10 July 2010
From Composer's Datebook
On today's date in 1733, Georg Friderich Handel paid a visit to Oxford to conduct the premiere performance of his new oratorio, "Athalia," at the Sheldonian Theater.
Handel had been invited by the vice-chancellor of the University to add some musical pizzazz to an elaborate ceremony know as "The Publick Act," during which honorary degrees were bestowed on some worthy individuals. It was apparently a terrific performance, with a correspondent for the London Magazine reporting: "Never has there been such applause and marks of admiration."
But not everyone in Oxford was happy. One crusty don, apparently not a fan of the "new" music, complained of the presence of "Handel and his lousy crew -- a great number of foreign fiddlers." Even so, Handel was offered an honorary degree by Oxford, but he did not accept. Handel claimed he was "too busy," but maybe he just balked at paying the University's required fee of 100 pounds to receive the honor.