Although Handel was born in 1685 in Halle, Germany, he came to London when he was 38 and became a British citizen in February 1727. He lived at 25 Brook Street until he died in 1759.
Handel’s House which was built in 1723, is a typical Georgian town house with five floors. As well as being its first occupant, it was also Handel’s first home of his own. Today, Handel’s House bears the iconic blue plaque and occupies two floors of 25 Brook Street. The house has been lovingly restored with paintings, prints and furniture which, although not ‘original Handel’, give a feeling of what Handel’s everyday life in London was like. On the first floor is Handel’s composition room and music room, and on the second, his bedroom and dressing room. The kitchen would have been in the basement and there would also have been a front parlour where he sold his printed music and tickets for concerts.
Famous for his oratorios, operas, anthems and organ concertos, Handel worked very quickly and productively in this room which is situated at the back of the house where it would have been quieter. Handel began writing his opera, Faramondo, here on 15 November and finished it on 24 December. He began his next opera, Serse, straight afterwards on 25 December although this date has been crossed out and replaced with 26 December (he obviously thought to take Christmas Day off!).
Writing opera during 18th century England, was financially precarious. It was the responsibility of the composer to rent the theatre, hire the singers and musicians, pay for the set and costumes and sell the tickets! It was hard to make a decent profit and the Italian operas he had been writing during his early London years fell out of fashion. He began developing the oratorio which did away with the need for expensive scenery, costumes and props. His oratorio, Messiah, which consists of 53 pieces of music, was written in just 24 days in this very room. He also composed other famous works from here, including Zadok the Priest and Music for the Royal Fireworks.
The original score of Messiah can be seen in the British Library.
Although officially the dining room, Handel used this room to rehearse and perform. He would often invite friends and patrons round to hear the soloists and performers rehearse before the start of each season. Some of the soloists were particularly difficult to work with. When the soprano Francesca Cuzzoni refused to sing the aria Falsa imagine from his opera, Ottone during a rehearsal, Handel grabbed her round the waist and threatened to throw her out of the window!
This room was also Handel’s dining room. He was a lover of fine food and drink and enjoyed the delights of his cook, Gustavus Waltz, who was also a choral singer as well as a soloist.
Today, concerts are held in this room every Tuesday evening.
Located on the second floor, Handel’s bedroom has been beautifully restored with furniture typical of the period. The bed is short as people of this era generally slept sitting upright, as it was believed to aid digestion. The room would also have served as a bathroom. It is believed that Handel died here on 14 April 1759. Handel’s funeral was given full state honours and was attended by 3,000 people. He is buried in Westminster Abbey.
If Handel had married and had children, this would have been a second bedroom. Instead, he had the luxury of a dressing room. Handel would have kept his clothes and wigs here and his manservant would have helped him to dress. He wore an enormous white wig that shook when he was happy and was deadly still when he was not! Handel suffered failing sight in the last decade of his life and eventually became completely blind. A bed was placed in this room towards the end of his life so that a servant could be on hand to provide care.
Handel & Hendrix in London,
25 Brook Street
London W1K 4HB
Nearest tube station: Bond Street