A Handel museum

Havergal Brian

Selected and annotated by Malcolm MacDonald

Suggestions that the house in Brook Street where Handel lived should be bought by public subscription and utilised for a Handel Museum have apparently some responding interest in the offices of The Daily Telegraph, for approving letters seem sure of insertion6. A plausible project has been suggested by one correspondent, that each choral society in England should give a special performance of the ‘Messiah’, which would quickly raise the £25,000 said to be necessary. But what then? Few relics exist, and scarcely any would be freely surrendered, or even loaned. The really valuable properties are the Handel manuscripts, the property of the Crown, kept in a specified room at the British Museum. Inheriting them himself from Handel, J Christopher Smith bequeathed them to the King. Judged by the price recently obtained at auction for a few sheets, the Handel manuscripts at the British Museum should be worth half a million pounds. One whimsical person, with a mind that confuses commerce with sentiment, declares that the cost of the Handel pension of £600 is thereby retrieved!

Would the State relinquish this priceless treasure, or any part of it, to be housed in a place more or less in danger from fire only a mile away! Still, I hope that something will be done to satisfy the commendable craving for a Handel shrine in London. There is a paucity of first-hand information about the composer which regulated research might supply. Anecdotes are in abundance: but such apocrypha do not make the life of a great composer. As Handel lived so comparatively recently, and always in the limelight, it is perplexing that so little is known of his daily life. What is known of his enigmatical mind has to be derived from his works, and this may lead to the wrong conclusions. Moreover, in Germany — the country of museums and monuments to musicians — they have nothing to Handel except the statue at Halle, his reputed birthplace. There they also spoke of a museum, but the suggestion faded out when it was realised that little or nothing would be obtainable to show.

  1. This appeal, like several others, was a failure. The most recent appeal (in 1997/8) also failed to generate sufficient income, but subsequently the Handel House Trust Ltd (located at 10 Stratford Place, London W1) began to work in co-operation with the current owners of Handel's house (the Co-Operative Insurance Society) to create a museum there. On 24 June 1999 the Trust and CIS signed an agreement allowing the Trust to lease the second and third storeys of 23 and 25 Brook Street for the next 25 years at a peppercorn rent for this purpose. Full details of the endeavour, including an article on the house by Julie Anne Sadie and a link for donations to the Trust, may be found at http://www.intr.net/bleissa/handel/handelshouse.html ↩︎

Musical opinion, August 1937, p. 954