Just now, Les and I are reading aloud a wonderful book, a historical novel of Handel, the
circumstances of his writing of the music for Messiah. It is by times soul-touching, hilarious,
informative. I love it, Barrie Doyle!
Erma Tihor, Ontario
In his Oak Grove Conspiracies trilogy, author Barrie Doyle wove tales that combined history, suspense and intrigue. In his latest novel, “Musick for the King,” Doyle uses those same techniques to deftly compose the story behind the writing of one of classical music’s greatest pieces: “Messiah” by George Frederick Handel.
To begin, “Musick for the King” is historical fiction. As Doyle says in his Author’s Reflections: “Naturally some of the peripheral characters are fictional. However, by and large most of the people in this novel are real. I have tried to characterize them as history has recorded them.” So if you’re looking for a biography, go elsewhere. But if you’re looking for an exciting tale about a seminal work of art, “Musick for the King” needs to top your to-read list.
Structure along the lines of “Messiah,” with three parts and many movements (chapters), Doyle opens with a Handel who is fighting illness (gout and the after effects of a stroke), the prospect of debtor’s prison. Handel also has detractors, including Frederick (the Prince of Wales) who are determined to ruin his reputation.
Handel’s mood begins to lift when the Duke of Devonshire, who is also the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, invites Handel to the emerald isle to lead a series of concerts. And when Charles Jennens unexpectedly brings Handel a libretto based on passages from the Bible, Handel becomes so inspired, he scores the music for a sacred oratorio in 24 days.
With plans to premiere the work, which Jennens simply titled “Messiah,” in Ireland as a fundraiser, Handel faces more opposition over the venue (a public music hall instead of a church), his choice of a singer (a woman who had been the subject of a sex scandal in London) and the material (whispered by some as blasphemous). Handel and his supporters eventually overcome the objections and the oratorio is performed to resounding reviews. This scenario is repeated after Handel returns to London and, again, sees “Messiah” successfully performed and hailed as a masterpiece by none other than King George II.
Doyle relies on his experience as a communicator (journalism and public relations) to pen a story that keeps the reader engaged and turning the pages. Once you begin reading this novel, you won’t want to put it down until you’ve finished.
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