Handel, George Frideric (1685–1759)
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Though a native German, Handel lived most of his life in and around London, with important excursions to Italy during his formative years. He early attained the status of English cultural icon and darling of the Christian choral establishment, with a cult following (the Handelians) and eventually brisk commercial appeal. Discourses constructing the familiar myth of “Handel” in music history, biography, and criticism circulated even before his death and have since worked to mystify the material realities of his life and to naturalize a nonsexually “pure” or unambiguously heterosexual image. However, in the absence of even a scrap of reliable evidence indicative of a heterosexual Handel (a man of “normal masculine constitution,” in the words of Paul Henry Lang’s attempted reification), this has proved a Sisyphean and in the end fruitless task. Underpinned by a combination of scholarly cowardice and homosexual panic, and with the reputation of this ubiquitously adored composer hanging in the balance (not to mention the profitable industry grown up around him), the discourse framing Handel’s sex

George Frideric Handel at the clavier. Portrait by Sir J. Thornhill. CorbisBettman.