Page:A Dictionary of Music and Musicians vol 1.djvu/660

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648
HANDEL.
 

raise his son in the social scale, he thought to do so by making him a lawyer, and to this end he strove in every way to stifle the alarming symptoms of musical genius which appeared almost in infancy, while he refused even to send the child to school, lest there, among other things, he should also learn his notes. In spite of this, some friendly hand contrived to convey into the house a dumb spinet (a little instrument in which the strings, to deaden their sound, were bound with strips of cloth); it was concealed in a garret, where, without being discovered, the boy taught himself to play.

When he was seven years old, his father set out on a journey to visit a son by a former marriage, who was valet-de-chambre to the Duke of Saxe Weissenfels. George begged to be allowed to go too; his request was denied, but, with the persistence of purpose which characterised him through life, he determined to follow the carriage on foot, and actually did so for a considerable distance, a proceeding which resulted in his getting his way. At Weissenfels he was not long in making friends among the musicians of the Duke's chapel, who gave him opportunities of trying his hand on the organ. One day, after the service, he was lifted on to the organ- stool, and played in such a mannar as to surprise every one, and to attract the attention of the Duke, who, on making enquiries, found out the state of the case, and sent for both father and son. He spoke kindly to the latter; to the former he represented that such genius as that of his son should be encouraged. The reluctant surgeon yielded to these arguments, and from that time the little Handel was emancipated.

He now became a pupil of Zachau, organist of the cathedral at Halle, under whom he studied composition, in the forms of canon, counterpoint, and fugue, and practised on the organ, the harpsichord, the violin, and the hautboy, for which last instrument he had a special predilection. After three years, during which time he composed a sacred motet each week as an exercise, his master confessed that the pupil knew more than himself, and Handel was sent to Berlin. Here he made the acquaintance of the two composers, Buononcini and Attilio Ariosti, whom in after years he was to meet again in London. Ariosti received him kindly, and warmly admired his talents; but Buononcini, whose disposition was sombre and harsh, treated him at first with scorn and then with jealous dislike. Handel's wonderful powers of improvisation on both organ and harpsichord caused him to be regarded here as a prodigy. The Elector wished to attach him to his Court, and to send him to Italy; but Handel's father thought this undesirable, and the boy was, therefore, brought back to Halle, where he set to work again with Zachau, 'copying and composing large quantities of music…, and working constantly to acquire the most solid knowledge of the science.' At this time he lost his father, and it became necessary for him to work for his own subsistence and the support of his mother. He went, therefore, to Hamburg, where the German Opera-house, under the direction of the famous composer, Reinhard Keiser, enjoyed a great reputation. Young Handel entered the orchestra as 'violino di ripieno,' and amused himself by affecting to be an ignoramus, 'a man who could not count five.' But it happened that Keiser was involved by his partner in some unsuccessful speculations, and was forced to hide for a time from his creditors. During his absence, Handel took his place at the harpsichord in the orchestra, and, his real powers being made manifest, he remained there permanently. He made here the acquaintance of the composer Telemann, and of Mattheson, a very clever young musician, a few years older than himself, who also had been an 'infant prodigy,' and was chiefly remarkable for the versatility of his powers. It is as a writer on music and kindred subjects that he is best remembered, and especially for his valuable reminiscences of Handel. Among other anecdotes, he tells us that in 1703 he and Handel went to Lübeck to compete for the vacant post of organist. They found, however, that it was necessary that the successful candidate should marry the daughter of the retiring organist. This condition seemed to them prohibitory, and the two young men thought it best to return to Hamburg. The friendship between the two young composers was, at one time, very nearly brought to a sudden and tragical conclusion. While Handel was acting as conductor at the Opera-house, it happened that there was given Mattheson's opera of 'Cleopatra' (1704), in which the composer himself played the part of Antony. After that point in the play where the hero dies, it had been Mattheson's custom to return to the clavecin and to conduct the remainder of the opera. To this Keiser seems not to have objected, but Handel was more obstinate, and refused to abdicate his place in favour of the resuscitated Antony. Mattheson was indignant, a dispute ensued, and a duel, in which Handel's life was only saved, and the loss to the world of this mighty master only averted, by the accidental circumstance that the point of Mattheson's sword was turned aside by coming into contact with a brass button on his antagonist's coat. At Hamburg, in Jan. 1705, was produced Handel's first opera, 'Almira,' followed in the same year by 'Nero.' These were performed in the barbarous manner universal at that time, partly in German and partly in Italian. The success of 'Almira' seems, however, to have been great enough to excite some jealousy in Keiser and other musicians. Mattheson says that, when Handel came to Hamburg, he composed 'long airs and interminable cantatas,' more scholastic than melodious or graceful; and he claims to have contributed not a little to the young composer's improvement. It is probable, at any rate, that the genius of Keiser, whose numerous compositions are full of a melody and charm till then unknown, did go far to counteract the influence of the crabbed teaching of Zachau. In 'Almira' is a Sarabande, consisting of the same air which