not only Handel’s life, but his times, the English renaissance of art, poetry, and music.
I knew that these were days of horses and buggies and muddy streets. I also knew these were days of exceptional refinement in manners, courtly etiquette (probably influenced by the court itself), attention to dress, hair, civility. Again, they were rough days by our standards – no indoor plumbing so that one bathed in a tub filled with buckets of water heated on the hearth. Many folks had lice, so they kept their hair short, some wearing wigs. Food preparation was long and arduous, and it seemed that one either had servants or was a servant, at least in London.
Handel’s life was no exception. Born in Germany to a court hairdresser, he met and worked for George of Hannover before coming to the English throne. The king appointed Handel to be his Court Composer and with this appointment Handel was assured of a place in English society. He rented this modest house in Mayfair, a growing neighborhood, a suburb of London. Handel worked from his small rooms, giving lessons, selling sheet music, and most importantly composing the great operas, oratorios, and the glorious Messiah.
Handel, to my happy appreciation, was a deeply religious man. He was a devout Lutheran, and it was said that as the music filled his mind and heart, and the notes poured onto the scores, he would wept from sheer joy, amazement, love. He was telling, of course, the great story of redemption, of God’s love for us, through the prophets, to the nativity in Bethlehem, to the Way of the Cross, the crucifixion and the resurrection.
I have long loved the Messiah, and it has become a tradition in our home to play the first half at Christmas and the second at Easter. I grew up in a church that sang the full score once a year with great enthusiasm and fervent belief. Handel gave, and continues to give, the world such hope, such glimpses of heaven. Beethoven, living in the next generation, said (and I paraphrase) that Handel was such a genius, that he, Beethoven, would fall at his feet in admiration. Beethoven said this!
I left the house on Brook Street having learned that Handel was indeed inspired by God, and gave great thanks for his life and his work, and for this moment of seeing.
We continued through Mayfair down to Piccadilly, through Green Park to Westminster Cathedral, a favorite church here in London, and a scene in my novel, Inheritance.