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Handel in London – four online talks by Richard Wigmore

posted on 17/08/22


By the late 1720s Handel’s operatic fortunes were waning. Yet with indomitable willpower he remained undaunted. Never short of confidence or savoir-faire, the young Handel seems to have set out to become the supreme musical cosmopolitan. After a thorough training in his native Saxony, he honed his command of supple bel canto melody during a three-year sojourn in Italy. He then headed for London, where he scored an immediate sensation with his ‘magic’ opera, Rinaldo. The following year, 1712, the brilliant young Saxon made London his permanent home. He quickly became the de facto resident composer of the Haymarket opera company and a court ‘insider’. Long before he took British citizenship in 1727, Handel was being acclaimed as ‘the Orpheus of our Century’, and Purcell’s undisputed successor as Britain’s national composer.

Complementing a biographical portrait of the composer with a discussion of key works, Richard Wigmore’s latest series celebrates Handel’s colourful, often turbulent, career in his adopted land: from his spell as composer to James Brydges, Duke of Chandos, through his fluctuating fortunes as operatic composer-impresario, to his final creative decade, dominated by oratorios for a puritanically inclined audience.

They take place every Thursday from 23rd February to 16th March at 4.30pm (GMT) and, including Q&A, will probably last an hour. They are available for viewing for eight weeks after the last episode is streamed (11th May 2023).

Register for the webinar series for £55


The talks 

1. The Saxon conquers London: 1711-1719 (23rd February 2023)

After the triumph of Rinaldo and his permanent move to London, Handel was hailed by the musical world as a ‘national acquisition’. This talk focuses on Handel’s glittering early years in the capital, culminating in his time as unofficial composer (Handel always remained robustly independent) to the Duke of Chandos at Cannons. Here he composed the enchanting masque Acis and Galatea and the religious drama Esther, which he later expanded into a fully-fledged oratorio.

2. The Royal Academy Years, 1719-1729 (2nd March 2023)

Samuel Johnson famously dubbed Italian opera ‘an exotic and irrational entertainment’. This favourite pastime of the aristocracy was also formidably expensive, not least because of the exorbitant fees demanded by preening prima donnas and castrati. In a decade overwhelmingly  devoted to opera, Handel had his share of run-ins with his singers at the Royal Academy. But operas such as Giulio Cesare and Rodelinda confirm the composer not only as a supreme melodist but also a master dramatist.

3. A Decade of Uncertainty: the 1730s (9th March 2023)

By the late 1720s Handel’s operatic fortunes were waning. Yet with indomitable willpower he remained undaunted. In 1734 he moved his operations from the King’s Theatre to Covent Garden, where he scored a final operatic triumph with Alcina. However, Handel now began to hedge his bets, mixing Italian opera with oratorios and other English-language works. At the end of the decade, he produced two of his most monumental works, Saul and Israel in Egypt. They would point the way forward.

4. The Triumph of Oratorio: the 1740s (16th March 2023)

After the failure of Deidamia in 1741, Handel abandoned opera for good and devoted himself to oratorio, aimed less at the aristocratic elite than a middle-class public who demanded edification as well as entertainment. This talk explores the ever-fertile composer’s last creative decade in works ranging from the pastoral ode L’Allegro ed il Penseroso, via the chorally resplendent Solomon – an idealised portrait of George II – to his searching final masterpieces, Theodora and Jephtha.

The speaker

Richard Wigmore

Music writer, lecturer and broadcaster for BBC Radio 3. He writes for BBC Music Magazine and Gramophone and has taught classes in Lieder history and interpretation at the Guildhall, Trinity College of Music and Birkbeck College. He read French and German at Cambridge and later studied Music at the Guildhall. His publications include Schubert: The Complete Song Texts and Pocket Guide to Haydn.

Register for the webinar series for £55

Frequently asked questions

What methods of payment do you accept?

An electronic invoice will be sent to your e-mail address 1–3 working days after you have completed our registration form. Payment can be made online using AMEX, Apple Pay, Google Pay, MasterCard or Visa.

How do I purchase the webinar series as a gift?

Please contact us specifying how many subscriptions you would like and who they are for (we require their full name and e-mail address). We will invoice you directly, and after we have received your payment we will release the webinar joining instructions to your friend(s) or family member(s).

Can I purchase a single episode?

No, unfortunately not. The series must be purchased in full.

How do I join the webinar?

An e-mail confirmation will be sent to you after you have paid for your subscription, which includes your unique link for joining the webinar. Reminder e-mails will be sent to you one day and one hour before each event. We recommend that you download the Zoom software in advance of the first webinar.

Can I watch the live broadcast(s) on more than one device?

Only one device can be connected to the live broadcast(s) at any one time. If you wish to purchase a second subscription, please contact us.

What happens if I am unable to attend the live broadcast(s)? 

A recording will be uploaded to a dedicated webpage approximately two hours after the live broadcast. For copyright reasons, these recordings cannot be made available indefinitely; access is granted for eight weeks after the final live broadcast of the series.

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