The Triumph of Music over Time: Handel and Charles Clay’s Musical Clocks

Handel House Museum, 25 Brook Street, London

Event location:
Handel & Hendrix in London, 25 Brook Street
When:Event passed!
It was on
Wed 20th Nov 2013 to
Sun 23rd Feb 2014

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Where:Handel House Museum, 25 Brook Street, London W1K 4HB
Map:Map & Nearby
Times:Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday, Saturday: 10.00 - 18.00 Thursday: 10.00 - 20.00; Sunday: 12noon - 18.00
Admission:2013: £6 adults; £5.00 concessions; £2 children
2014: £6.50 adults; £5.50 concessions; £2 children

About the event

The Handel House Museum will open a new exhibition celebrating Handel’s collaboration with Royal clockmaker Charles Clay. In the 1730s Handel provided music for a series of clocks created by watch and clockmaker Charles Clay. These beautiful machines, which incorporated automata, paintings, sculptures, furniture and gold and silver work by some of the finest artisans in London at the time, also included chimes and pump organs that played extended musical excerpts from popular operas and sonatas.

Yorkshire man Charles Clay trained as a machine watchmaker and established himself in The Strand, London in the 1720s until his death in 1740. In 1723 he was appointed Clockmaker to His Majesty’s Board of Works and in 1731 he supplied the clock over the gateway at St James’s Palace, now located at Hampton Court Palace.

London was celebrated for horology; clock and watch making were firmly established in England by 1700 and serviced a wide-ranging export trade. Demand extended to major European cities and English clockmakers settled in order to meet the increased demand for fashionable time pieces. Musical clocks were a much vaunted commodity and Charles Clay was one of many watchmakers who built exquisite musical timepieces and automata. Tickets were sold to the public to hear and see these creations and so it was natural for clockmakers to include popular tunes of the day.

Charles Clay asked Handel if he would provide music for his inventions and Handel put together a collection of '10 Tunes for Clay’s Musical Clock'. Transcribed in the hand of his amanuensis John Christopher Smith, the collection features arrangements of arias from operas Ottone, Sosarme and Arianna and were played on a pump organ mechanism. The level of detail in the musical interpretation demonstrates that these clocks provided an extraordinarily accurate rendering of the composer’s original intentions and could be considered to be an early form of recording.

This exhibition provides the opportunity to view a Clay clock from the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery in an intimate Georgian setting which recalls the context in which such new inventions were originally viewed in the clockmaker’s own home. It will be joined by a gilt bronze relief from another Clay clock on loan from the V&A, and a manuscript of Handel’s clock tunes from the British Library.

In addition a recording of the music from a Clay clock in a private collection demonstrates the earliest ‘recordings’ of Handel’s music made during his lifetime.

The exhibition is kindly supported by the A.C.H.Crisford Charitable Foundation.

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