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Trevor Wedlake's Writings
The Advocate

First published in the Village Journal February, 1974

On the 23rd February 1685, he was born in Halle, in Saxony-Anhalt, the son of a barber-surgeon, and by the capricious and arbitrary whim of grace, George Frideric Handel was the infant host of a musical genius seldom equalled and in some of its manifestations never excelled. By unflagging industry and enthusiasm he spurred his great talents to forge one of the most crucial pivots of our civilisation in the 18th century.

The post-reformation aftermath and all the turmoil of the 30 years' war had torn the German-speaking peoples apart for over a century and stunted their cultural development. The birth of Handel proved to be one of the first lights in the gloom.

Only four weeks later the birth of Johann Sebastian Bach at Eisenach down in Thuringia was the kindling of another inimitable flame. One wonders if history has always demanded such delicious symmetry. Handel’s father disliked music and wanted his son to be a lawyer, but George Frideric practiced the clavichord in secret, and at about 10 years old he became a pupil of the cathedral organist in Halle
and learned also the oboe and violin. Some compositions for oboe and bass written at this time are still extant.

In 1702 Handel entered Halle University to read law, but in that year he succeeded to the post of cathedral organist and after a year left for Hamburg where his musical career began in earnest.

Towards the end of Queen Anne’s sad reign Handel made his first trip to England; by 1712 he had virtually made his home here and in 1726 he became naturalised. In all his long life he never improved his thick German accent. Unlike Bach, a family man and father of 20 children, who remained a musician of modest means, Handel was a man about town who, as composer-impresario made several fortunes, twice went bankrupt and twice paid off his debts in full.

It may be that the non-musician has an advantage listening to music for pure enjoyment in that he is not concerned with the methods and technology of music; he is aware only of its effects. We are all experts on the effects of music. We are taught that Bach is timeless, universal, whilst Handel was a man completely of his age; but no great church or state occasion is complete today without a contribution from one of Handel's great works – gay or stately, or infinitely sad. They fill 100 volumes and almost equal the output of Bach and
Beethoven together.

By 1752 Handel was completely blind. He was operated on by the same surgeon who operated on Bach who was also blind by this time; both operations were failures. I have wondered sometimes who looked after Handel in his old age, blind and ridden with gout.

There was Mrs Cibber - Suzannah Maria Cibber - for whose beautiful voice Handel is said to have written the contralto arias in Messiah. She left her husband, Theophilus, soon after their marriage. She was an old friend of Handel. So maybe she was especially kind to the old man. Handel attended his last performance of Messiah a week before his death, which took place, not as he had hoped on Good Friday, but one day later, April 14th 1759.

I do not claim for Handel, as Shaw did for Mozart, that he was divine, but he has to be prominent in the musical pantheon, and at the first opportunity I went, a youthful votary, to Westminster Abbey to pay my homage.

A story of an advocate, for which I am indebted to Brian Lam, relates that Edward Shultz, an English visitor to Beethoven, (at whose name every musical head bows) , wrote in 1824, that he had heard Beethoven assert “Handel is the greatest, the ablest composer who ever lived; I would uncover my head and kneel at his tomb.”