George Frideric Handel.

(Photo: Public domain)

Call it the coat button that saved “The Messiah.”

Picture this: two ambitious young Turks at the Hamburg Opera on Dec. 5, 1704.

Johann Mattheson, age 23: tenor, harpsichordist, conductor, composer.

George Frideric Handel, 19: harpsichordist, conductor, composer, violinist.  

Composer Johann Mattheson

The occasion was a performance of the opera “Cleopatra” by Mattheson, who pulled double duty that night -- he sang and conducted. Conductors always led the orchestra from the harpsichord.  

Once Mattheson finished singing Marc Antony, he left the stage to resume his position at the keyboard.

Handel was seated there, conducting.  And for some reason, Handel refused to move.   

Angry words escalated into a fight, which spilled out into the street, followed by a cheering partisan crowd.  

Just imagine some concertgoer chortling, “Two shows for the price of one! An opera, plus a ringside seat!”

Both men drew their swords. Mattheson lunged forward, and his blade struck Handel -- but not the man himself.  He struck the metal button on his coat, which broke the sword.

And for that, we can all proclaim “Hallelujah!”

We're celebrating Handel this month at 10 a.m. each Sunday on the “Baroque Show.”  The great composer was born Feb. 23, 1685.