Published online by Cambridge University Press: 03 November 2006
The image of the heroic Handel, typified by claims of immense physical and mental toughness, and rapid – even miraculous – recovery, may satisfy the credulous, but it needs considerable modification once we realize that Handel continued to suffer following the first acute paralytic attack in 1737. It is no coincidence that the onset of acute symptoms occurred during Handel’s last lengthy season of opera production and that oratorios came to dominate his composing and his shortened performance seasons thereafter.
Whatever the immediate causes for Handel’s decisions to write and publicly to perform the first few English-language works, the intensification of that practice after 1737 was due in large measure to the challenges posed by lead poisoning and its ensuing saturnine gout, and an increasing debility exacerbated by obesity. In other words, the illnesses should be considered as an integral element in the switch by Handel to writing his late works, the major oratorios.