Robert King explains how Handel got a 19th-centuy makeover care of Mendelssohn.

It’s often said that Mendelssohn rescued the music of Bach from obscurity, but people are less aware of his interest in Handel. Did Handel need rescuing for German audiences, and why? What was Mendelssohn trying to achieve?

Handel enjoyed a much wider audience during his lifetime than did Bach: their two public profiles could not have been more different. All Handel’s well-documented opera and oratorio performances, not to mention royal patronage and then those large-scale performances of his oratorios that continued after his death, alongside some printed editions, ensured that Handel’s music remained in the public eye well into the 19th century. Whereas to most people, even during his lifetime, Bach was simply a Cantor, an organist who composed, and whose works stayed in manuscript form: the wider musical public knew little of him, and after his death only the cognoscenti continued to keep alive the reputation of his music. In the movement to rehabilitate Bach, and indeed Handel, Mendelssohn was by no means alone, but he was highly influential. In particular, Mendelssohn applied processes which to today’s scholars are standard, but which in the...

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