PatchChords: The Death Of Antony, Or The Death Of Handel


Imagine a world without performances of The Messiah, Samson, Jephta, Water Music and Music for the Royal Fireworks. It might have come to pass, were it not for the fortuitous outcome of one deadly duel in 1704.

Instrumentalist, composer, teacher and singer, Johann Mattheson, at age 22, was a fast friend of George Frideric Handel, although, by this time, a certain air of jealous rivalry had developed between them, owing to a long series of circumstances.

Their rivalry came to a head when Mattheson's opera, Cleopatra, premiered in December of 1704. Mattheson himself sang the role of "Antony", and Handel, stepping into the breach when the original conductor proved unavailable, lead the orchestra while seated at the harpsichord. Eventually, Mattheson played his character's glorious death on the stage and then moved over to the orchestra, where it was planned that Handel would yield his seat and conducting duties to Mattheson.

But Handel, his long-simmering jealous resentment boiling over, refused to budge.

Soon, blows were exchanged (to the delight of the audience, no doubt), and the two men took their argument outside, where they faced each other with drawn swords, each of them ready to skewer the other and settle their jealous feud once and for all.

And then…

As Handel's biographer, John Mainwaring wrote, "Mattheson made a push at him with a sword, which, being aimed full at his heart, would for ever have removed him from the office he had usurped, but for the friendly score which he accidentally carried in his bosom; and through which to have forced it, would have demanded all the might of Ajax himself". Another account of the incident suggests that Mattheson's sword hit one of Handel's large brass buttons and was snagged on it.

Standing outside the opera house, the two men ended up laughing and reconciling, and a friendship was restored, not to mention a musical life saved.

And it was all a matter of inches.

More, at the Library, about Handel

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