Personalities | Johann Mattheson | Late Baroque | Opera
Born into a wealthy family, Mattheson received a gentleman’s education in languages and the arts, and studied law before becoming immersed in Hamburg’s operatic scene. He made his debut as a soprano in 1696, but his voice broke soon after and he sang tenor roles until 1705. He took part in more than 60 new operas, including some composed by Keiser, and soon began to compose and conduct his own. Mattheson is best remembered for his friendship with the young Handel, who arrived in Hamburg in 1703 and was encouraged by Mattheson to pursue a career in opera. Their friendship suffered when Handel refused to relinquish the harpsichord to Mattheson during a performance of the latter’s Cleopatra (1704), and only a button saved Handel’s life during the ensuing duel.
Mattheson was a respected organist, but instead preferred to continue composing for the Hamburg opera house. In 1715, he became director of music at the city’s cathedral, but by 1728 he was increasingly afflicted with deafness and gave up the post. Mattheson continued to compose until the last years of his life, but today he is less well known for his operas than for his several scholarly treatises about music theory and his relationship with Handel.
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