S. Engblom: ‘Thomas Jennefelt: på fältet som tonsättare med månadslön’, Tonfallet, xvi/3 (1984), 4–5
C. Tobeck: ‘Kärleken efter döden – ett spel mellan himmel och helvete’, Nutida musik, xxxi/3 (1987–8), 20–29 [on Albert och Julia]
T. Jennefelt: ‘The Inspiration of Words and Gestures’, Choral Music Perspectives, ed. L. Reimers and B. Wallner (Stockholm, 1993), 207–18 [in conversation with S.-E. Bäck and B. Wallner]
H.-G. Peterson: ‘Thomas Jennefelt: alltid på upptäcktsfärd’, Musikdramatik (1997), no.1, p.11 only
(b Gopsall, Leics., 1700; d Gopsall, bur. Nether Whitacre, Warwicks., 20 Nov 1773). English patron, author and librettist. The grandson of a wealthy Birmingham ironmaster, he was educated at Balliol College, Oxford, and subsequently divided his time between London and his father's Leicestershire estate. His devotion to Handel's music is first attested in his subscription to Rodelinda (1725), the first Handel score published by subscription; thereafter he was a constant and generous subscriber. A member of the circle of Handel's admirers that included the 4th Earl of Shaftesbury and James Harris, Jennens had catholic but decisive musical tastes. He had a harpsichord sent from Florence, and was critical of it, had an organ made to Handel's specification (now at Great Packington church, Warwickshire) and owned a fortepiano by 1756. He had copies made for him of every note that Handel wrote, forming the magnificent Aylesford Collection (principally GB-Mp). He figured the bass lines in many of these copies, presumably in order to play them. He had part of Cardinal Ottoboni's library and other music manuscripts procured for him in Italy, forming definite views of them (and lending them to Handel, who used them); and he encouraged the work of English composers.
Jennens offered Handel a libretto in 1735 and continued writing for him over the next ten years. He was Handel's best librettist. He wrote the librettos of Saul and Belshazzar and compiled the text of Messiah, which was his idea; he prompted James Harris to draft the libretto of L'allegro ed il penseroso, which he and Handel completed (Jennens supplying Il moderato at Handel's request). He also probably compiled the text of Israel in Egypt. Although the relationship of librettist and composer (both strongly opinionated and touchy) could be tempestuous, they remained good friends, Jennens commissioning Thomas Hudson's ‘Gopsall’ portrait of Handel (1756) and Handel bequeathing Jennens two paintings. Handel accepted some of Jennens's suggested alterations during the composition of Saul. Encouragement of Handel was one aspect of Jennens's lifelong patronage of the arts and letters. In 1747 he inherited Gopsall (736 acres) and 34 other properties in six counties, and transformed Jacobean Gopsall Hall into the finest late Palladian mansion in England (demolished 1951). His picture and sculpture collection comprised over 500 items, and was described in T. Martyn's The English Connoisseur (London, 1766), a survey of the 20 best English art collections.
Two deep loyalties underpinned Jennens's life: to Protestant Christianity and to the deposed royal house of Stuart. He was a staunch Nonjuror (refusing to abjure allegiance to the Stuarts) and the leading patron of Nonjurors of his generation. Some of his beneficiaries were also Jacobites. Within the bounds of legality Jennens declared his adherence to the old regime, and his librettos of Saul and Belshazzar can be read as expressing his opposition commitment. His librettos, outstandingly Messiah, are also eloquent statements of his evangelizing commitment to Christian doctrine, which is likewise attested by his art collection and commissions, book subscriptions, legacies, and library of theological works. He was sensitive and depressive, possibly manic-depressive (his younger brother Robert committed suicide), and never married. He could appear haughty, which (with his great wealth) earned him resentment. Derogation of his abilities mainly derives from abusive allegations by his rival Shakespeare editor George Steevens, who justifiably envied Jennens's scrupulous and forward-looking single-volume editions of King Lear, Hamlet, Othello, Macbeth and Julius Caesar (London, 1770–74).
Informative letters to and from Jennens are in the Coke Collection and the Malmesbury Papers (GB-WCr).