The Life of Handel by Victor Schoelcher (Author), Anton de Moresco (Editor), James Lowe (Translator)
|The Life of Handel by Victor Schoelcher (Author), Anton de Moresco (Editor), James Lowe (Translator)|
|Reviewer: John Van der Kiste|
|Summary: A newly revised edition of the composer and musician Handel, first published in 1857, based largely on contemporary newspaper reports, memoirs and letters.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 440||Date: February 2009|
|Publisher: Tiger of the Stripe|
Although he is probably best remembered for his active role in the abolition of slavery in the French colonies, and as a campaigner for women's rights, Victor Schoelcher was also a noted musicologist. His biography of the composer Handel, first published in 1857, was one of the first scholarly works on the subject, and at the time it was generally regarded as one of the finest portraits of a musician or composer ever written.
Anton de Moresco's revision leaves the spirit of the original more or less intact. He has confined his amendments mainly to modernizing the spelling and punctuation, with occasional alterations to the text. The book is aimed at a fairly scholarly readership, and if the style reads a little heavily at times, it was evidently a choice between that and dumbing down by rewriting the text on a major scale. It takes us in admirable detail through Handel's early life in Germany and Italy, through to his coming to England where he made a career for himself through benefiting from court and society patronage. The commissions from others, the unsuccessful theatre management on which he lost a small fortune, severe illness, and then a reversal in fortunes with the composing and staging of the 'Messiah' are all recounted with thoroughness.
Schoelcher draws heavily on and quotes at length from contemporary letters, journal articles and reviews. Sometimes the detail is perhaps a little too much for all but the specialist. Nevertheless, it is lightened with some comic anecdotes. One practical joker, knowing how much Handel hated hearing instruments being tuned, crept into the orchestra before a very important concert one night and untuned the lot. When the Prince of Wales arrived to listen, Handel gave the signal for the players to begin. Infuriated by the terrible discord which then ensued, he got up from his seat, overturned a double bass, seized a kettle drum which he threw at the leader of the band, and promptly lost his wig. Everyone else laughed while he stood, staring and stamping, for some moments, amidst the general convulsion of laughter, and it took the intervention of the Prince to calm him down and let the players tune their instruments so they could carry on.
This is not for the casual reader. But any serious student or lover of eighteenth-century music will find the detail, whether in discussing Handel's family background, his major works or his posthumous reputation, very rewarding. Thirty-five illustrations have been added to this edition – the original had none.
Our thanks to Tiger of the Stripe for sending a review copy to Bookbag.
For a more recent biography, why not also try Handel: The Man and His Music by Jonathan Keates. You might also enjoy Anecdotes of George Frederick Handel and John Christopher Smith by William Coxe and Peter Danckwerts (Editor).
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