The soundtrack to a visit to Handel & Hendrix in London
There aren’t many places in the world that hold as much musical history and genius as 23 and 25 Brook Street. The number of pieces composed in both Handel’s house and Jimi Hendrix’s flat could never be listened to during a single visit to our museum (if only we could stay open all night!). But, if you find yourself entranced by a melody in Handel’s Music Room, or singing along to a tune in the Hendrix Exhibition and want to know more about what’s playing, never fear – our official playlist is here! Below is a selection of some of the pieces which are played here daily as well as the fascinating connections each song has to Handel and Hendrix’s homes in London.
The 10 Best Handel Pieces
- Cleopatra, from Giulio Cesare – Arias from Giulio Cesare in Egitto, HWV 17: Atto terzo – Scene 7: Da tempeste il legno infranto by Natalie Dessay, Emmanuelle Haim, Le Concert D’Astreee
Giulio Cesare was the very first opera Handel premiered after his move into 25 Brook Street in 1723. Boasting eight main characters, Handel’s Caesar and Cleopatra were played by castrato Senesino and soprano Francesca Cuzzoni, making the show a tremendous success. Cleopatra’s arias are particularly moving and the emotion conveyed by soprano Natalie Dessay’s gorgeous voice as well as Emmanuelle Haim’s superb orchestral direction are just some of the reasons why it is so regularly played at Handel and Hendrix in London.
- Falsa Immagine, from Ottone – Ottone, HWV 15 / Act 1: “Falsa Immagine, m’ingannasti” by Lauren Snouffer, Il Pomo D’oro, George Petrou
Appointed music director of the Royal Academy of Music in 1719, Handel composed Ottone for the opening of its fourth season in 1723. Cuzzoni’s performance of the aria Falsa Immagine was so well-received that she included the piece in most of her later recitals, but an infamous incident in Handel’s Music Room meant it almost never happened. Supposedly, during one of the rehearsals at Brook Street, Cuzzoni asked Handel to replace the aria with a new one as the current version did not showcase her talents enough. This angered Handel so much that he threatened to throw her out of the window and so Falsa Immagine stayed. Our favourite version is sung by soprano Lauren Snouffer, whose voice is as beautiful as it is technically precise. With the orchestra’s well-paced and engaged instrumentation, it truly is a pleasure to listen to.
- Jephtha – Jephtha, HWV 70, Overture: Grave by The King’s Consort, Robert King
Jephtha was the last oratorio composed by Handel in 1751. It took him 8 months to complete as opposed to a month due to his failing eyesight. By 1752, he was completely blind and even considered having surgery – coincidentally, from the same charlatan physician whose treatment blinded Bach for good and led to his death two years earlier. Fortunately, Handel avoided the procedure and died peacefully in his sleep at Brook Street in 1759. Jephtha is still considered to be one of his greatest masterpieces and The King’s Consort and Robert King capture it wonderfully with their rendition of Overture: Grave.
- Messiah – Messiah, Part 1, Comfort ye, my people (Accompagnato, Tenor) by The Sixteen
Undoubtedly Handel’s most famous oratorio, what is even more incredible to note about this work is that it was written in just 24 days at Brook Street. In fact, you can still see the original letter Handel wrote to Charles Jennens about the Messiah on display in the Composition Room today. As Jennens was the librettist, Handel was anxious to find out whether he thought any parts needed altering. Jennens and Handel worked on many pieces together and their mutual interest in art cemented their friendship, where Jennens even commissioned a portrait of Handel in 1756. The beauty of their partnership can be heard in Comfort ye, my people by the Sixteen, where tenor Mark Padmore sings Jennens’ words with breath-taking clarity and Harry Christophers’ direction produces a strong theatrical sound reminiscent of Handel’s background in opera.
- One of the solo harpsichord pieces – Chaconne in G Major HWV 442 by Richard Egarr
Handel composed many pieces for the harpsichord. Sadly, all of the composer’s possessions were removed from Brook Street after his death, so no one knows where his original harpsichord went, but Handel and Hendrix in London still boasts an exquisite collection of 18th-century harpsichords today. Richard Egarr’s mastery of the instrument makes Handel’s 17-minute-long piece listed here entrancing from start to finish. If you listen carefully, it is also interesting to note that Chaconne in G Major uses the same bass-line and harmonic progression as the first eight bars of Bach’s Goldberg Variations.
- Coronation Anthems – Handel: Coronation Anthems by The Sixteen
Zadok the Priest, Let Thy Hand Be Strengthened, The King Shall Rejoice and My Heart is Inditing were commissioned for the coronation of King George II and Queen Caroline in 1727 and they have been used to inaugurate every new British monarch since. The anthems were actually Handel’s first commission as a naturalised British citizen, an honour which was bestowed upon him by George I just before the king’s death. Citizenship meant that Handel could finally own property in England, but interestingly, he never chose to buy his house in Brook Street and rented it for a further 32 years instead. Again, credit must be given to The Sixteen for their innovative take on these anthems, where their fine choral singing and bold orchestral playing are an absolute delight to listen to.
10) Music for the Royal Fireworks – Musick for the Royal Fireworks, HWV 351: IV. La réjouissance by Ensemble Zefiro, Alfredo Bernardini
Music for the Royal Fireworks has a peculiar history in that the rehearsal for the performance was more successful than the event itself. On 21st April 1749, a crowd of 12,000 people are thought to have attended the practice run in Vauxhall Gardens, causing a three-hour traffic jam of carriages on London Bridge. On 27th April, however, the concert did not go to plan when bad weather caused the fireworks to misfire and set a pavilion constructed for the musicians alight. Composed for wind instruments, the Italian ensemble Zefiro, directed by oboist Alfredo Bernardini, truly do the composition justice. La réjouissance is light, fluid and elegant and showcases the ensemble’s expertise of 18th-century music magnificently.
The 10 Best Hendrix Tracks
- The Wind Cries Mary, Are You Experienced, 1967
Though not obvious from the title alone, The Wind Cries Mary was actually written for and about Kathy Mary Etchingham, Hendrix’s girlfriend, whom he lived with at 23 Brook Street. The story goes that the music was penned after a heated argument between the two, which included flying pots and pans and plate throwing. The pair lived together in the flat for a total of 11 months before parting ways, but Hendrix always considered the property the first real home of his own.
- Burning of the Midnight Lamp, Electric Ladyland, 1968
Described by critics as ‘introspective and melancholy’, Burning of the Midnight Lamp is interesting from the get-go thanks to its use of a harpsichord in the intro. The idea to include the Baroque instrument might seem random at first (it did to Hendrix, who claims it ‘just came to [him]’), but it’s plausible that his property’s history could have played a part. After all, when Hendrix found out that he lived in Handel’s house, he went to the nearest HMV store and picked up some of the great composer’s records. He was known to have copies of Handel’s Messiah and Belshazzar in his collection as well as Bach on the Pedal Harpsichord.
- Hey Baby, First Rays of the New Rising Sun, 1997
Released posthumously, it is known for a fact that Hey Baby was one of the songs Hendrix worked on during his time at Brook Street. In Christian Lloyd’s Hendrix at Home: A Bluesman in Mayfair, contemporary Doug Kaye recalls the icon composing the track. Kaye, who worked in the restaurant Mr Love below Hendrix’s flat, remembers Hendrix running down the stairs in a frantic search for paper to write lyrics on, only to take a pile of paper placemats with him, whose plain backs he used instead.
- All Along the Watchtower, Electric Ladyland, 1968
Hendrix was a big fan of Bob Dylan and owned many of his records in his flat, so it is of little surprise that he decided to cover one of Dylan’s songs. What is shocking, however, is that Bob Dylan actually preferred Hendrix’s version of All Along the Watchtower over his own and played the track closer to the Experience’s arrangement at his live shows thereafter. All Along the Watchtower was also the last song Hendrix recorded in New York before coming to live at Brook Street.
- Voodoo Child (Slight Return), Electric Ladyland, 1968
One of Hendrix’s best-known songs, it gained some notoriety thanks to the Experience’s performance of it on the Happening for Lulu show in January 1969. It was the only track that the band managed to play in full before getting cut off mid-performance on the BBC show. This was because rather than sticking to the script and playing Hey Joe to the end, where Lulu was supposed to join them on stage for the final line, they finished with Cream’s Sunshine of Your Love instead. The producers were so angry that they banned Hendrix from playing for the BBC ever again. Indeed, it would be the last time Hendrix appeared on the British broadcasting platform as he died a mere year later.
- Lover Man, Live at the Royal Albert Hall, 1969
On their last ever European performance as the Jimi Hendrix Experience, Hendrix opened the concert at the Royal Albert Hall with this song. Tensions had supposedly been growing between the band members and management for several months, but they put their differences aside to perform what would later be described as one of the band’s best and most successful concerts. According to The Official Jimi Hendrix Fan Club of Great Britain newsletter, “the crowd went absolutely berserk… Jimi went mad with the atmosphere… He played with his teeth and then on the floor… [the stage] was beseiged [sic] by fans, police, bouncers, floor managers and practically the entire audience!”
- Hear My Train A Comin’, Soundtrack Recording from the Film Jimi Hendrix, 1973
Hear My Train A Comin’ is one of the only surviving recordings of Hendrix playing an acoustic guitar, even though he was known to play it all the time at Brook Street. According to Hendrix at Home, “while his electric guitars and amps were to hand, Jimi generally worked up his new songs on his acoustic Epiphone FTZ9 ‘in bed, just laying there’.” The recording in question is particularly special in that it was filmed in one roaming take. Peter Neal recalls that whilst filming Jimi, the guitarist kept looking at the 12-string guitar that the director had brought along and eventually asked whether he could play it. Neal responded that he had hoped that Jimi would and though there wasn’t much film left, it was “one of those magic moments” where Jimi’s playing and singing was flawless.
- Valleys of Neptune, Valleys of Neptune, 2010
This title track may have only been released by Hendrix’s family after his death, but we know for a fact that Hendrix shaped the song whilst at Brook Street in the early months of 1969. It was during a time where Hendrix was deep into experimenting with his music for a fourth album, but his tragic death meant that the song was only officially released in 2010. The artwork on the cover actually highlights one of Hendrix’s other lesser-known talents: painting. His step-sister Janie chose it from a collection of 110 drawings that their father had kept of Hendrix’s watercolours from school. It is hardly surprising then that Hendrix took such great care in decorating his bedroom at Brook Street, where the bright-coloured ostrich feathers, Persian rugs and bohemian ornaments really capture his artistic flair.
- Room Full of Mirrors, Rainbow Bridge Soundtrack, 1971
This was another track that Hendrix worked on for his uncompleted fourth album. In fact, an unreleased spoken word version of this song was recorded by Jimi late one night at 23 Brook Street. Jimi often slept during the day and jammed late into the night with his curtains closed, which is how he earned the nickname “The Bat”. Interviews and unreleased recordings also suggest that Hendrix radically refined Room Full of Mirrors from its original form as a slow blues to its current version while living in Mayfair.
- Purple Haze, Are You Experienced, 1967
Purple Haze was the first original song Hendrix released after moving to London and it is without a doubt the Jimi Hendrix Experience’s most famous track. Its iconic guitar riff and psychedelic rock sound made it an instant hit in 1967 and it is probably why the song was featured on Hendrix’s live set list all the way up until his death in 1970. Inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame, it is still known as one of the greatest guitar songs of all the time, reaching no. 2 in Rolling Stone and no. 1 in Q magazine.