31.03.2015
12:07

Handel House Museum

Address:

25 Brook Street, Mayfair, W1K 4HB (entrance at back)

Phone:

020-7495 1685

Website:

www.handelhouse.org

Opening times:

Tues, Wed, Fri, Sat 10:00–18:00; Thur 10:00–20:00; Sun 12:00–18:00

How to get there:

Tube: Bond Street

Entry fee:

Admission charge

Additional information:

Shop

From 1723, when he was appointed Composer to the Chapel Royal, until his death here in 1759, George Frideric Handel (1685–1759) lived and worked at this medium-sized Mayfair townhouse. Born in Halle, Saxony, Handel came to London in 1710, having been Kapellmeister to the Elector of Hanover, later King George I. What attracted him was the opportunity to stage Italian operas. In the next year his Rinaldo, at the Haymarket, proved a huge success. Naturalised a British citizen by Act of Parliament in 1727, he composed Zadok the Priest for the coronation of George II later in the same year. The anthem has been sung at all subsequent coronations. Concentrating increasingly on the composition of English oratorios, Handel’s work often drew parallels between British history and the Old Testament: they were patriotic pieces extolling by association the glories of the new Hanoverian dynasty. The most popular remains the Messiah (1741), of which regular Christmas charity performances in aid of the Foundling Hospital were given after 1750. After 1751, unsuccessful operations on his cataracts left Handel completely blind. Until that time, he was exceptionally prolific, composing some 50 operas and over 20 oratorios, as well as cantatas, concerti and instrumental pieces—the majority of them while he was living in the rooms that can be seen here.

The House

The Handel House Trust was founded in 1991 to honour and perpetuate the composer’s memory, and to promote the understanding and performance of his music. Ten years later, the Handel House Museum opened to the public, four rooms on the first and second floors having been restored to a likeness of their appearance during Handel’s occupancy. He was the first tenant of the house, which was part of the development of Lower Brook Street between 1717 and 1726.

A visit begins on the second floor, with a short video introduction, before proceeding into the first of the period rooms, possibly the composer’s dressing room. The wall panelling has been recreated in standard Georgian grey, hung with portraits either socially or culturally relevant to Handel, some on loan from national collections: there is one of Alexander Pope, who contributed libretti, another of the famous eccentric ‘musical small-coal man’ Thomas Britton, an itinerant coal vendor who held cramped but prestigious musical evenings every Thursday above his Clerkenwell coalshed.

The next room, at the front of the house, was Handel’s bedroom, now complete with an original 18th-century full tester bed, dressed in replica crimson harateen, a type of ribbed worsted fashionable at the time. The bed, as with all the museum’s furnishings, is of a type mentioned in the inventory of the house taken on Handel’s death (in this room) in 1759. On the panelled walls, among other pieces from the era, is a print of Francesco Bernardi, the famed castrato better known by his stage name Senesino.

The most obvious original interior feature of the house to survive can be seen next: the dog-leg staircase and balustrade banisters. The balusters are inverted to Baroque effect, possibly at Handel’s own request, while the ornamental carved tread ends, definitely of Handel’s time, revert to a simpler design for the flights up to the servant’s quarters above.

On the first floor are the two main rooms that Handel used for entertaining and composition. In the first front room stands a double-manual harpsichord, a copy of the composer’s Coleman Ruckers specially commissioned from Bruce Kennedy in 1998 and regularly practised upon by music students during museum opening hours. From here Handel ran his opera company, giving the first rehearsal of his opera Alcina, for example, in 1735. His dining habits in these rooms were the subject of the following anecdote, reported by Charles Burney in 1785: ‘During the repast, Handel cried out ‘Oh—I have de taught’ … the company begged he would retire and write them down, with which request he so frequently complied that, at last, one of the most suspicious had the ill-bred curiosity to peep through the key-hole into the adjoining room, where he perceived that ‘dese taughts’ were only bestowed on a fresh hamper of Burgundy’. Nevertheless, it was in this adjoining room, rather dark, at the back of the house, that Handel is believed to have composed all his works from the opera Giulio Cesare (1723) to his final oratorio Jephtha (1752). A fine portrait by Thomas Hudson of Charles Jennens, the librettist of Messiah, hangs on the wall.

From here there is access to no. 23 Brook St (incidentally where Jimi Hendrix stayed for about 18 months in 1968–69. He is honoured here with an exhibition of photographs taken during his time in the top flat; flat not open to the public). The Byrne Collection here consists of several hundred pieces of material relating to Handel, including letters, prints, portraits and manuscripts, such as the score for a Handel fugue arranged in Mozart’s hand in the early 1780s.

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Gravatar: MuseumMuseum
11.05.2015
09:53
Update from Handel House Museum

Please note the following changes:

The print of famed castrato Francesco Bernardi is no longer in the Bedroom.

The exhibition of Hendrix photographs are no longer on display and the flat is not open to the public. Following an award from the Heritage Lottery Fund the Handel House Trust is undergoing a capital project to permanently reinstate the Hendrix’s flat and create a Hendrix exhibition for the public to visit in addition to Handel’s house. It is due to open in early 2016.

The Byrne Collection is now the Handel House Collection Trust.

Please note that due to building work taking place at the museum the public entrance will be at the front of the house at No. 25 Brook Street from April 2015 for six months. There is currently no lift access or toilets within the building, but visitors will have the opportunity to use Handel’s original staircase. We advise that visitors call the museum office on 020 7495 1685 before visiting.

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Details below are taken from our Blue Guide Museums and Galleries of London.  This is a 2005 title, here generally updated for website address and opening times, with useful comments from some of the museums themselves.  More recent information is given in Emily Barber's magisterial new Blue Guide London, "Exceptional update to a classic and useful guide to this amazing city" (Amazon reader review).

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