Handel’s operatic rivals struggle while he suffers from health problems before travelling to Ireland to present a new work, an oratorio based on biblical texts he calls Messiah.
Handel in London tells the story of a young German composer who in 1712, followed his princely master to London and would remain there for the rest of his life. That master would become King George II and the composer was George Frederic Handel. He would be at the heart of musical activity in London for the next four decades, composing masterpiece after masterpiece, whether the glorious coronation anthem, Zadok the Priest, operas such as Giulio Cesare and Alcina or the great oratorios, culminating, of course, in Messiah. Jane Glover, who has conducted Handel’s work in opera houses and concert halls throughout the world, draws on her profound understanding of music and musicians to tell Handel’s story.
Jane Glover is ideally placed to show us how these pieces continue to glitter. Eloquent on the core Handel repertoire, Giulio Cesare, Ariodante and Alcina, she portrays the master as a creative iconoclast, playing fast and loose with structural norms for the sake of emotional authenticity... Wisely, I think, this book does not dwell too much on the reasoning behind Handel’s shift, during the 1730s, from Italian opera to English-language oratorio... In approaching its subject’s oeuvre, Handel in London is selective... We can enjoy this book, however, as a keenly focused tribute to Handel from someone within his own professional milieu. At a time when most perspectives on Handel tend to be historical or biographical, Glover turns our gaze towards the creative artist, resilient, original and inspired, and asks us to listen more attentively to his tuneful voice.
This remarkable book supplies a detailed musical analysis of many of the 70 dramatic works and other vocal and instrumental pieces he composed there. Aided by contemporary witness accounts, Glover paints a vivid picture of Handel, his music and his life in London... Handel in London is a delight to read. It benefits enormously from being written by an expert who knows and loves the repertoire; and there is an extensive reader-friendly index. The bibliography contains some 50 volumes by authors who deal with Handel’s music, but not one of them treats exclusively the topic she has chosen — and few of them can match the panache of her prose.
Reading the conductor Jane Glover’s beautifully written account of George Frederick Handel’s professional life in the British capital, it might strike you that remarkably little has changed in the past 280-odd years... Glover lays out Handel’s many admirable qualities: for example, he nurtured the best young singers, tailoring roles specifically to their strengths. Often this is not merely illuminating, but also touching... But Glover can sometimes be too respectful of her subject, downplaying, for example, his reputedly irascible temper. In a perhaps slightly dutiful chronicling of opera after opera, she keeps technical terminology to a minimum. Still, she absolutely nails broader musical issues, notably the problems posed by the ubiquitous “da capo” aria (a three-section structure in which the third part repeats the first, but with improvised embellishments)... This book’s main achievement, though, is to evoke with admirable clarity and sympathy the rich, interdependent symbiosis between Handel, his singers, his audiences, the royal family and the great capital city that housed their life and work.
Jane Glover, who has spent most of her career conducting music from the 18th century, is well placed to write about this unusual, brilliant man... She is good on the Hanoverian chess game that brings Georg Ludwig to the throne; good too on the rise of Italian opera in the capital and its eventual supplantation by English oratorio. She writes well about the music, employing evocative, untechnical language... Yet the problem with Handel — with this biography too, I suppose — is that the gap between certainty and speculation is so great... Glover’s approach is fine and good, but it leaves Handel looking a little gauzy... There are also odd repetitions, which can happen when a book is written between gigs over a comparatively long period... The story of Handel in London is an inspiring and reassuring tale, never more so than now as musicians throughout Europe glumly await the reshaping of their careers post-Brexit. And though it is here told with fluency, Glover doesn’t quite reconcile her genuine musical insights with the historical demands of the task at hand.