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Hearing Handel's music as he intended

Extensive research by OU Music academics into George Frideric Handel's life, career and music is helping musicians perform and record the celebrated Baroque composer's works with a greater understanding of his intentions, giving modern global audiences a window into the past.

Handel: A brief history

Born in 1685, George Frideric Handel grew up in Halle, Germany, before working as a composer in Hamburg, Italy and Hanover. He settled in London in 1712, where he lived until his death in 1759. During this time, he developed a close relationship with the British monarchy and became a naturalised British citizen.

Handel was an outstanding musician and composer of operas, oratorios, anthems, orchestral and chamber music, and an internationally influential figure during his lifetime. More than 250 years after his death, he remains one of the most frequently performed eighteenth-century composers.

Decades of detailed research

Handel often made changes to his works between composition and performances, sometimes resulting in several different versions of the same piece. Through several decades of careful analysis of eighteenth-century sources, Professor Donald Burrows has produced world-leading editions of several of Handel's works. These editions enable performers to understand the various versions of Handel's compositions and how works such as the opera Imeneo and the oratorio Samson were performed during Handel’s lifetime.

Since 2007, Professor Burrows and Dr Helen Coffey have worked on the project George Frideric Handel: Collected Documents, which aims to collect, transcribe and translate all known sources about Handel from his lifetime, such as newspaper reports and adverts, administrative records and private papers. The five volumes chart the life and career of Handel chronologically through documentary sources, from his upbringing in Germany to his death in London.

Page from Handel’s autograph score of his opera Ariodante

Historically informed performances

Burrows' editions of Handel's music have enabled professional and amateur musicians to accomplish historically informed performances of some of the composer's works for the first time since the eighteenth century. Leading opera companies have used these editions in more than 30 productions in 14 countries across North America, Europe, and Australasia.

The editions are the peak of the pyramid of performance practice. Knowing that all the performers have the best source material at their fingertips allows me to trust them to make the roles their own without deviating from Handel's true text.

Laurence Cummings
Musical Director of the London Handel Festival

The editions also inspired the first recording, by Fabio Biondi and Europa Galante, of the concert version of Imeneo prepared by Handel for performances in Dublin in 1742.

Europa Galante and Fabio Biondi’s recording of Imeneo

Amateur choral societies and other groups across the UK have also extensively used Burrows' edited scores of Handel's music.

An authoritative publication on Handel's life and career

Musicians now regularly use George Frideric Handel: Collected Documents to design concert programmes. For example, performers on the Handel House Talent Scheme, an annual programme that supports young Baroque musicians' professional development, used the volumes to select repertoire for concerts inspired by the 2017 Kensington Palace 'Enlightened Princesses' exhibition. London Early Opera (LEO) has also drawn on the books in its programming and recordings for Signum Records, such as Handel in Italy (2015-16), Vauxhall (2016-17) and Ireland (2017) as well as Handel's Queens (2019).

…it is important to go straight to this wonderful resource, the Handel Collected Documents, to collate ideas whilst choosing repertoire and themes for concerts, operas and recordings.

Bridget Cunningham
Artistic Director of London Early Opera (LEO).

As steals the morn upon the night (L'Allegro ed il Penseroso ed il Moderato HWV 55) at the 2018 London Handel Festival

Shaping museums' representation of Handel

The Handel Documents volumes have improved curators’ and librarians’ knowledge of Handel’s life and career and have enhanced their representation of the composer in exhibitions and education programmes.

The Foundling Museum

Librarians from the Gerald Coke Handel Collection at London's Foundling Museum regularly use the Collected Documents to develop exhibitions such as 2014's By George! which celebrated the 300th anniversary of the coronation of George I. The first Hanoverian King's patronage of Handel began before he and Handel arrived in Britain, while George (or Georg Ludwig) was Elector of Hanover.

Foundling museum curator explains By George!

The section relating to Handel's life in Hanover and his arrival and relationship with George I were heavily reliant on [the collected documents] material, which was not otherwise available as it used recent research

Katharine Hogg
Librarian at the Gerald Coke Handel Collection, Foundling Museum.
Handel and Hendrix House Museum

Burrows and Coffey's research has also benefitted the Händel-Haus museum, the site of Handel’s family home in Germany, and the Handel & Hendrix museum, his London home where he lived until his death.

Both museums now employ the Collected Documents volumes when developing exhibitions on Handel's life and work, regarding them as an essential resource for Handel scholarship.

Researcher profiles