Michael Finnissy at the Handel House Museum
CITADEL:The beautifully restored Handel House, tucked away in Brook
Street where the great composer lived is a historic citadel and
venue for Handel-inspired music.
ART: Ever thought of meeting Handel face to face? Incredible;
Well, I almost did. Rambling down Oxford Street in pursuit of some
literary interest, an impulse made me turn to Brook Street and there
gloriously situated was one of Handel's houses, now turned into Handel
How did I miss it after being to Oxford so many times? Tucked away in
security was this incredible citadel of music. I spent hours going
through Handel's precious collection that included a selection of
manuscripts, printed scores from the Handel House Collection Trust.
Incidentally, this trust is in display in the adjoining wings at Bond
Among others were a letter from Handel to Charles Jenens who was the
(librettist) to Messiah and other Handel works. There was also an
autographed leaf from Esther, along with Mozart's arrangement of a
This great baroque composer George Fredrick Handel lived at Brook
Street from 1723 to 1759 where he composed the famous works such as
Messiah, Zadok The Priest and Music for the Royal Fireworks. Today the
Handel House is a beautifully restored historic citadel and the venue
for Handel-inspired music.
Throughout the house, paintings and prints of Handel along with his
contemporaries provide a backdrop and lifestyle to his life in London.
Even today the house is vibrantly alive with his music just like when he
was residing there. That is why I said it was like meeting Handel face
to face as I felt his spirit touch me. It was a great experience.
Simply to hear his music in this very room where Messiah and
countless number of masterpieces were composed was a magnetic
experience. The house itself is perfectly enchanting in an ethereal
bond, beautifully preserved to spur the imagination.
The Handel House Museum has a permanent Composer-in-Residence, the
multi-faceted and extremely talented Mark Bowden who gained a first
class degree in Music from the University of Huddersfield before
studying compositions at the Royal College of Music.
He is the recipient of many awards including the RPS Composition
Winner 2006 for young composers. There is also an Ensemble-in-Residence
known as the Barney Players.
They include Ian Wilson on recorders, Harriet Withsire on cello,
Kasia Tomszac on harpsichord and Nadja Zwiener on violin. Handel House
Museum has a fantastic array of music not necessarily Handel's for those
who thirst for classical music.
It keeps the House alive with fascinated audiences who throng for the
Festival season that is on presently. The season concludes in August to
give a respite to all those involved. The year 2008 will hold an equally
inspiring season. I was April bound and was lucky to hear the Michael
Finnissy's Portrait Concert and the British Harpsichord Society Concerts
in their tribute to Handel.
Finnissy conducted the Bergamo Ensemble with James Widden on violin,
Alison Holford on cello, Molly Gibbs on bassoon, Vicky Wright on
clarinet and Mark Bowden on harpsichord. Their programme consisted of
post Christian Survival Kit, Enek and Molly House.
These among others were all Handel-inspired music. Especially ENEK
gloriously played by James Widden solo on the violin. These were
performed in Handel's own music room which is a unique chamber space. At
the end of the performance, a crowd including me had an informal chat
with Finnissy and Mark Bowden. Once again it was a unique experience. I
enquired after some ballet compositions he had scored.
Michael Finnissy was born in Tulse Hill, London in 1946. He was a
Foundation Scholar at the Royal College of Music in London where he
studied composition with masters like Bernard Stevens and Humphrey
Searle and later in Italy with Roman Viad.
He created the music department of the London School of Contemporary
Dance and has been associated with many British dance companies that
include London Contemporary Dance Theatre, Ballet Rambert (the one that
interested me), Stride and Second Stride. He has taught music in various
schools, academies, colleges and universities that included Royal
College of Music and the Chelsea College of Arts among many.
In 1990 Finnissy was appointed as the President of the International
Society of Contemporary Music. Re-elected again in 1993, he was made an
honorary member of the ISCM in 1999.
FABULOUS: Handelâ€™s Harpsichord in the Rehearsal and Performance rook
where the great composer did most of his scores including the
Messiah. Visitors are allowed in to the Handel House Museum to view
it along with hand written scores, richly preserved by the Trust.
Fabulous paintings from the Handel Collection Trust adorns the
After being involved in many major music events, Finnissy's epic
piano cycle, The History of Photography in Sound which was the product
of several years hard work, lasting for five hours, received its
complete premiere in January 2001.
He travelled world over making waves wherever he went. In 2005 when
Michael Finnissy was one year short of his 60th birthday, he received
two British Composer awards which were given by the British Academy of
Composers and Songwriters Molly House for ensembles.
This was the result of his spectacular Ensemble Expose's premiere in
Greatest Hits of all time at the 2003 Huddersfield Contemporary Music
In the programme I saw, ENEK was easily the best. The nine-minute
test piece for violin solo commissioned by Carl Flesch International
Violin Competition in 1990. That year it was won by Maxim Vengerov who
gave a stunning performance of the score by memory.
Enek evoked memories of the Hungarian Gypsy violin playing and
although the effect is of a rhapsodic and improvisatory style, the piece
is structured around a series of pitch centres that formed the focus of
complex ornamentation, dynamic in contrast with extreme virtuosity. This
was one of Finnissy's marvellous scores that identified his genius.
And all the while, Finnissy sat elegantly with the audience and
watched his Portrait Concert played by the Bergamo Ensemble. It was his
tribute to Handel on this evening.