G.F. Handel: A Composition of Corpulence

London-It is well known that George Federic Handel was obese. However, few musicologists have studied how his obesity affected his life. This has all changed thanks to Dr. Didier Naissance of Binchois University. "Handel was not only obese, but morbidly obese." declared Dr. Naissance. "His bulk was not only the culprit of many health problems, but it had a 'weighty' effect on his everyday life." he added with a smirk.

Handel was often given to fits of uncontrollable hunger. One such fit occurred during the 1727 coronation of King George II. The king related this account, "I was most dismayed during my coronation when I observed the portly Handel eating sheet music. I immediately ordered one of my servants to fetch him some alimentation before he started eating orchestra members." (1) There seems to have been no pattern as to when the hunger fits occrued. There are similar eye witness accounts of them at the premiere of his oratorio, "Judas Macabeus", where he reprtedly began gnawing on a velvet curtain.

Handel never married and new findings suggest this may have been due to his weight. In correspondence to her friends, Ludmilla Cromwell, star of the London Opera, suggested that Handel made many romantic gestures toward her. She always refused these gestures on the grounds that Handel was "disgustingly fat" and that she would be "pulverized under his enormous gravity". While no woman ever told him directly that he was too fat, it is clear that he suspected woman avoided him due to his size. In a letter to his friend Domenico Scarlatti he stated that many women gave him "divers and unrealistic excuses" such as "'tis not thee, but me."

Later in his life, he simply stopped playing the organ. He maintained this was because of a paralysis that had rendered his right hand unusable. We now know this was a lie to cover up the shame and guilt of his condition. It appears that Handel had gained so much weight he was simply "unable to reach the keyboard." (2) During this period he became withdrawn, ashamed of his appearance. Many colleagues noted that he rarely left his flat and never powdered his wig.

How would the music of England's greatest German-born composer have sounded if he had been thinner? "We can only speculate," related Dr. Naissance. "My only guess is it would be 'lighter'," he said, smirking once again.


(1) King George II: Life Under the Crown. By Albert Schweitzer
(2) G.F.Handel: the F Stands for Fatty-Fatty-Fat-Fat. By Didier Naissance

February 2007