The Handel Institute
The Handel Institute

Issue 1: November 2001

Interview with Jacqueline Riding
(Director of the Handel House Museum, Brook Street, London).

Introduction: The Handel House Museum finally opened its doors to the general public on 8 November 2001, after more years of disappointment and frustration and less government funding that any Handelian would have wished for. The Museum was originally the brain child of well known baroque music experts Stanley and Julie Anne Sadie, who believed that there should be an organised Museum devoted to Handel created in the Brook Street house where the composer lived from 1723 until his death in 1759.

David Vickers ("DV") spoke to Jacqueline Riding ("JR") - the current Director of the Museum - about some less obvious and generally unadvertised aspects of the Museum's foundation, and also asked her what kind of role The Handel House Museum will take in the ever-growing international Handelian world.

DV: In a recent issue of the popular British magazine 'History Today' there was a small article (on pages 4-5) comparing the Handel House Museum (London) with the Händelhaus (Halle). What kind of relationship has been cultivated between the Brook Street house and the Georg-Friedrich-Händel-Gesellschaft (Halle)?

JR: I had the very great pleasure of visiting Halle in June - with some members of the British press - and met Dr. Werner, Gert Richter and the team. We have established a very friendly relationship with our sister ship in Halle, and promote it to our visitors. After the new Museum in London has settled down, I will be contacting Gert Richter and Dr. Werner about how we can best promote each other, and discuss what collaborative initiatives we could do particularly around the Halle and London Handel festivals.

DV: Does the Handel House Museum enjoy a close relationship with the London Handel Festival?

JR: Yes - Denys Darlow, the Artistic Director and founder of the London Handel Festival, has been one of our trustees for many years. The festival is centred around St. George’s Church in Hanover Square, just down the road from the Handel House Museum. We would be surprised if people coming to festival events at St. George's did not also want to visit the house, and vice versa.

DV: Does the Handel House Museum also hope to cultivate links with other such Handel organisations at home and abroad?

JR: We already enjoy links with many different institutions, both those that focus specifically on Handel and also more general arts organisations. The Handel House Museum is going to be the main public face of Handel in London, and visitors wishing to gain an understanding of Handel will want to come to Brook Street. But such visitors will also enjoy other experiences: to visit The Foundling Museum, Westminster Abbey, St. Paul's Cathedral, The Victoria & Albert Museum, The Tate Gallery, The National Portrait Gallery, and of course The British Library. And then, of course, there is the music: we have relationships with The Academy of Ancient Music, The Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, English National Opera, Glyndebourne, and with the London conservatoires such as the Royal College of Music and the Royal Academy of Music. None of these relationships is particularly "exclusive", but we have been particularly keen to establish partnerships with the education teams of some of these institutions.

DV: Hasn't the Handel House Museum benefited from the generosity of several well known musicians donating their services for fund-raising events?

JR: There has been an extraordinary response to this project from all sorts of people - not least the leading musicians. Christopher Hogwood was one of the early trustees; Janet Baker, William Christie, Colin Davis, John Eliot Gardiner, Emma Kirkby, Nicholas McGegan, Charles Mackerras, Neville Marriner, Trevor Pinnock, Joan Sutherland, David Willcocks have all been on our Committee of Honour since the project’s foundation. Many of them have given concerts and recitals for Handel House. More recently others such as Michael Chance and Lesley Garrett have sung for Handel House. But I would also like to stress the breadth of the support and interest; many thousands of people have supported the project and people from all over the world.

DV: Of course, the Handel House Museum is not only the partial reconstruction of the composer's home, but also of architectural and artistic interest in its own right. The Museum has therefore also attracted the interest of groups such as The Georgian Group.

JR: Yes, the Georgian Group held a symposium in collaboration with us. We invited guest speakers to talk about various areas of the restoration, such as textiles, panelling, prints, furniture, paint, etc. An invited audience of specialists and curators from other fields of expertise were also present. The papers and subsequent discussions formed the basis for our approach to the restoration of the Handel House, and many of the speakers became consultants and advisors on the project.

DV: What sources has the reconstruction of the Georgian interior been based on? Which other buildings of the period have served as models?

JR: The most important sources of evidence have been the adjoining buildings, 23 and 27/29 Brook Street. These were built at the same time as 25 by the same developer, and almost certainly the same craftsmen. This informed us about the panelling, cornice, dado, window seat and shutter profiles (the 1st and 2nd floor survive in both buildings). Paint analysis on surviving panelling and a door in 25 suggested lead or grey was the original colour when Handel first moved into the house. This was backed up by analysis in 23, where the original panelling survived. The use of chocolate brown was found in both 25 and 23. The inventory taken after Handel's death was used as the basis for the introduction of soft furnishings (crimson harrateen, green silk, etc.) as well as furniture, including a full tester bed, oak tables, rush matted chairs, etc.

DV:  The museum will also be co-ordinating educational projects .

JR: We will have a very full educational programme, are already working with a number of schools, and have had our first events. There will also be programmes for families in the house, and also a number of events aimed at adults. Some of these are being organised in conjunction with organisations such as English National Opera.

DV: What kind of role will Handel's music have in the daily life of the museum?

JR: The Trust have contacted music colleges, and we are encouraging students to use the Museum for rehearsing and practice. So far this has been a great success. On Thursday evenings between 6-8 p.m., the Museum holds more formal concerts which are part of the normal admission price. We also have an interpreter in costume as J.C. Smith [Handel's assistant and principal copyist] , who plays the two Museum harpsichords. Both instruments - as far as we can tell - are built on the same specifications as Handel's own instruments. One of these is a replica of the harpsichord in the famous Mercier portrait of Handel. Our education programme also involves activities relating to Handel's music, as well as other activities located at venues such as St. George's Hanover Square.

DV: What kinds of Handelian objects are displayed in the House?

JR: The Museum boasts an extensive display of paintings and prints related to Handel and his contemporaries. The centre piece is the portrait of Handel by Philip Mercier, kindly loaned by Lord Malmesbury. In addition, there will be a rotating display of objects from the Collection, including items such as printed scores and manuscripts of general interest to visitors. There is also a reserve collection - although not accessible on a "study room" basis - that will be available to scholars through application to the Director.

DV: Handel was known to collect fine art. How is this reflected in the interior of the Handel House Museum?

JR: Handel had owned at least 80 different canvasses up until his death, suggesting that all available wall space at 25 Brook Street was generously hung with fine art. He also owned prints, some of which would have been hung, others perhaps displayed in portfolios. The interiors of the four main rooms have been hung with paintings and prints. This partly suggests the manner in which Handel's walls were decorated, but is predominantly designed to illustrate a different theme in each of the four rooms: Handel's London; Handel the Man; Rehearsal & Performance; Composition. The only painting known to have been owned by Handel in the current display is Mercier's portrait, but in the bedroom are versions of two etchings by Joseph Goupy after Salvatore Rosa which Handel is known to have owned. A Handel scholar is currently trying to trace Handel's paintings collection, the results of which we look forward to seeing.

DV: Harmonia Mundi have produced a CD especially for the Handel House Museum.

JR: Harmonia Mundi have been extraordinarily enthusiastic about the project, and were very keen to collaborate on a CD tailored for the Museum. The tracks come from their current catalogue, and focus primarily on works composed in the house. They also generously waived performers rights so we could use the tracks on our audio guide.

DV: Support for the Museum has been strong so far, but how much further fundraising is required?

JR: We have set ourselves a target of £5.3 million for the whole project, although this includes an endowment of £2 million. The balance is mainly for the fitting out of the house, which was in a poor state of repair. But also it includes the purchase of items for the collection. Approximately £4.1 million has been raised, and we aim to raise the final £1.2 million within the first year of operation of the museum. This will be applied either to the fitting out or to the endowment depending on the wishes of the donor. We believe that now the museum is operational there will be even greater support, and we expect this support will come from both sides of the Atlantic. We have received a challenge grant from Fidelity Foundation under which any gift from a US donor made in the first year of the life of the museum will be matched by Fidelity.

DV: Until now has acted as your semi-official website. Although our support is unwavering, you will soon have your own independent website. Can you tell us a little about what we will find there?

JR: Wait and see! We are discussing the project with a designer, and hope to have our website up and running in the very near future.

More information about the Handel House Museum can be found at: 

Click here for David Vickers's ANDaNTE article about the newly opened museum.


Other relevant links:  (Georg-Friedrich-Händel-Gesellschaft) (The Georgian Group)


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