A Trip to the Handel and Hendrix Museum

A Trip to the Handel and Hendrix Museum

As part of Kings Place's London Unwrapped Series, our upcoming concert ‘A London Kaleidoscope’ will explore some of London’s most musical houses- and the scores that were created within. The concert will be aptly book-ended with works by George Frideric Handel and Jimi Hendrix, two incredible musicians whose neighbouring London lodgings (200 years apart) have been transformed into a museum. To delve further into the programme and learn a bit more about the history behind the buildings, Communications Officer Hermione went to investigate.

Nestled away in Oxford Circus, the Handel and Hendrix museum is an unassuming property, seemingly no different to any other from the outside, yet it is precisely this unassuming nature that is the key to it’s charm. It is also why the building so perfectly embodies the central message of our upcoming concert. The idea that works of genius may be being created behind any door of any building at any time.

Handel acquired 25 Brook Street, a newly built townhouse in the summer of 1723 after being appointed to the Chapel Royal earlier that year. He would reside here for 36 years until his death in 1759 and it was the site at which many of his great works were composed, including perhaps his most famous, the Messiah in 1741. The house was restored using a detailed inventory left in 1759 so although many of the items are not original, they do greatly resemble what would have been there during Handel’s lifetime. 

When walking through the house one of the most striking elements is it’s clear use as a rehearsal and performance space with various harpsichords and instruments on show. The space has continued to be used for this very purpose with the museum often opening the doors for performances. The museum also displays many paintings and portraits as by the time of his death, Handel owned an extensive collection of art- over eighty paintings are recorded in the sale catalogue of 1760! 

Wonderfully stark is the juxtaposition in style between Handel’s eighteenth century, Georgian townhouse and the flat Jimi Hendrix lived in between 1968-69 upstairs. Unlike the sparsely furnished, modest decor of 25 Brook Street, Hendrix’s flat is adorned with pattern, colour and ornaments having been carefully recreated using photos and the input of those who visited the flat whilst Hendrix was living there, particularly his girlfriend at the time, Kathy Etchingham. The flat was opened to the public in 2016 and is an incredible feat in terms of attention to detail. Indeed, everything from the placement of rolled up rugs in the corner to his extensive record collection has been considered. 

Walking around these spaces really gives an insight into the finer details of somebody’s personality. For example, it was pointed out to me by one of the guides that people are often surprised by how clean Hendrix’s flat is, often assuming that it couldn’t have been that way during his life, likely due to their preconceptions about the era and the type of music he was performing. However, Hendrix is reported to have actually been a very organised individual when it came to tidying up, something he picked up from his time in the military. The room even features a vacuum and various dusting implements. Performers and musicians are so often different onstage to how they are off, making the opportunity to delve into their home life a great way of better understanding their music. 

The whole museum really puts our own London Kaleidoscope concert into perspective as it raises many important points about creative works and their place in society. Despite producing very different music in different centuries, Handel and Hendrix have both left behind a glorious musical legacy that thrives even today and their geographical proximity just goes to show that great creative work could be lurking behind any unassuming door. We are so excited to be exploring the musical landscape of London, a city that has been home to so many incredible musicians, artists and composers whose legacies continue to live on, not only through their music but in the buildings we walk past every day.

Rather excitingly, the museum will now be closed until March 2023 as work is undertaken completely restoring Handel’s house to what it would have been during the time of his residency. To find out more about the ‘Hallelujah Project’ head to: https://thehallelujahproject.org/about-the-project/

 Whilst the museum is still closed, you can do the next best thing and go on a virtual tour: https://handelhendrix.org/go-on-a-3d-virtual-tour-of-handel-hendrix-in-london/

To join us and explore the inner world of many other composers with history in the great city of London, come watch us perform at King’s Place on 24 September: A London Kaleidoscope