I have recently been reviewing a fine CD of Dr. Maurice Greene’s (c.1695 -1755) Amoretti for tenor and continuo: it will appear on MusicWeb International and in this ‘blog’ in due course. Meanwhile I have found this short anecdote about Handel and Greene. The reader has to bear in mind two things. Firstly, that Greene was so impressed by Handel’s ability as an organist that he offered to be his organ-blower at St Pauls’ Cathedral – a job that required considerable effort and stamina. Charles Burney (1726-1814) wrote, “From Greene’s great admiration of Handel’s manner of playing, he had literally condescended to become his bellows-blower, when he [Handel] went to St. Paul’s to play on the organ…. Handel, after the three o’clock prayers, used frequently to get himself and young Greene locked up in the church together, and in summer often stript unto his shirt, and played till eight or nine o’clock at night.” [Hat tip to Roger Slade for this quote]
Secondly, at the time of this anecdote, Handel and Greene were friends; however, there was to be a ‘rift in the lute’ between the two men because of the latter's friendship with Handel’s great rival Giovanni Battista Buononcini (1670-1747) the Italian composer and cellist.
The author was a little harsh on Greene’s compositional skill, however his anthems have never truly caught on due to his preference for ‘verse –anthems’ utilising a number of soloists rather than full choir. The one major exception is ‘Lord, Let me know my End’
‘Dr. Maurice Greene, whose compositions, whether for church or the chamber, were never remarkably mellifluous, having solicited Handel’s perusal and opinion of a solo anthem which he had just finished, was invited by the great German to take his coffee with him the next morning, when he would say what he thought of it. The Doctor was punctual in his attendance, the coffee was served, and a variety of topics discussed; but not a word said by Handel concerning the composition. At length, Greene, whose patience was exhausted, said, with eagerness, and an anxiety, which he could no longer conceal, “Well, Sir, but my anthem – what do you think?” “Oh, your antum – ah – why I did tink it vanted air, Dr Greene.” “Air, sir?” “Yes, air; and so I did hang it out of de window.”
The yarn, which was recalled by Dr. Busby, may well be apocryphal: certainly, Handel’s accented speech is probably exaggerated. However, the reader needs to realise that the burden of the story is based around the contemporary importance that was attached to ‘air’ or as we would now call it tune or melody.