Sunday, December 23, 2012

"Hallelujah!: How Handel Orchestrated a Classic Financial Portfolio"

A tip of the cap right up front to Jason Zweig whose WSJ Total Return piece "Why Handel Never Went Baroque" was the first I'd heard that Handel's Bank of England accounts were available.

From the PBS NewsHour, airdate Dec. 23, 2009:

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JUDY WOODRUFF: Our economics correspondent Paul Solman has spent much of this year trying to make sense of the current financial news of our day. But, tonight, he has a holiday story connected with the economic conditions of another era.
MAN: One, two, three.

PAUL SOLMAN: The Handel and Haydn Society rehearsing "The Messiah" at Boston Symphony Hall.
Artistic director Harry Christophers:

HARRY CHRISTOPHERS, artistic director, Handel and Haydn Society: It's become a holiday piece, hasn't it? You know, every major city, in, fact village, from small town in the states, you all do "Messiah," just as the same as in England. Everybody does it.

PAUL SOLMAN: Everybody does it because everybody else buys tickets. "The Messiah" is a sort of savior of cash-strapped classical music.

WOMAN (singing): Rejoice. Rejoice. Rejoice greatly.

PAUL SOLMAN: In fact, the link between "The Messiah" and money goes back a long ways. It turns out composer George Frideric Handel, whose names means "market" in German, wasn't only a musical wiz, but an entrepreneurial one.

F.M. SCHERER, Harvard University: The dominant pattern in the 17th century, as Handel got started, was, you either worked for the church or you worked for the nobility.

PAUL SOLMAN: Harvard's Mike Scherer has written a classic on classical music and economics: "Quarter Notes and Banknotes." Opera was the road to independence from the patronage of court and clergy, he says.

F.M. SCHERER: And the composers competed as freelances to have their -- compositions chosen to be operas.

PAUL SOLMAN: Handel, on royal retainer in London, jumped into the game, according to MIT musicologist Ellen Harris.

ELLEN HARRIS, MIT: His first opera is "Rinaldo," 1711, and it was a huge hit. He probably would have gotten a flat fee for writing the opera. And that probably was about 200 pounds. And he would have had a benefit night, so he could take the box office from that one night, could have brought in 500, 600 pounds.

PAUL SOLMAN: The currency conversion Web site Measuring Worth calculates that would be something like 800,000 pounds today, well over a million dollars, out of which, however, Handel had to pay most of the expenses of production....MORE, including video.
Professor Harris wrote the definitive paper on Handel's finances, Handel the Investor, definitive that is until a BBC reporter made a startling find:

How Handel played the markets 

A chance discovery in a ledger at the Bank of England suggests the composer Handel may have been a smart financial operator. 
George Frideric Handel
Handel's investments meant he did not need a wealthy patron
I am a bit old now for scoops, but I seem to have run into one the other day, deep behind the scenes at the Bank of England.

BBC Radio 3 asked me to take part in the extensive commemoration of the 250th anniversary of the death of the great Anglo-German composer, George Frideric Handel.

They wanted to know about Handel's money and how he made it, ending up with a fortune (maybe £3m in today's money) in financial times no less tumultuous than our own day.

Interesting, and a programme rather different from my normal output on In Business and Global Business.

For one thing, no carbon footprint was required. All the locations were within bicycling distance for me and the producer Paul Frankl. I naturally agreed.

There is, of course, a torrent of wonderful music, but really rather few recollections of Handel the person.

Born in Germany, he ended up spending most of his life in London after his employer in Hanover became George I in 1714.

And there is a tantalising suggestion by Handel's biographer, Jonathan Keates, that he may have come to London in 1710 and settled in 1712 to spy out the land for the eventual Hanoverian successor to Queen Anne.

But delved into, the money story is a fascinating one. Handel seems to have been among the very first modern musicians not to rely on patronage of court or cathedral for his main income....MORE
Professor Harris came back with the new definitive paper:
Courting Gentility: Handel at the Bank of England
(23 page PDF)
All of which leads to the present-day, with Bank of England exhibitions and flash mobs doing the Great Chorus: