Movers and Shakers of Music World
Hallelujah! Orchestrating a Financial Portfolio

GeorgIvonGroßbritannienGeorgFriedrichHaendelHammanWe all know that George Frideric Handel (1685-1759) was one of the all-time great composers. But did you know that he was also a big-time impresario who took exceedingly high risks and was not afraid to put his own money on the line? More than once in his entrepreneurial adventuring he was at the brink of total financial ruin! Handel originally learned the composer’s art in the city of Hamburg. In his twenties, however, he settled in Rome to work for the Cardinal Pietro Ottobini, and achieved initial fame as a young superstar composer. Once he returned to Germany, he initially accepted a position as director of court music for the Elector of Hanover. Restless and looking for a more cosmopolitan environment and richer pastures, Handel took leave of absence to visit London in 1713 and quickly decided to stay there for good.

For several years, Handel carefully build a network of friends and wealthy benefactors, among them the 3rd Earl of Burlington and the 4th Earl of Cork, both young and incredibly wealthy members of an Anglo-Irish aristocratic family. The Duke of Chandos became one of his most important patrons, and highly significantly, was the main subscriber to Handel’s new opera company, the “Royal Academy of Music.” Initially Handel worked as a salaried director of the opera company, but when the original financial backers lost all their money in the South Sea bubble, Handel was ordered to look for new singers. He traveled to Dresden and poached members for his own opera company, assuring a steady supply of singing talent for his London productions. Eventually, he became the principal impresario for the public performance of his own works, and he took huge financial gambles, including highly volatile investments in dodgy South Sea companies. Fortunately, Handel was able to supplement his income by receiving generous subsidies from the royal court. After a highly productive, yet financially unrewarding 9 years, the Royal Academy of Music closed its doors for good.

Loosing no time, Handel started a new company at the Queen’s Theatre at the Haymarket. He became joint manager of the theater, and more than 25 of his operas saw their public premieres in that venerable house. He traveled to Italy to engage new singer and busily composed a number of new operas. In 1733 he started his third company at Covent Garden Theatre, however the musical taste of the English public had undergone a fundamental change. Italian opera was described as “exotic and irrational entertainment,” and as the most important producer of opera, Handel worked tirelessly to keep his theatrical ventures solvent. Yet by 1739, he was once more on the edge of bankruptcy.
Determined to try once more to save Italian opera in London, Handel spent the summer of 1740 arranging production details for his upcoming winter season. He completed what proved to be his last two operas, both of which failed miserably on the stage. Imeneo, premiered on 22 November but closed after only two performances, Deidamia closed after three. Handel’s publisher could not find enough subscribers to even print the score of Deidamia. Handel withdrew from public life and rumors flourished that he was finished in London.

However, Handel was clearly not finished. Adapting to the musical taste of the time he created the English oratorio. For Handel, the oratorio afforded Handel at least three major advantages. Since it was sung in English it appealed to a broader audience, it was better suited to bolstering the imperial side of the British spirit by celebrating the triumph of righteous people, and it was much cheaper to produce! As such, Handel pressed his proven skills as an opera dramatist into the service of the oratorio. His first efforts in the genre attracted little attention, but we all know what happened with Messiah, premiered in 1742. Handel was the dominant figure in musical London almost from the moment of his arrival. Creatively probing a constantly changing business environment, and enduring extraordinary financial ups and downs, Handel built up a considerable investment portfolio and died a rich man!

George Frideric Handel: Imeneo

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