It sounds like the premise of a left-field sitcom: two of the world's great composers living one door down — and two centuries apart — from one other.
The Handel & Hendrix in London museum, on 23 and 25 Brook Street in central London, reopens 18 May — following a £3 million project that opens up new rooms and experiences dedicated to an unlikely music double act. The 18th century German composer George Frideric Handel called number 25 home for some 36 years, up until his death in 1759. Here, he manufactured hits like coronation/Champions League belter Zadok the Priest, and the Music for the Royal Fireworks with such voraciousness, his manuscripts were often bespattered with food and beer stains.
Perhaps you'd equate such sloppiness with Jimi Hendrix; his tenancy in a flat at 23 Brook Street was altogether fugacious; he was only here from 1968-9 — though in that time, used it for countless interviews, jam sessions — and referred to it as the only place he ever lived that felt like home. Like Handel, Hendrix ate and drank his way through songwriting sessions; his vittles of choice were a bottle of Mateus rosé and steak and chips, delivered from the Mr Love restaurant on the street below.
The museum has been closed for 18 months, but — cue the Hallelujah Chorus — returns with a flourish of fresh features. Rooms, until recently occupied by a luxury handbag store, have been reclaimed and restored into the candlelit parlours in which Handel would receive wealthy patrons, and have his assistant flog tickets to his latest shows. 100 works of art representative of those owned by Handel have been acquired — including a bookcase on loan from the Fitzwilliam Museum, that may well have been his. In the bowels of the house, a kitchen is restored to its Georgian finery, and will host cooking workshops.
For the first time, visitors can also use the stairs to Hendrix's flat — the same stairs on which George Harrison recounted having to step over guests who'd passed out here. A new exhibition, about the Seattle-born rock star's technique of playing a right-handed guitar left-handed, also features.
It seems absurd that Water Music and Crosstown Traffic were conceived within a few metres of each other, but therein lies the potency of this address. Live music performances come part and parcel of the museum experience, with live harpsichord recitals and oratorios performed — often in the room in which they were composed — as visitors walk around. Grungier jams will unfold in Hendrix's bohemian boudoir, although the sparking up of Benson & Hedges (or any other form of cigarette) is now strictly off the cards.
Hendrix was aware of his eminent neighbour; in fact, he originally thought Handel had lived in the same flat as him. In Hendrix's bedsit — among groovy lampshades and a saucy pale blue dressing gown — is a vinyl copy of Handel's Messiah. The rock star even once claimed to have seen Handel's ghost in the bathroom, although we can presume he'd had a couple of glasses of rosé by that point.
Handel & Hendrix in London, Brook Street, open Wednesday-Sunday.