Phi Beta Kappa visiting scholar to discuss Handel’s royal court firing

Ellen HarrisNot many think of composers getting fired, but it happened to George Frideric Handel, the composer of such great works as the Messiah, Water Music and Music for Royal Fireworks, when the Elector of Hanover ousted him in 1713. How and why it happened is the subject of the talk, “Politics in Early 18th-Century Britain: Why Handel was Fired and Other Stories,” by Ellen T. Harris, president-elect of the American Musicological Society.

Harris, professor emeritus at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, will make the presentation during a campus visit sponsored by the Phi Beta Kappa Visiting Scholar Program and co-sponsored by the Case Western Reserve University Department of Music. The public is invited to attend the free event at 7:30 p.m. on Monday, Nov. 18, in Harkness Chapel.

When he arrived in London in 1712, Handel was employed by heir-to-the-throne Georg Ludwig, the elector of Hanover. Handel was welcomed in the court by Queen Anne and composed ceremonial music for her. At the same time, Lord Burlington, who also eyed the throne, welcomed him. Caught in a political tug-of-war, Handel lost his job at the Hanoverian court.

Harris will explore connections between Handel’s composing and London politics.

The Phi Beta Kappa visiting scholar will draw from her forthcoming book, George Frideric Handel:  A Life with Friends (W.W. Norton, 2014) and Handel as Orpheus: Voice and Desire in the Chamber Cantatas (Harvard University Press, 2002), which received the 2002 Kinkeldey Award from the AMS and the 2003 Gottschalk Prize from the American Society for 18th-Century Studies.

But Harris’ fame goes beyond her writings. The soprano soloist once sang the National Anthem at a Boston Red Sox game in Fenway Park and has performed songs from My Fair Lady with John Williams and the Boston Pops Orchestra.

As an undergraduate at Brown University, she earned her BA in 1967 and earned her MA and PhD from the University of Chicago. She joined MIT’s music department in 1989, where she served as associate provost from 1989-95.

She has been recognized for her research as a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, an honorary member of the AMS and a fellow at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton and the Bunting Institute of Radcliffe College. She has also received MIT’s 2005 Gyorgy Kepes Prize for her work in the arts.

For information, contact David J. Rothenberg, associate professor of music, at 216.368.6046 or email