This review is for the second edition (2012) of this volume.
This is a fittingly weighty tome in the series “The Master Musicians”.
Burrows here provides a working biography of Handel rather than an intimate profile, which is probably the best approach given how little there is known of Handel as a person; early on in his career, the composer learned to guard his private life through the aloofness of absolute professionalism, so aside from a very select intimate circle of trusted friends no-one could really say that they knew him – no doubt a wise position to adopt in 18th century London society.
The book follows his career in chronological order, each chapter headed by the main events/locations/developments of the years stated; interspersed within the general biographical chapter groupings are five large chapters dealing primarily with analysis of the music from the periods in question; these are perhaps a little daunting for the layman, but Burrows has kept things relatively simple, so although some musical knowledge (and the ability to read music) will be an advantage, the general reader needn't fear tackling these sections – there is a wealth of interesting information in these chapters.
Burrows text is academic, but not dry; he does provide reasonable background history as context for his study, but of course his subject is music and Handel's part in the milieu of his times - the rivalries, the societies and the business of presenting opera, oratorio and court commissions.
My own way into Handel's music was the operas by way of his instrumental music; the oratorios are a stumbling block for me, but Burrows fascinating and enthusiastic explanations of their constructions, plots and development has raised my interest – I shall take steps to explore this aspect of Handel's output further.
This is both a good read and a useful reference book on the composer – certainly of value to the Handel fan and scholar alike.
Authoritative autobiography by Handel scholar Donald Burrows. Well written, up-to-date, very extensive and easy to read biography of Handel. You will re-live Handel's life and times. Many excerpts from Mainwaring's biography from the 18th century, an author with first hand knowledge of Handel. Excellent; includes copious bibliographies.