George Frideric Handel

A Life with Friends

Ellen T. Harris (Author)


An intimate portrait of Handel’s life and inner circle, modeled after one of the composer’s favorite forms: the fugue.

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.

Book Details

  • Hardcover
  • September 2014
  • ISBN 978-0-393-08895-3
  • 6.5 × 9.6 in / 496 pages
  • Sales Territory: Worldwide

Endorsements & Reviews

“Surely no one knows the life and music of Handel more intimately than Ellen Harris. Her daringly original approach to his biography reveals surprising and enlightening connections between contemporary events and his music. This is one of the most insightful—and one of the most humane—composer biographies to appear in quite some time.” — Robert L. Marshall, Brandeis University

“This book is an awesome tribute, and an undertaking beyond imagination.” — Gilbert Blin, opera director

“Admirable in its scope and boldness. A fascinating, joyful achievement!” — Dame Emma Kirkby

“A fascinatingly pure application of [Handel’s] music to history…an interesting, unique, and significant work of nonfiction.” — Weston Williams, Christian Science Monitor

“An illuminating, refracted portrait of Handel’s previously obscure inner life… a large-scale fugue, with a series of themes that appear, metamorphose, and interact with one another.” — David Weininger, Boston Globe

“Readers will… have a much clearer picture of how Handel lived and worked, and how his music relates to events of the day as well as to the lives of his friends… This quirky biography repays careful reading.” — Melinda Bargreen, Seattle Times

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