Handel’s sense of humour

I am no twitcher, but I am lucky enough to live in an area in Kent where I am surrounded by all manner of birdsong, much of it not standard fare. A wren is seeking attention as I write this post.

The cuckoo, I accept, is not that unusual. As a solitary sound at 3.30 this morning, however, it brought me enormous comfort in my inability to sleep. More than that, it helped me to nod off eventually – and, to my huge gratification, was still there to greet me when I awoke to the dawn chorus an hour later.

My great uncle Victor Hely-Hutchinson’s perfect pitch (the ability to sing or identify a musical note) was identified very early when he uttered the words “Cuck-oo; e-c.”

The German-born George Frideric Handel moved to London in 1712 (and, with his remains in Westminster Abbey, was never asked to leave). With the big hits of The Water Music, The Messiah etc. under his belt he became a huge success, especially in the field of opera, as well as being a highly accomplished organist, who would combine these talents by introducing the premier of each opera with an off-the-cuff ditty on the organ. Barely any of his solo compositions for the instrument survive, but we are left with a group of organ concertos.

One of them is known as The Cuckoo and the Nightingale. Handel was a stout, short-tempered man, plagued by ill-health for much of his 71 bachelor years, including a later blindness which did not prevent him from playing or having a good sense of humour.

Take the second movement of this piece, a chirpy dialogue between these two birds. Handel tended to outline the main parts, but would often leave pages totally blank with the words Ad libitum, requiring the soloist to improvise as best he could. Simon Preston is one of our foremost organists and the conversation is clear. It’s also a good tune.

The eagle-eyed amongst you (note continuing of bird theme) will notice there are two pieces attached today.

If my father were alive today, he would be sharing his 61st Wedding Anniversary with my mother who told me this morning what a wonderful day that had been. Increasingly, later generations are able to share that memory with their parents, but for the moment, and in the context of this post, it is my wedding which comes to mind. What an opportunity this is to have a bit of fun.

The bride’s prerogative of being fashionably (but 20 minutes?) late was properly observed, despite her father being an equal to my own for punctuality, so the first lines of the hymn on their entrance, ‘Oh praise ye the Lord!’ were unintentionally apt. The congregation sat through a Mozart Mass, before the married couple exited to today’s second clip.

We only had a choir of four and a village organ, but with Catherine Wyn Rogers in their number, that was plenty. The late Anthony Rolfe Johnson sings this Handel refrain. Give it a couple of minutes and listen to the words which close the piece. I hope Handel might have approved.

Happy Anniversary, Mum.



5 thoughts on “Handel’s sense of humour”

  1. What a delightful post! I laughed that Handel was not asked to leave England. That means he remains!

    Happy anniversary to your mother. John and I are only coming up on our 54th, but the memories are still marvelous.

    Your wedding must have been fantastic. Did you record it? Our music was not on a par with yours, but it was fun. We had been active singers in the madrigal group at university, and they sang at our wedding.

    Having the score on the screen was most enjoyable. It’s great to watch the music unfold as you listen to it. I’ve not seen that done on a blog before. Did it take you a long time to do that, or was it fairly automatic?

    Your posts are magnificent. Thank you for writing them.


    1. Thank you so much for these comments. I can’t take credit for the visibility of the music, I was very pleased to find it online. It’s quite fun to follow it.
      I’m so glad you enjoy these humble thoughts. There’s nothing in it financially for me, just the fun – so do please spread the word if you feel inclined!

      Liked by 1 person

    2. Thank you so much for these comments. I cannot take credit for the visibility of the music, I was lucky to find it online. It’s fun to be able to follow it.
      I’m so glad you enjoy my humble jottings. There is absolutely nothing in it for me Financially, just a bit of fun – so please do feel free to spread the word if you feel so inclined!


  2. Did you know the cuckoo starts the season with an augmented fourth, then a major third and finishing with a minor third, the lower of the two notes being middle C or D. (Orlando A Mansfield)


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