Now, 18th century opera is supposed to be a rather staid and stuffy affair. These operas invariably had happy endings, with all the messy human passion and conflicts amicably resolved by the opera’s finale.
But 18th century, opera could arouse some serious emotion off-stage. In 1704, an 18-year-old composer named Georg Friedric Handel was employed as a violinist and harpsichordist in the orchestra of the Hamburg opera house. He made the acquaintance of another young composer, the 23-year-old Johann Mattheson. The two became fast friends until, that is, a December performance of Mattheson’s opera “Cleopatra,” during which Handel refused to turn over the harpsichord to Mattheson.
“Hey, it’s my opera, after all—move over!” Mattheson must have said, but to no avail. One thing led to another, and the result was a duel; it is said that Handel’s life was saved by a button on his coat that deflected one of Mattheson’s more lethal sword-thrusts.
Thankfully, in the best tradition of 18th century opera, the two reconciled on today’s date in 1704, dining together and attending a Hamburg rehearsal of Handel’s first opera, “Almira,” becoming, as Mattheson put it, “better friends than ever.”
Music Played in Today's Program
George Frederic Handel (1685 – 1757)Oboe Concerto No. 3Heinz Holliger, oboe; English Chamber Orchestra; Raymond Leppard, cond.Philips 454 363
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