Handel: Anecdotes and Illustrations
Proposed by Marten Noorduin
Here are a few amusing reflections from the contemporary musical press about George Frideric Handel.
The American Musical Journal, Vol. 1 No. 1 (1 October 1834): /1.
A corpulent man, Handel’s love of food and drink was a common subject of anecdotes. Some journals published accounts portraying the composer’s victual indulgences as acts of gluttony and greed.
The Euterpeiad, or Musical Intelligencer, Vol. 1 No. 39, (23 December 1820): 156.
Interestingly, this particular anecdote from The Euterpeiad is quite similar to one published two years later in a book entitled Anecdotes, Biographical Sketches and Memoirs by English novelist Laetitia-Matilda Hawkins. In this version, the “friend of Handel” is painter and engraver Joseph Goupy. “Enraged” that Handel stowed away a table of delicacies for himself, Goupy soon after created a piece of art “in which Handel figures as a hog in the midst of dainties.” Known as “The charming Brute,” this depiction of Handel sitting at the organ surrounded by items of personal decadence has several iterations. The London journal Concordia (1875-1876) produced a facsimile of one of the engravings.
Joseph Goupy, “The charming Brute,” ca. 1750.
Concordia, Vol. 2 No. 38 (15 January 1876): 37
Two other versions of Goupy’s scathing illustration of Handel contain many similarities: the wine cask organ bench, the lavish meats hanging from the organ, and the composer’s hoggish features.
Joseph Goupy, “The charming Brute,” ca. 1750. Fitzwilliam Museum Cambridge.
Joseph Goupy, “The charming Brute,” ca. 1750. Bridgeman Art Library.
Anecdotes about Handel also memorialized the composer’s sharp wit, sharper tongue, and, at times, bouts of irritability. The tale below tells of what might have happened if Handel reviewed someone else’s composition.
The Musical Journal, Vol. 2 No. 36 (8 September 1840): 150.
The Musical Herald, Vol. 6 No. 3 (March 1885): 56.
Those questioning the composer’s own musical decisions were subjected to perhaps worse vitriol.
The Euterpeiad, or Musical Intelligencer, Vol. 1, No. 32 (4 November 1820): 128.
The Harmonicon, Vol. 1 No. 9 (September 1823): [1p] 116/117.
Finally, as the anecdote below details, Handel’s propensity for criticism was apparently not only limited to others, but also to himself.
The Musical World, Vol. 38 No. 27 (7 July 1860): 435.
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 Laetitia-Matilda Hawkins, Anecdotes, Biographical Sketches and Memoirs (London: F. C. and J. Rivington, 1822), 195ff, as quoted in Ellen T. Harris, “Joseph Goupy and George Frideric Handel: From Professional Triumphs to Personal Estrangement,” Huntington Library Quarterly, Vol. 71 No. 3 (September 2008): 432.