George Frideric Handel: Book summary and reviews of George Frideric Handel by Ellen T. Harris

George Frideric Handel

A Life with Friends

by Ellen T. Harris

George Frideric Handel by Ellen T. Harris X
George Frideric Handel by Ellen T. Harris
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  • Published in USA  Sep 2014
    496 pages
    Genre: Biography/Memoir

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Book Summary

During his lifetime, the sounds of Handel's music reached from court to theater, echoed in cathedrals, and filled crowded taverns, but the man himself—known to most as the composer of Messiah—is a bit of a mystery. Though he took meticulous care of his musical manuscripts and even provided for their preservation on his death, very little of an intimate nature survives.

One document - Handel's will - offers us a narrow window into his personal life. In it, he remembers not only family and close colleagues but also neighborhood friends. In search of the private man behind the public figure, Ellen T. Harris has spent years tracking down the letters, diaries, personal accounts, legal cases, and other documents connected to these bequests. The result is a tightly woven tapestry of London in the first half of the eighteenth century, one that interlaces vibrant descriptions of Handel's music with stories of loyalty, cunning, and betrayal.

With this wholly new approach, Harris has achieved something greater than biography. Layering the interconnecting stories of Handel's friends like the subjects and countersubjects of a fugue, Harris introduces us to an ambitious, shrewd, generous, brilliant, and flawed man, hiding in full view behind his public persona.

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Reviews

Media Reviews

"Starred Review. Handel's life in Harris' hands becomes a compelling plunge into the social history of his time" - Booklist

"Starred Review. Musical in structure, tone and emotional effect." - Kirkus

"Although Harris often lapses into an academic voice ("as I stated earlier," "as has been described"), she nevertheless has written ay readable tale of one of the world's most enigmatic musicians and composers." - Publishers Weekly

"George Frideric Handel: A Life with Friends is the consummation of Ellen Harris's long professional life with Handel. It is the work of a wise scholar who views musicians as social beings and music as social activity. That outlook, and the author's fresh and supple prose, make this a most appealing, finally endearing, book." - Richard Taruskin, University of California, Berkeley

"Ellen Harris's background as a singer and an expert in historic vocal performance practice gives her a unique vantage point. Her fugal approach treats Handel's life, times, music, and social circle as distinct themes in a narrative that goes far beyond simple biography. It is a fitting and fascinating way to reveal Handel's personality, and Harris adds layers of understanding to his genius." - Renée Fleming

"This thoroughly engaging, inventively structured, and politically, socially, psychologically, and musically astute account confirms Ellen Harris's place as our most illuminating Handel scholar. How lucky we are that someone who knows so much can also write so well." - Lloyd Schwartz , Pulitzer Prize–winning music critic

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Author Information

Ellen T. Harris

Ellen T. Harris is professor emeritus at MIT and has served on the music faculties of Columbia University and the University of Chicago. Her previous books include Handel as Orpheus: Voice and Desire in the Chamber Cantatas, and she has spoken at Lincoln Center and appeared on PBS NewsHour and BBC Radio 3. She lives in Newton, Massachusetts.

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