Händel House and Music Museum

The great baroque composer and impresario Georg Friedrich Händel was born in Halle in the year 1685. His birth house and several adjoining buildings have been nicely renovated and now form the Händel House and Music Museum of the City of Halle, along with the Center for Händel Research.

In the nineteenth century there was some disagreement about which of these houses was actually the composer’s birth house, but the consensus now is that it was the house on the corner, then known as “The House of the Yellow Stag”. Upstairs there is even a room which is labeled as the room where he was probably born, though no one knows for sure.

The museum provides an overview of Händel’s life and work (see my post Händel as an opera composer) but also includes a display of unusual musical instruments.

A keyboard harp, made in Vienna

Around the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th century numerous ingenious musical instruments were invented, like this keyboard harp. The rationale for this was that a keyboard is a lot easier to play than a harp, so this was intended to alleviate the shortage of harpists. Like most of the newly invented instruments of this period, the keyboard harp never really caught on. Today if you want to make a harp sound you have to learn to play one, or get an electronic instrument that will imitate any sound you want.

Schrankpolyphon (still works)

The machine in this photo is a mechanical device that reproduces music stored on a large disk with numerous holes. This is the same principle of data storage that was used in player pianos and in the punch cards that were used to store data for mainframe computers until well into the 1970s. Most music museums have a machine like this, but the one in Halle is the only one I know of that is still coin-operated. You just insert a one Euro piece (up from 5 Pfennigs a century ago) and turn the crank, and it plays an elaborate recording of the Slaves’ Dance from Mozart’s opera The Magic Flute.

See also: Look Ma, no electrons! on the German Museum of Mechanical Musical Instruments in Bruchsal.

Harmoniums, powered by compressed air, in Halle

Drinking glasses for making music

When we were children we used to make musical tones with drinking glasses, by rubbing a moist finger around the top of the glass. Different sized glasses made different tones. but we never seemed to have all the sizes we wanted. The drinking glasses in this photo were made in different sizes, one for each note, for the specific purpose of making music.

A glass armonica

This is a glass armonica like the one invented by Benjamin Franklin in 1762. When Gaetano Donizetti first composed his opera Lucia di Lammermoor in 1836, he originally scored Lucia’s mad scene for a glass armonica, hoping to give it a haunting unearthly quality. But he later rewrote it for flute because some of the orchestra musicians at the opera house in Naples went out on strike, including their only glass armonica player. Nearly all productions of Lucia di Lammermoor since then have used the flute version (and generations of flutists have regarded this scene as a high point of their careers), but the current production at the Frankfurt Opera uses the original glass armonica version, played by Sascha Reckert, who makes his own glass instruments and performs them all over the world either alone or with his ensemble Sinfonia di verto.

Historic organ in Halle

Looking down at the inside of the organ

Another highlight of the Music Museum in Halle is this historic organ, which has been carefully restored and set up in a new part of the building which was specially built so you can go upstairs and look down into the inner workings of the organ.

Händel Festival

Händel Festival in Halle

Every year in June there is a Händel Festival in Halle, featuring concerts, lectures, recitals, guided city walks — plus a major oratorio and a new opera production each year. Since 1922 they have produced all forty of Händel’s operas at least once. Two other German cities also have Händel Festivals each year, namely Gottingen and Karlsruhe. There is also a Händel Festival in London each year, and one in Maryland (USA) every year or two.

Händel statue in the Market Square in Halle

In the Market Square (Marktplatz) in Halle there is a statue of Georg Friedrich Händel which was erected in 1859 on the one hundredth anniversary of the composer’s death. Queen Victoria of England was in attendance when the statue was unveiled.

Händel lived the first eighteen years of his life in Halle. After that he spent three years in Hamburg, where he played the violin, cello and cembalo in the orchestra of the Hamburg opera house. Then he spent four years in Italy before settling in London, where he wrote most of his forty operas, thirty oratorios and hundreds of other musical works.

My photos in this post are from 2009. I revised the text in 2018.

See more posts on Halle an der Saale, Sachsen-Anhalt, Germany.
See more posts on the composer Georg Friedrich Händel.

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