Handel & Mattheson

In 1703, George Frideric Handel traveled to Hamburg and befriended another young composer named Johann Mattheson whose opera, Cleopatra, was then being produced. Mattheson, who also sang in one of the opera's starring roles, engaged Handel as its harpsichord player. One evening, having completed his singing part, the ambitious Mattheson decided to conduct the orchestra from the harpsichord and attempted to relieve Handel of his duties. Handel, however, was not easily persuaded; indeed, the men began fighting in the orchestra pit before moving the scuffle into the street:

"Incited by several people who were present," Mattheson later recalled, "we fought a duel at the exit of the Opera House, in the open market place and with a crowd of onlookers. Things might have ended very unfortunately for both of us, had God's guidance not graciously ordained that my blade, thrusting against the broad, metal coat-button of my opponent, should be shattered. No harm came of the affair... We were soon reconciled again... and became better friends than before."

[Mattheson later sang the tenor lead at the premiere of Handel's first opera, Almira (1705).]

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