Anecdotes of George Frederick Handel and John Christopher Smith by William Coxe and Peter Danckwerts (Editor)
|Anecdotes of George Frederick Handel and John Christopher Smith by William Coxe and Peter Danckwerts (Editor)|
|Reviewer: Dawn Powell|
|Summary: A little curiosity that will entertain but not really inform.|
|Buy? Maybe||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 108||Date: February 2009|
|Publisher: Tiger of the Stripe|
Written by the stepson of John Christopher Smith (a friend of Handel and composer in his own right), Anecdotes is an overview of two men who in their own ways were remarkable. Handel, of course, was a musical genius while Smith was a man of great kindness — a good friend of Coxe's father, he married his widow to ensure she and her children would be cared for.
Coxe writes a rose-tinted view of Handel and takes great pains to defend the famous composer against some of the criticisms that were levelled against him. But in doing so, manages to paint a picture of an egotistical tyrant whose undeniable musical talent was matched by his ability to throw a mega strop.
For example, Coxe claims that Handel possessed the impetuosity and inflexibility of genius and was not of a temper patiently to endure the disturbance arising from female squabbles, describing an instance in which he grabbed a female singer by the waist and threatened to throw her out of the window when she refused to sing one of his compositions. Coxe also makes a reference to the fact that Handel falls out with several life-long friends over trifling differences.
The problem with Anecdotes is that it is just anecdotes. I knew nothing about Handel before I read the book (except that he was a composer etc.) and I didn't really learn that much more after reading it. To be honest, I think I would learn more on Wikipedia.
Coxe's biography of Smith is also very brief, which is all the more surprising given that Coxe would have known Smith much better than he knew Handel (as far as I can tell, Coxe did not have any direct interaction with Handel himself). He barely mentions the death of Smith's first wife and the fact that none of his several (biological) children lived beyond the age of 2. Though, to be fair, Smith may have never talked about this period of his life to Coxe and the loss of children was not that unusual in the 18th century.
But, perhaps, Anecdotes should not be read to gain an insight into Handel or Smith but rather an insight into 18th century celebrity. There are some similarities with the way celebrity works today (like Elton John, Handel had quite a few celebrity mates), but the reverential tone that Coxe uses to describe Handel is markedly different to the tone of Heat magazine et al. It is actually quite refreshing to read something that focuses on a person's achievements (however briefly) rather than the fact they ate too many/too few pork pies.
In summary, I think Anecdotes is a worthwhile read if you are a fan of Handel and know a bit about him already because it is always good to get an insight from people who were there at the time. But otherwise, I wouldn't go out of my way to read it.
Our thanks to Tiger of the Stripe for sending a copy of Anecdotes to the Bookbag
For another biographer of Handel, see Handel: The Man and His Music by Jonathan Keates
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