George Frideric Handel was born in Germany, but he spent a whopping 47 years in London, arriving here when he was just 26. He went on to write some of the world’s most famous operas and oratorios in the capital and became the toast of London town. His patrons included a queen, two Georgian kings and friends who were the regal and artistic who’s who of London. Come with me and the maestro, let’s take a baroque walk and visit some Handel locations in London.
- 25 Brook Street: the Handel and Hendrix Museum
- The Foundling Museum
- Handel at the Victoria and Albert Museum
- Handel at the National Portrait Gallery
- Handel at the National Gallery
- St Lawrence’s Whitchurch, Stanmore
- Her Majesty’s Theatre, Haymarket (previously Queen’s Theatre Haymarket and King’s Theatre, Haymarket)
- Theatre Royal, Covent Garden (now Royal Opera House)
- St George’s Hanover Square
- Burlington House (now the Royal Academy)
- Kensington Palace
- Chiswick House
- Green Park
- St Paul’s Cathedral
- British Library
- Westminster Abbey
- Hungry for more Handel in London?
25 Brook Street: the Handel and Hendrix Museum
Let’s start with his home house at No 25 Brook Street in Mayfair, Handel’s home for nearly 40 years until his death in 1759. His greatest ceremonial pieces, operas and oratorios were composed here, including “Messiah” and “Zadok the Priest.” It’s now home to the Handel and Hendrix museum (Hendrix lived in a flat at No 23). I would pay good money to know what these two bedfellows would have made of each other. You can read more about Handel’s house here.
The Foundling Museum
Handel was a benefactor and governor of The Foundling Hospital, Britain’s first home for abandoned children. He raised significant money for the Foundling with his performances of the world’s most famous choral piece, “Messiah,” and would go on to leave a copy of the oratorio in his will to the charity. You can see the Messiah score and his original will on the second floor of what is now a delightful museum, together with various other Handelian artefacts. In addition, the Gerald Coke Handel Collection reading room holds 12,000 research items for the study of Handel, including manuscripts, documents, libretti and sound recordings (open by appointment only).
Fun fact: on the 27 May 1749, Handel staged a concert to pay for the Foundling’s chapel. Ladies were told not to wear hoops and men had to leave their swords at home in order to make as much room as possible for the expected crowds.
Handel at the Victoria and Albert Museum
You can see Handel in all his marble glory at the V and A, in a statue made by the French sculptor, Louis-François Roubiliac. It was first commissioned by Jonathan Tyers, the creator of London’s pleasure gardens at Vauxhall, and it remained there for 80 years. The sculpture would establish Roubiliac as an important artist; he would go on to make a total of four Handel works, including a monument at Westminster Abbey.
Handel at the National Portrait Gallery
Step into the National Portrait Gallery to see Handel’s iconic portrait by Thomas Hudson, and then head over to the National Gallery next door. On display in Room 12.
Handel at the National Gallery
No need to go inside for this one: just look up at those majestic columns in the portico. These were once part of the Cannons country estate in Edgware, home to James Brydges, Duke of Chandos. The Duke was one of Handel’s early supporters. The composer would became the house’s resident composer-in-residence from 1717 to 1718, creating “Esther” as well as the “Chandos Anthems” here. The Duke would go on to help Handel establish the Royal Academy of Music.
St Lawrence’s Whitchurch, Stanmore
Staying with the Duke of Chandos, you might want to make a small trek from central London to Stanmore and to St Lawrence’s Whitchurch. This was once named the Chandos church, and it seems Handel may have first performed the “Chandos Anthems” here. Tucked away at the eastern end of the church is an organ which is thought to have been used by Handel.
Her Majesty’s Theatre, Haymarket (previously Queen’s Theatre Haymarket and King’s Theatre, Haymarket)
In 1711, London was treated to Handel’s “Rinaldo” at the Queen’s Theatre, Haymarket. It featured the castrati stars Nicolo Grimaldi and Valentino Urbani and was a roaring success. “Rinaldo” would become the most frequently performed opera during Handel’s lifetime. He would go on to stage another 25 operas at the theatre before moving to John Rich’s Covent Garden Theatre. The original King’s Theatre burnt down in 1789 and in 1867. The current theatre you see today dates from 1897, and it’s been home to “Phantom of the Opera” since 1986.
Theatre Royal, Covent Garden (now Royal Opera House)
Handel was musical director at Covent Garden and over 20 of his operas as well as numerous oratorios were staged here. The current building dates from 1858 with substantial add-ons and renovations during the 1990s and in 2018.
St George’s Hanover Square
Handel was a regular worshipper at St George’s Hanover Square (also the site of Alfred Doolittle’s wedding in “My Fair Lady,”) and he had his own pew in the church. Today, it plays host to the annual Handel Festival. You can download this season’s brochure here.
Burlington House (now the Royal Academy)
Richard Boyle, 3rd Earl of Burlington, was one of the most influential artistic patrons of the day (he was nicknamed the Apollo of the Arts). His artistic circle included Alexander Pope, John Gay and Handel, who lived in Burlington House for three years as a guest of the Earl. He wrote “Ode for the Birthday of Queen Anne” (Eternal Source of Light Divine) here. Lord Burlington was also involved in the establishment of the Foundling Hospital.
Handel composed several works for Queen Caroline, wife of George II. He provided music lessons for her children at Kensington Palace, and George II also invited Handel to perform here. The monarch would eventually bestow British citizenship on the composer with an Act of Parliament.
Another of Lord Burlington’s mega-pads is Chiswick House in leafy west London. Handel also spent time here.
On the 22 April 1749, there was a 3-hour carriage jam in the capital. The cause? The throng of 12,000 Londoners trying to get to the Vauxhall Gardens for a rehearsal of the Royal Fireworks which was to take place five days later in Green Park. Handel composed the Music for the Royal Fireworks which would last nine hours and during which a fire would kill two people. Handel would rescore the music for a concert at the Foundling Hospital on May 27.
St Paul’s Cathedral
Handel played the organ at St Paul’s Cathedral, sometimes locking himself in for the night. Handel liked to have a tipple at the Queen Anne’s Tavern in St Paul’s Churchyard next door, which sadly no longer exists.
The British Library holds a substantial collection of Handel’s works including a signed copy of “Messiah.” The Library also holds 16,500 digital images of Handel’s manuscripts, from “Galatea” to “Zadok the Priest.”
Handel’s final resting place is in the Abbey’s south transept, a fitting place for the man who wrote the British coronation anthem. 3000 people attended the funeral service on 20 April 1759.
Hungry for more Handel in London?
Make sure you check the events diary at Handel and Hendrix as well as the annual London Baroque Festival, Handel Festival in London and Barnes Music Festival. The Foundling Museum also puts on Handel concerts and events throughout the year. It’s worth seeing if the Royal Opera House, the English National Opera, Opera Holland Park, the Barbican and Southbank are putting on any Handel productions. You can also check this handy website for Handel events in London throughout the year.
I highly recommend the excellent “Handel in London” by Jane Glover, in which you’ll discover even more Handel locations in London. If the Georgians have piqued your interest, “Courtiers” by Lucy Worsley is a fun read.
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