London: A travel guide for music fans
Visit destinations related to classical music and opera art. Get to know exciting ideas and background information.
Overview of visit destinations (click for more information)
Here you can find the locations of all described destinations on Google Maps.
London was a sought-after place for composers. The bad weather was not conducive to the health of three composers who visited London.
As well as the long-established Convent Garden opera house and the stunning Royal Albert Hall, churches also offer high quality music.
Westminster Abbey and St Paul’s Cathedral were and are still important vehicles for church music.
Magnificent buildings used as venues for concerts and receptions by musicians.
Where the opera stars stay and stayed.
Where the composers lived during their stays.
4 great pieces of music to enjoy.
GOOGLE MAPS – OVERVIEW OF DESTINATIONS
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LIFE AND WORK OF ARTISTS IN LONDON
Georg Frederic Handel
Handel arrives in London
When Handel arrived in London in November 1711, he made the acquaintance of Aaron Hill, the only 24-year-old manager of the Queen’s Theatre in Haymarket, who as its tenant and impresario planned to bring Italian opera to London. When he heard that Handel had come to London, he proposed a joint project to the Saxon: to establish Italian opera in London with a bang. Handel was enthusiastic, and the two created the opera “Rinaldo” in a very short time.
Triumphs and tragedies as entrepreneur
The first production hit like a bomb. Handel managed a collection of big hits with this opera (including “Lascia ch’io pianga”) and Hill came up with a series of crazy special effects. More about this in the excursus below on the opera “Rinaldo”. Handel subsequently remained in London throughout his life and experienced a moving artistic career.
Handel achieved great triumphs with his opera companies and three times went bankrupt due to changing fashions. In addition, he wrote, among others, the Fireworks Music and the Water Music for the King, as well as oratorios, the last of which was the famous Messiah. Piquantly, in 1714 the Hanoverian George was elected English king , in whose service Handel had once been as court conductor, and he had absconded to London without permission. George I forgave the Saxon, reconciled not least by Handel’s Water Music for the Thames boat trips, and became an important patron. Handel remained loyal to London, occasionally visiting the Continent, mainly to recruit singers or in later years to take cures for his failing health. Handel died in 1750 as a wealthy but blind man in his Brook Street home, a year after the unspeakable eye operation by the quack Taylor.
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Search for performance opportunities
When the Mozarts arrived in London, Wolfgang was 8 years old. In Calais they saw the sea for the first time and despite seasickness the crossing was calm. The father begins to organize the first concerts, but becomes seriously ill. As a result, concertizing comes to a standstill, Mozart finds time to compose and writes his first symphony. The father gets the public performances going with many advertisements, but their income does not meet expectations.
Early the Mozarts got an audience with the German-born and music-crazy royal couple Georg (from the Hanover line) and Sophie Charlotte (from Mecklenburg), where Mozart was extensively tested by the monarch with musical tasks to his satisfaction. The two were delighted and Mozart visited them several times in the so-called Buckingham House, the forerunner of the Palace of the same name.
Johann Christian Bach
In London, the Mozarts met the local musical elite, including Bach’s son Johann Christan, the queen’s personal music teacher. Wolfgang studied the latter’s works in depth, and the two played music together before the Queen, as Frederick Grimm recorded: “Bach took him on his knees, and the two thus played alternately on the same piano for two hours in the presence of the King and Queen.”
In total, the Mozart family’s stay in London lasted over 18 months. Of the Mozart places, 180 Ebury St, Belgravia and Cécil Court are still standing.
Mendelssohn visited the British Isle ten times, and from the beginning it was mutual love that the British and Mendelssohn felt for each other. Only the smog and the size of London (“a monster”) bothered Mendelssohn. The first stay in 1829 had been scheduled by his father and was part of the educational tour that took Mendelsohn through many countries in Western Europe.
Already during his first stay as a 19-year-old, Mendelssohn was celebrated, performing his own and other people’s works there. Among other works, he played his first symphony and the Summer Night Overture. An anecdote says that on his return from the concert he left the score of the overture in a cab, whereupon he wrote it down flawlessly from memory.
Affair with Jenny Lind
Mendelssohn met many celebrities such as Charles Dickens and Queen Victoria, for whom he played music several times (see below). A secretive relationship with the famous opera singer Jenny Lind culminated in London in 1847. The two had met in Germany as early as 1844 and possibly fell in love. The married Mendelssohn is said to have written her hot-blooded letters, even threatening suicide. However it is not completely certain, the letters were destroyed. On his last London trip he saw her in Convent Garden and (one is not sure) also in Belgravia House. Mendelssohn’s death shortly thereafter put an end to the relationship. Bad luck stuck to the Lind’s feet, for a little later Jenny Lind sought solace with another famous composer, who also died shortly thereafter.
The concert halls where Mendelssohn conducted in London have largely disappeared, only St. Paul’s Cathedral can still be visited, where Mendelssohn excelled as an organ virtuoso.
A journey out of necessity
Chopin’s trip to Great Britain was an on-the-spot solution. The July Revolution had broken out in Paris, the king was overthrown and the royal family fled to England. The rich families also left Paris and Chopin suddenly found himself without a piano pupil, without savings and in poor health. It suited him that Jane Stirling, a former piano pupil (she must have been quite talented, he had dedicated 2 Nocturne to her), offered to organise piano pupils and performances in London.
He arrived in London in February 1848, where he was initially quite well off, living in Dover Street (the house was a victim of the Second World War), giving semi-public concerts (see below) and giving lessons, though he suffered from London’s constant fog. As summer approached, the rich people left the city and Chopin found himself without a means of earning a living. Jane Stirling stepped in again and organised a tour of Scotland, but it took its toll on him physically. When he returned to London he was left to give his last concert at the Guildhall. He returned to Paris on 23 November in very poor health.
Much about Henry Purcell’s life is obscure. Born in 1659, he became a choirboy at an early age at the Royal Chapel (where his father was a member) and he also received his musical training there. He became organist at Westminster Abbey and then also at the Royal Chapel. Purcell spent his life in London, wrote some masterpieces (for example the “Te Deum” “Dido and Aeneas” or “The Fairy Queen”) and died already at the age of 37.
Anecdote around his death
Purcell’s death is attributed by some sources to a cold he caught in November 1695. It is assumed that his wife forbade her maids to admit the notorious pub visitor after midnight. Unfortunately, the inebriated Purcell is said to have caught the cold on a November night when he found himself locked out of his house, heavily drunk.
Catfight with Nellie Melba
Luisa Tetrazzini was one of the great stars of the opera world of the early twentieth century. She was a gifted coloratura soprano and the great rival of Nellie Melba.
In 1907 she sang a surprise debut at Covent Garden that caught her Australian rival on the wrong foot. Nellie Melba then taunted her full-figured rival at a party by getting down on all fours and showing how the horse in “Les Huguenots” had to fight to carry Luisa Tetrazzini. Tetrazzini commented dryly, “Some have the figure, others have the voice.”
Carl Maria von Weber
In 1824 von Weber received an invitation to write an opera for London and to conduct it himself. Weber accepted and traveled to London in 1826, although he was already ill with tuberculosis and no longer able to travel. He needed the money and decided to go to London via Paris (where he met Rossini and talked about opera projects).
Already in poor health, he conducted the celebrated first performance at Convent Garden in April, but was unable to conduct the following performances himself as his condition deteriorated drastically in May. He planned to return, but died at the home of musician and friend George Smart on June 5. He was given a ceremonial burial in London and his body was transferred to Dresden 18 years later on the initiative of Richard Wagner.
The 31-year-old Rossini was invited by Benelli, the impresario of the King’s Theatre in London, to come to England and write an opera for London (Ugo re d’Italia). Rossinis wife, the aging prima donna Isabelle Colbran was to sing. However, the visit of the two in 1823 remained artistically unproductive, Rossini did not fulfill his duties and Colbran disappointed with her performances, the voice was already in decline.
The nobility was crazy about Rossini
Rossini took advantage of the time to make a side trip to Brighton, where he met the king in the spectacular pavilion (see below).
Nevertheless, the nobility was crazy about Rossini. The ladies and gentlemen of high English society were willing to pay any price for singing lessons, small performances, etc., and the newly married Rossini couple could really cash in in England. After 5 months the dust had settled and Rossini left the island, he never came back.
CONCERT HALLS AND OPERA HOUSES
Royal Opera House Convent Garden
The building dates from the mid-19th century, before which 2 previous houses had burnt down. It seats 2,250 spectators, the theatre has been entitled “Royal” since 1892 and is used by the Royal Opera and the Royal Ballet. Since its construction, the theatre has been shut down twice, the first time during the First World War when it was used for storage and the second time from 1996-1999 when it was renovated and extended.
Royal Opera House Convent Garden
Maria Callas’ famous Tosca in the Convent Garden
A performance of “Tosca” at London’s Convent Garden in 1964 resulted in a unique Callas mania. “At the beginning of 1964, the music world experienced something completely unexpected: prima donna Maria Callas returned to the opera stage of the Royal Opera House in London and landed a long-lasting sensational success with her interpretation of Tosca. Not even the Beatles had more press. Yet Maria Callas’ glorious career seemed to have come to an end long ago, and she herself had become a myth. It was no longer her voice but her scandals that dominated the headlines at that time.
Translated with www.DeepL.com/Translator (free version)
She wanted to impress her fans and her critics once again
Disappointed by her love for multi-billionaire and playboy Aristotle Onassis, Maria Callas wanted to show everyone once again that she was right to bear the title ‘Primadonna Assoluta’. On the condition that star director Franco Zeffirelli took over the direction, the exceptional singer finally agreed to sing Tosca. Her fans lined up for days in front of the opera house and spent the cold winter nights in sleeping bags and on folding chairs to get one of the coveted tickets and to experience their star once again in her signature role” (source: ORF, Wischmann). The performance became a triumph and swan song for Callas. The BBC recorded the second act live.
Angela Gheorghiu ignites her career in Convent Garden
Gheorghiu was born in 1965 in rural Romania into a working class family. At the age of 14 she went to Bucharest to the music high school and afterwards to the music college.
She left Romania shortly after and was engaged at the Royal Opera House in London, where she made her debut as Zerlina in Mozart’s Don Giovanni. A key event was the encounter with Georg Solti. At the age of 84 he wanted to produce his first Traviata with fresh artists and met Angela Gheorghiu. He was thrilled. When the opera was showed in the opera house “Her performance spontaneously convinced the BBC’s television management to change the programme and switch live to the Royal Opera House in London to broadcast the performance on television. This is how the triumph of the “soprano” (wikipedia) began in London.
Royal Albert Hall
Queen Victoria’s gigantic building
Queen Victoria commissioned her army engineers to build this gigantic structure. Six million bricks were piled up. When the 40 m high dome was put on, the building was evacuated, but it only sank 1 mm and evenly. In memory of her beloved deceased husband, after whom the building was named, the Queen had his initials inscribed everywhere; it is said that over 10,000 initials were inscribed on railings, entrances, etc.
At the inauguration of the building, the Queen was apparently so moved that she did not want to give the speech, but entrusted the task to her son.
The then largest organ in the world
With 10,000 pipes, the largest organ in the world at the time was installed. Camille-Saint-Saens, perhaps the greatest organist of the time (next to Anton Bruckner), played the instrument for the opening. Bruckner also visited the Royal Albert Hall and marvelled at the organ, whose bellows were powered by steam engines. He came back the next day and the steam lasted longer than planned, which saved Bruckner’s life, as it meant he did not take the train he had planned to take, on which an accident was to occur. When Bruckner arrived at the station, the seriously injured were just being carried out.
Opening of the Royal Albert Hall in 1871:
Royal Albert Hall
Wagner’s visit in 1877
In 1877 Wagner conducted a series of 8 concerts at the RAH. He was in very poor health and he conducted only the first half of each concert (the second half was conducted by Hans Richter). He only made the trip to pay off the gigantic debts of the first Bayreuth festival in 1876. Wagner’s London trip became famous because Wagner conducted very poorly due to his health problems. Several times his memory failed him badly and his beat was very unsteady.
The acoustic issue
Wagner immediately noticed that the hall with the double echo had a big acoustic problem. This problem was only solved to some extent in 1969 with a construction under the roof.
Royal Albert Hall
The most famous event at the Royal Albert Hall is of course the Proms, especially the last night with its exuberant atmosphere. The Proms take place in August.
King’s Theatre (today her Majesty’s Theatre)
Home of Handel’s famous theater compagnie
The Haymarket Theater was the stage for Handel’s three glorious opera companies. More than 25 of his operas were premiered here. The building was first called Queen’s Theater, with the change of power in 1714 changed to King’s Theater or simply Theater at Haymarket.
The original theater no longer stands because in 1789 a fire was set by a disappointed artist during a rehearsal. After another fire, the present building was opened in 1897. Long used as a dramatic theater, it has been hosting musical productions for many years.
The historic King’s Theatre:
Great choral and organ works are regularly performed in Westminster Abbey.
St. Pauls Cathedral
It is not only the church where Charles married his Diana, but St Paul’s is also a place of concerts.
English National Opera
The second English opera house in London offers high quality classical opera, sung in English.
London Symphony Orchestra
Since 1982 the Barbican Hall has been the concert venue for the LSO, probably the UK’s most prestigious classical orchestra. It captivates not only by the quality of its music, but also by the incredibly illustrious pedigree of its principal conductors (including Richter, Elgar, Beecham, Mengelberg, Monteux, Previn, Abbado, Davis, Rattle).
Royal Festival Hall (South Bank Centre)
It is the home of the London Philharmonic and other orchestras with a dense and high quality concert programme.
Sheldonian Theatre (Oxford)
This theatre is not in London, but still worth a trip because of its proximity.
Joseph Haydn’s honorary doctorate
The celebration of the conferment of the honorary doctorate lasted three days.Haydn’s Symphony Number 92 was given at the festive concert; it has since borne the honorary title “Oxford Symphony.” Haydn had composed this commissioned work for London for a Parisian commission and had coldly sold it twice. When Haydn was asked to perform something after receiving his honorary doctorate, he stepped up to the organ, fiddled somewhat nervously with his clothes, and said “I thank you.” To which the dignitary replied “You speak very good English!”.
The extraordinary, magnificent Sheldonian Theater where the festivities took place still stands today and is a must-see when visiting Oxford. See the website for tours and/or concerts in this wonderful building.
It was Handels wish to find his last resting place in the Westminster Abbey. Again Roubiliac created the statue for the tomb. This portrait is generally recognized as very faithful, on the one hand because Roubiliac had already portrayed Handel once for a statue, and on the other hand he modeled the face on the basis of the death mask. This statement was confirmed by contemporaries who knew Handel.
Henry Purcell’s honorary tomb is in Westminster Abbey. Some sources attribute his death to a cold he caught in November 1695. It is suspected that his wife forbade her servants to admit Purcell, a notorious pub-goer, after midnight. Unfortunately, the buzzed musician is said to have caught the cold that November night when he found himself locked out of his house, heavily buzzed.
His grave is in the north aisle of the Abbey where the organ was in his day, which is why it is said that he is “under the organ.”
St. Paul-s Cathedral
Mendelssohn in St. Paul’s Cathedral
Mendelssohn was a gifted organist. He visited St. Paul’s Cathedral several times, played there often, and also heard a Handel oratorio there. His organ recital of 1837 must have been particularly impressive, when Mendelssohn played Bach and the audience refused to leave the church. Only when the calculants (the bellows treaders) went home did the instrument run out of breath.
St. Pauls Cathedral:
CASTLES AND PALACES
Queen Victoria and her husband Prince Albert were music-loving regents and Felix Mendelssohn saw them several times. The two often invited artists to perform at Buckingham Palace, and Mendelssohn alone gave three concerts at the palace. On one private visit, Queen Victoria sang to him and Prince Albert played the organ.
A contemporary painter had captured the scene:
Queen Victoria noted this moment in her diary and later allowed Mendelssohn to dedicate the 3rd Symphony (“Scottish”) to her.
You can still recognize the furniture in the Music Salon:
In this magnificent building Chopin gave his last concert ever, his performance was part of a benefit for Polish refugees. Chopin was very weak and is said to have weighed only 50 kg.
Guild Hall is open for tours, please note limited opening hours.
St. James- Palace und the chapel Royal
Henry Purcell’s place of work
Until the first half of the 19th century, St James’s was the residence of British monarchs. Nowadays the palace has only representative functions. The palace was built in the 16th century and you can still find the initials H.A. for Henry VIII and his second wife Anna Bolena on the gatehouse.
The palace houses, among other things, the so-called Chapels Royal. This is an institution that performs on royal occasions such as church services and ceremonies, for example, as the choir of Westminster Abbey. Henry Purcell composed for the choir, as did George Frideric Handel, for whose oratorios the choir sang. In Purcell’s masterpiece “Dido and Aeneas”, the masterful treatment of the chorus is evident, acquired through his years of practice at the Royal Chapel (see also the digression below).
St. James Palace is only open for events (e.g. charity events of members of the royal family) and can only be visited from the outside.
St. James Palace:
The glittering hall with the famous staircase
Chopin gave three semi-public concerts in London. The most glamorous was the concert on May 15 at Stafford Hose (now Lancaster House), where he played for the Queen. Lancaster House is a palace in St. James Square that could host evening parties of up to 1,000 guests. The highlight is the grand staircase of the hall, of which Chopin reported impressed to his family.
Lancaster House has retained its splendor and is used for state occasions or for large private events. The staircase hall has repeatedly been the setting for film shoots (e.g. “Kings Speech”, “The Crown”).
The room is is very rarely open to the public.
Staircase hall of Lancaster House:
Royal Pavillon (Brighton)
The highlight of Rossini’s trip to England was the invitation of the art-loving George IV to visit him in his gigantic Oriental pleasure pavilion at the seaside resort of Brighton, which had just been built. In the spectacular great music hall with its Chinese décor, Rossini sang, among other things, Figaro and the king joined in before the assembled audience. A sketch artist captured this scene.
Contemporary drawing of the duet of Rossini and George IV:
The performance in the music hall:
This spectacular hall and the equally spectacular building still stand and can be visited.
Today’s picture of the Music Hall:
THE LEGENDARY SAVOY
Tetrazzini’s unforgettable check-in
The Savoy in London, near the Convent Garden opera house, was the hotel of opera stars. Tetrazzini’s arrival with her pet went down in the annals of the hotel. It was a crocodile and is said to have spent the night in the swimming pool.
All the legendary opera stars since 1890 have stayed here.
Savoy (historisc picture):
Auguste Escoffier, César Ritz, Nellie Melba and Adelina Patti
He was called the king of chefs and the chef of kings. In London, he worked for many years at the Savoy next to the opera house and learned to love opera. He spent many of his spare evenings at the opera house. Opera stars were his guests at the Savoy in London. For the most famous opera singer of the time, Nellie Melba, he created the “Pêche Melba” sundae. He saw her in Lohengrin and he was inspired by the swan to create this dish. The singer was thrilled, but she is said not to have eaten the sundae often for fear of her vocal cords.
Adelina Patti, Nellie Melba’s predecessor as a leading singer also sang often in London. Then she descended on the Savoy, where Escoffier swung the wooden spoons in the kitchen. It could happen that her rival Nellie Melba, 20 years younger, was also staying at the hotel at the same time.The hotelier César Ritz had to make sure that he placed the two divas far away from each other in the restaurant.
HOUSES AND APARTMENTS OF ARTISTS
Mozart’s family home in a pretty lane
Cecil Court is one of the oldest surviving streets in London and is now a pedestrian street with pretty Victorian store fronts in London. The Mozarts stayed for four months with the barber John Couzin, in whose store they sold tickets for their concerts. It was here that Mozart composed his first symphony. There are many antique shops at number nine Cecil Court and a plaque commemorating the famous guest hangs on the Mozart House at number 9.
Händel House Brook Street (Handel and Hendrix)
The Händel Museum
Handel lived 36 years until his death in the house in Brookstreet and wrote there many operas, his Fireworks Music and the Water Music. In 2001 the house was turned into a museum and can be visited, for Handel fans of course a must. With the entrance fee you can also visit an apartment where Jimi Hendrix lived for a few weeks, that’s why the house is called Handel-Hendrix House.
The music room in the Handel House:
Mendelssohn’s preferred London residence
Mendelssohn often stayed at 4, Hobart Place in Belgravia during his London stays. His childhood friend from Berlin days, the diplomat and poet Karl Klingemann, lived there. He spent a total of four months at five stays. Klingemann was a member of the Hanoverian legation in England. The building is now owned by private individuals and is a listed building. A memorial plaque commemorates the famous visitor.
4, Hobart Place Belgravia:
The house where Carl Maria von Weber died
There is a Memorial plaque at the death house at W1, Great Portland Street, 103:
St. James Place
On October 31, Chopin had returned deathly ill after the grueling journey through Scotland. He was quartered in St. James Place for the entire remaining month and was so weakened that he only left the house for the big concert in the Guildhall. A plaque commemorates the famous resident.
4, St. James Place:
MUSIC PIECES WITH REFERENCE TO LONDON
From the opera Dido and Aeneas
As director of the Chapel, Purcell often had to write music for choirs. A nice example of Purcell’s ability to write effective choral pieces can be heard in “In our deep vaulted cell”. This piece is also called “Echo Dance of the Furies” because Purcell has short choral passages repeated again and again by a choir in the background as an echo. A surprising and charming effect!
Another piece from Dido and Aeneas that you should not miss is “When I am laid in earth”. This aria is one of the great arias of opera literature, a lament that can truly move the listener to tears.
The premiere of Rinaldo, the first Italian opera in London
The beginning of Handel’s conquest of London
After his arrival in November, Handel began work immediately in December. Since the first performance was scheduled for February, there was not much time to compose the work. So Handel did what was common at the time: he took many themes from pieces of his earlier works and rewrote them. It is estimated that he “recycled” about 14 pieces. In fact, the collection of “hits” in Rinaldo is fantastic: “Vo’ far guerra,” “Cara sposa,” “Augelletti, che cantate”, and “Lascia ch’io pianga” are musical treats in the best sense of the words.
The gigantic stage show
Handel’s compagnon Hill wanted to present this opera with a bang in London. To do this, he used the theatre’s brilliant stagecraft to present fire-breathing dragons, flying machines and black clouds. Dozens of live sparrows were used, which drew raves from the audience. Hill did not skimp on the cast either. The entire theatre crew was made up of Italians, including the leading castrati of the day, Nicolini and Valentini. Rinaldo became an instant success and was given 13 times in the same season.
The sparrows devastate the theatre
For the aria “Augelletti, che cantate”, a dialogue between the singer and a bird (flute), Aaron Hill overwhelmed the audience at the premiere: he brought live sparrows onto the stage. Dozens of these specimens flew into the stage sky and accompanied the singer with their song. Unfortunately, it was difficult to retrieve the many sparrows and the audience was advised to wear headgear during the performances…
Coloratura festival with the canary
Bellini composed for the finale of his opera “La sonnambula” a bravura aria with great leaps of tone, trills and top notes. Listen to Luisa Tetrazzini, the greatest “canary” of the twenties. There was no height or coloratura she could not sing. It is a pleasure to listen to her bird song from 1911.