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Handel and Hendrix in London

London, England

Handel and Hendrix were born over two hundred years and one thousand miles apart, but, despite this, they had a lot in common. For one , they were neighbours. For another, they both played pivotal roles in the history of Bristish music.

London's Brook Street played host to two musical legends: Handel and Hendrix. George Friedric Handel lived in number 25, from 1723 until his death in 1759. 209 years later, Jimi Hendrix brought the psychedelic sounds of the 60s to number 23, next door.

The legacy of both can be explored today, in these neighbouring properties, at the Handel and Hendrix in London exhibit.

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- © Secret City

A Baroque Star In London

Born in Halle (now part of modern day Germany), in 1685, Handel moved to London in 1712 after wowing the English public with his 1711 opera, Rinaldo. From here, his career went from strength to strength.

In 1716 his Water Music earned the praise of King George I himself. He was so impressed, in fact, that one of his final acts was to make Handel an English citizen and to comission him to write music for his son's coronation.

Handel did not disappoint.

He composed four pieces for the coronation of King George II, one of which was Zadok The Priest. This Anthem has been such a success over the years that it has been used in every British coronation since. Not only that, but it has also been rearranged into the Anthem of another popular event: The UEFA Champions League.

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Flying Off The Handel

Handel's passion for music no doubt played a huge role in his success. At the same time, however, it very nearly spelled his early downfall.

In 1704, his rivalry with Mattheson (a fellow composer) reached boiling point. Mattheson struck Handel with his sword and, had it not been for a metal button on Handel's jacket, could very well have killed him.

You might expect this kind of bust-up to have been unusual in the world of Baroque music. You would be wrong, however. This wasn't the only violent incident that Handel was involved in.

During a performance of one of his operas, the two lead Soprano's (handpicked by Handel himself) had to be dragged off stage to prevent them from tearing each other apart.

On top of this, when one of them, Francesca Cuzzoni, refused to sing in rehearsals, Handel reportedly grabbed her by the waist and told her she'd better follow his orders or else he would throw her out of the window.

And I thought Classical music was supposed to be sophisticated...

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Overcoming Adversity

Despite his disreputable behaviour, Handel continued to produce hit after hit. In 1737, however, disaster struck. He suffered a potentially career-ending stroke.

His vision blurry, he spent weeks recovering in Royal Tunbridge Wells, and gradually his strength returned. This was to be only the beginning of his misfortunes, however.

Disastrous business decisions coupled with a decline in Royal favour had left him depressed and in debt. So much so, in fact, that he considered giving up opera altogether.

Fortunately, in 1741, he received the lyrics to a wonderful new piece and, this way inspired, he went on to compose what may well be his masterpiece: Messiah.

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Jimi Hendrix's Record Collection

One of the exhibits on display at Handel and Hendrix in London is a collection of Hendrix's most prized records. And one of these records is none other than Handel's Messiah.

It might surprise some that Hendrix- best know for his visionary guitar playing- was a fan of the baroque composer's. More so that he used to jam along to Handel's compositions whilst sitting on his Brook Street sofa. It is worth noting, however, that Hendrix named not only Handel, but also Mozart, Bach and Mahler as sources of inspiration.

He really was experienced, after all.

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A London Launchpad

Jimi Hendrix is, today, a household name, but his career didn't really take off until after his 1966 move to London. Before this, he was known only as a backing guitarist.

After years of anonymity Hendrix was booked for a UK tour by Chas Chandler (a former member of The Animals). This was all that it took to launch him to superstardom.

By the end of 1967, he'd been signed by Track Records and had already completed his first two albums: Are You Experienced and Axis: Bold As Love. Both of these were recorded in London.

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International Acclaim

These albums helped to propel Hendrix to worldwide fame and he left the UK to tour his home country of America. His London love-affair was not over, however.

In 1968, he returned, moving into a flat that his girlfriend had rented for them at 23, Brook Street. Here, he continued to play music and to listen to his neighbour of centuries past.

Although he only lived there for a short time, he grew very fond of his Brook Street home. He even went so far as to describe it as 'the only home I ever had'. (Jimi Hendrix, Starting At Zero: His Own Story).

I don't want anyone to stick a psychedelic label around my neck, sooner Bach or Beethoven.

Jimi Hendrix

One More Thing...

Although they shared a street, a passion for music and the talent of a visionary, one thing that Handel and Hendrix didn;t have in common was the ability to read music. Handel was classically trained, but Hendrix was completely self taught and would often resort to using colours to describe how he wanted his band to play.

Interested in finding more places like this? Try one of our Treasure Hunts in London - untangle cryptic clues as a team, as you are taken on a journey to the most unique, unusual and bizarre corners of London.

Looking for things to do in Mayfair? Check out our article on the top things to do in Mayfair for more suggestions.

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