George Frederick Handel



George Frederick Handel


George Frederick Handel was born on February 24, 1685 in Halle, Germany.
One of the greatest composers of the late baroque period (1700-50) and, during
his lifetime, perhaps the most internationally famous of all musicians. Handel
was born February 24, 1685, in Halle, Germany, to a family of no musical
distinction. His own musical talent, however, expressed itself so clearly that
before his tenth birthday he began to receive, from a local organist, the only
formal musical instruction he would ever have. Although his first job, beginning
just after his 17th birthday, was as church organist in Halle, Handel\'s musical
tendencies lay elsewhere. Thus, in 1703 he traveled to Hamburg, the operatic
center of Germany; here, in 1704, he composed his own first opera, Almira, which
achieved great success the following year. Once again, however, Handel soon felt
the urge to move on, and his instincts led him to Italy, the birthplace of
operatic style. He stopped first at Florence in the autumn of 1706. In the
spring and summer of 1707 and 1708 he traveled to Rome, enjoying the backing of
both the nobility and the clergy, and in the late spring of 1707 he made an
additional short trip to Naples. In Italy, Handel composed operas, oratorios,
and many small secular cantatas; he ended his Italian visit with the stunning
success of his fifth opera, Agrippina (1709), in Venice. Handel left Italy for a
job as court composer and conductor in Hannover, Germany, where he arrived in
the spring of 1710. As had been the case in Halle, however, he did not hold this
job for long. By the end of 1710 Handel had left for London, where with Rinaldo
(1711), he once again scored an operatic triumph.
After returning to Hannover he was granted permission for a second, short
trip to London, from which, however, he never returned. Handel was forced
to face his truancy when in 1714 the elector at Hannover, his former employer,
became King George I of England. The reconciliation of these two men may well
have occurred, as has often been said, during a royal party on the River Thames
in 1715, during which the F major suite from Handel\'s Water Music was probably
played. Under the sponsorship of the duke of Chandos, he composed his oratorio
Esther and the 11 Chandos anthems for choir and string orchestra (1717-20). By
1719 Handel had won the support of the king to start the Royal Academy of Music
for performances of opera, which presented some of Handel\'s greatest operas:
Radamisto (1720), Giulio Cesare (1724), Tamerlano (1724), and Rodelinda (1725).
In 1727 Handel became a naturalized British citizen; in 1728 the academy
collapsed. He formed a new company the following year. Forced to move to another
theater by the Opera of the Nobility, an opponent company, in 1734, he continued
to produce opera until 1737, when both houses failed. Handel suffered a stroke
and retired to Aachen (Aix-la-Chapelle) to recover. In 1738 Handel, as
determined as ever, began yet another operatic effort, which ended with his last
opera, Deidamia, in 1741. During the 1730s, however, the most important
directions taken by Handel were, first, the composition of English dramatic
oratorios, notably Athalia (1733) and Saul (1739); and, second, the surge of
instrumental music used in connection with the oratorios, including some of
Handel\'s greatest concertos—the solo concertos of op. 4 (1736, five for organ
and one for harp) and the 12 concerti grossi of op. 6 (1739). In 1742, Messiah,
the work for which he is best known, was first performed in Dublin. Handel
continued composing oratorios at the rate of about two a year, including such
masterworks as Samson (1743) and Solomon (1749), until 1751, when his eyesight
began to fail. Handel died in London on April 14, 1759; the last musical
performance he heard, on April 6, was of his own Messiah. Throughout his life
Handel avoided the strict techniques of his exact contemporary Johann Sebastian
Bach and achieved his effects through the simplest of means, trusting always his
own natural musicianship. The music of both composers, however, sums up the age
in which they lived. After them, opera took a different path; the favorite
baroque genres of chamber and orchestral music, trio sonata and concerto grosso,
were largely abandoned; and the development of the symphony orchestra and the
pianoforte led into realms uncharted by the baroque masters. Their influence
can\'t be found in specific examples.
Handel\'s legacy lies in the dramatic power and lyrical beauty inherent in all
his music. His operas move from the rigid use of traditional schemes toward