Charles Jennens is best known as the librettist of Handel’s Messiah, but he had a range of intellectual interests. This display brings together portraits, correspondence and printed documents reflecting the varied interests and achievements of this polymath of Georgian Britain.
Charles Jennens (1700-1773) was a wealthy landowner, patron of the arts, scholar and collector. Jennens was a non-juror, supporting the legitimacy of the deposed Catholic Stuart monarchy, although he himself was a devout Protestant. As a non-juror he was barred from public office, and devoted himself to other fields. His art collection was one of the best in Britain, and he rebuilt his home, Gopsall Hall in Leicestershire, as a grand Palladian mansion, complete with a music room with an organ built to Handel’s specifications. As a scholar Jennens commenced the first critical edition of Shakespeare’s plays, a task left unfinished at his death, and corresponded extensively with his friend the classical scholar Edward Holdsworth. Much of his substantial music library, which includes hundreds of manuscripts of Handel’s music, passed to a descendant and is preserved as the ‘Aylesford Collection’ in the Henry Watson Music Library in Manchester, although several volumes are now in the Coke Collection at the Foundling Museum. Jennens collaborated with Handel to create the libretti for several oratorios, including Saul, Belshazzar, L’Allegro and the most well-known work today, Messiah.
Visit on 21 July and join a lunch time behind the scenes tour with Katharine Hogg, Gerald Coke Handel Collection Librarian. Tour starts at 2.00pm, free with admission, sign-up on the day.
Join our free online talk, Charles Jennens: The Man Behind Handel’s Messiah on 13 July, delivered by writer and broadcaster Ruth Smith, leading expert on Handel’s oratorios and Jennens’s biographer, exploring his personality and his principles, his aims and his achievements, illuminating his fertile, and sometimes fractious, collaboration with Handel. Book your place in advance.
Ruth Smith’s book, Charles Jennens: the man behind Handel’s Messiah, is now available to buy in the Museum shop.