Friday, 10 April 2009


Shock! Horror! Handel never used a shower! He urinated in pots in the bedroom. He wore a wig powdered with white lead. In the street he walked in piles of horse dung. He hung out with (scream!) Castrati!!!!! Through the heart of the city, the Thames flowed, scented with sewage. Puts a different perspective on Water Music, no? Snigger, sneer. Who does this guy Handel think he is getting all this honour? Clever folks like us know better.

The picture shows the Prince of Wales, red faced and sodden. Behind him is a chamberpot overflowing with more than pee, dripping onto his bills. If they can do that to royals with autocratic power, no way would they spare mere mortals. Eighteenth century ideas of decorum were savage, satires like this the norm. So it's not smart to assess evidence without appreciating the broader context. To us, 18th century lifestyles may seem gross but to people then they were advanced, much more civilized than generations before.

But sensation sells. If you want massive media coverage, pick on something shocking that attracts attention. Of course Handel was a pig, but there was infinitely more to the man than that. He lived to be 75, a decent age even now, and trhat without the basics of health care, hygiene and environmental quality we take for granted today. Even the Handel House Museum exhibition seems to be marketed to attract "smiters", however worthy it may be. Unfortunately the crasser the publicity, the more attention it gets. And it's not just Handel. One newspaper launched its online section with articles so moronic they were forwarded everywhere in derision. But it was successful, proving that cynical, petty minded self promotion gets results.

Relatively little is known about Handel the man, so visiting the composer's London home is a way of getting into his mindset. It's surprisingly cramped, the rooms are small, the stairs vertiginous. Yet Handel, a big, tall fellow, his companions and servants fitted their busy lives in this small space. I've been to recitals there, literally "chamber music", much more intimate than in any concert hall.

Yet Handel produced music so huge and magnificent that it's spread throughout the world. Handel was a Londoner, like so many others who may have come from far away, but made it their home. He conversed in several languages at once. His friends were cosmopolitan. He was up with everything that was happening in mainland Europe. He was right in the vanguard, at a time when new ideas about theatre and performance were being developed. Handel matters, even more now than in the past, because he was a European Londoner. Understanding his achievement helps us understand England, too, before Victorian values changed the way Britain is perceived and perceives itself. Nobody "needs" to enjoy Handel's music. But he represents more than his music. Handel is a part of our history, and not just British history.

To read a good article which is humorous but perceptive too, check out Neil Fisher in the Times. Google "How Handel became England's National Treasure". Great read.


Dodorock said...

Bravo for your site Anne

Your comments on 'filthy' Handel reminds me how hygienic, even comestic, up to the point of tyranny, musicmaking and society can be nowadays.

Also I feel that in some hidden corners of conservative societies like Mauritius (not just in badly famed streets or gardens by night), something of that 'flamboyant filth' has survived to create atmosphere (and sometimes works of art like novels).

I used to regard that as bad and to moralize without double thinking, until I felt that it was perhaps an heritage.

I saw a documentary on rural Brittany with very old women living exactly like the old creoles of our country. You could smell the same taste and sympathy of old things.

Then I reconnected with images of my youth in Nepal, because here the old muddy paths have disappeared to the profit of well

Here old buildings are all being pulled down one by one because they are thought too costly to be maintained or too dark and rotten.

But also wood and tin are regarded as un modern and colonial.

It is like depriving life with some of its meaning. If we bury our lives in concrete can we imagine what the past felt. Will we choose afterwards to be buried in concrete coffins.

This may sound ridiculous but maybe musicians should play less 'clean' to get closer to their lively ideal.


Doundou Tchil said...

Hello Olivier, wonderful to hear from youy after so long ! I don't even know what country you're living in now. All good wishes !