Memoirs of the Life of the Late George Frederic Handel – Richard Wistreich

by John Mainwaring
edited and directed by Bernhard Trebuch
read by Richard Wistreich

The first major biography of a composer

What moved John Mainwaring (1724 – 1807) to publish his biography of George Frederic Handel anonymously? Little did the author know, when his small octavo volume entitled Memoirs of the Life of the late George Frederic Handel appeared in 1760 in London, that it was the first western biography of a musician ever to be published. 

Let us assume that the young theologian was simply modest, unwilling to boast about the several years of meticulous fact-collecting and conversations with the composer himself, his companions, friends and rivals, which enabled him to put together a compendium upon which much Handel research is based even today.

Admittedly, Mainwaring leaves many gaps; there is all too little personal detail in this first biography, so that we are left in the dark about much of the private life of the great musician. Today we may speculate about the sexual nature, the soft skills or psychological configuration of Halle’s most important son; the Memoirs are of no great help. They portray a full-blooded musician who pursued his passion up until his dying breath without any regard for his own health.

It would be churlish to criticise Mainwaring for historical misrepresentation, more than two hundred and fifty years after Handel’s death, simply because unimportant corrections can be made here and there today. Headstrong, ambitious, fearless, an artist with business acumen, a man who enjoyed taking risks – this is the portrait of the Saxon giant in Rome, London or taking the waters in ­Aachen. A workaholic, a gourmet addicted to immoderate culinary enjoyment that Mainwaring felt obliged to defend – such is the image of Handel we may derive from the Englishman’s writings. At the same time, his biography fulfils both literary and musicological demands in its description of a life and its commentary on the works; a treasure in the genre of the 18th century memoir and still a welcome vademecum for every Handel lover today.

Bernhard Trebuch

Memoirs of the Life of the Late George Frederic Handel - Richard Wistreich

Memoirs of the Life of the Late George Frederic Handel – Richard Wistreich

John Mainwaring | author

Bernhard Trebuch | editor & director

Richard Wistreich | narrator

fb 2001919
total time c 175 min.
EAN 4260307431990

released in April 2020


Memoirs of the Life of the Late George Frederic Handel – Richard Wistreich

1. Title page
2. Birth and first adventure of the six year-old
3. First test at the Duke of Saxe-Weißenfels
4. Decision to foster his musical talent
5. Apprenticeship in Halle with Zachau
6. At court in Berlin with Buononcini and Ariosti
7. Refusal of the Kings sponsorship
8. The Hamburg opera
9. Situation at the Hamburg opera
10. Squabbles in Hamburg and a commission
11. Handel’s operas in Hamburg
12. Contact with a Tuscan Prince
13. Setting out for Italy
14. A glance at music in Italy and in France
15. Florence
16. «Rodrigo»
17. Venice
18. «Agrippina»
19. Rome encounters with Corelli
20. «Il trionfo del tempo e del disinganno»
21. Encounters with Alessandro and Domenico Scarlatti
22. At the Cardinals Colonna and Pamphilii – Attempts at conversion – «La Resurrezione»
23. More of Italy, inter alia Naples
24. Engagement at the Hanoverian court – Visits to Halle and Düsseldorf
25. First journey to London – State of music there
26. «Rinaldo» and a sketch of the librettist Rossi
27. Back in Hanover
28. Second journey to England
29. Handel’s unwillingness to return to Germany – The Elector of Hanover becomes King of England
30. «Water Music»
31. Acquaintance with Lord Burlington, Pope and the Duke of Chandos
32. To Dresden in quest of singers
33. «Radamisto»
34. «Academy» at the Haymarket Theatre
35. Quarrels with Senesino and Cuzzoni
36. A company with Heidegger – New singers from Italy – Move to Lincoln’s Inn Fields
37. Move to Covent Garden – Crisis of self-confidence
38. Cure in Aachen
39. New attempts at the Haymarket Theatre
40. A turn of attention to Oratorio
41. In Dublin: «Messiah» as benefit concert
42. Return to London – Applause for Oratorios
43. «Messiah» for the Foundling Hospital – Death
44. Blindness – Loss of appetite – The character of the man to explain the artist
45. Catalogue of the works: Overview and general remarks
46. List of works
47. Observations on the works: General rules and scientific principles – Invention and taste, together with their application in Handel’s case
48. Quotation with a comparison of german and italian styles – Handel’s preference for the italian
49. Italian music since Palestrina
50. Interaction between Handel and the italians – Handel’s particular mastery in choral and sacred music
51. Value of harmony and melody in instrumental and vocal music
52. Uneven success in Handel
53. Tartini as example of vocal writing for instruments
54. Importance of textual considerations in composition
55. Exceptional nature of Handels choral music notwithstanding Pope’s criticism
56. Effects of Handels oratorio style – «Messiah»
57. Particular effect of recitative in expressing religion and humanity
58. Duets and trios – «Acis and Galatea» as perfect composition
59. Qualities of instrumental music
60. Keyboard music
61. Place and significance of religion and humanity in Handel’s works
62. Exemplary character of Handel’s works

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