(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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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 gfhandel.org 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
here for David Vickers's ANDaNTE article about
the newly opened museum.
Other relevant links:
http://www.georgiangroup.org.uk (The Georgian Group)
explicitly specified otherwise,
this page and all other pages at this site are Copyright © 2015 by David
Vickers and Matthew Gardner
August 30, 2020
· Site design: Duncan Fielden, Matthew Gardner and David Vickers