GEORGE FRIDERIC HANDEL (1685 - 1759)
George Frideric Handel was born on 23rd February 1685 at Halle, Germany, the son of a barber - surgeon. His father tried to dissuade him from his musical studies but his mother nurtured his natural talent for music and arranged clandestine tuition for him.
Following law studies at a local university, Handel travelled to Hamburg where he lived in relative poverty playing as a violinist at the opera house. It was here that Handel composed his first opera Almira. By late 1706 he decided to travel independently to Italy where he composed church, secular and theatre music for patrons in Florence, Naples, Rome and Venice. He met numerous Italian composers who significantly influenced his work, such as Corelli, Scarlatti (Senior and Junior) and many others. Following a successful Italian grand tour, Handel returned to Germany in 1710 and accepted an appointment as kapellmeister to the Elector of Hanover. At the end of the year he arrived in London where his opera Rinaldo was premiered in 1711.
During the 1710`s he settled permanently in Britain, writing operas for the Queen`s Theatre, although for a short while he composed music for the Earl of Canavon (including the delightful dramatic masque Acis and Galatea). In 1719 Handel became the music director of the newly-founded Royal Academy of Music, a company organised to establish Italian opera on the London stage ; important operas written for this company include Radamisto, Giulio Cesare in Egitto, Tameerlano and Rodelinda.
In 1723 Handel moved to Brook Street in Mayfair that would become his home for the rest of his life. In 1727 he became a naturalized British citizen and in October of that year he provided four anthems for the coronation of George II (including Zadok the Priest, which has been performed at every Bristish coronation since.) In 1732 he revived Esther (the first English oratorio), and for the rest of the decade he mixed Italian operas and English-language concert works together in his theatre sessions; during this period many of his finest masterpieces were composed and performed. His last Italian operas Imeneo and Deidamia were performed during the 1740-1 season.
Handel continued to live a productive life during the 1740`s, writing diverse works such as dramatic oratorios (Samson, Belshazzah, Solomon), secular music dramas based on Greek classical tragedies (Semele and Hercules) and patriotic concert works (Judas, Maccbaeus). However, life was not easy for him. At various times, he was severely criticized by some voices of the English social establishment for his artitistic endeavours - some had considered Italian operas ridiculous, but others believed that Biblical concert dramas or musical settings of scripture was profane. The Messiah was enthusiastically received at its premiére in Dublin, 1742, whereas it became the subject of great controversy following its London début a year later. From the summer of 1737 he suffered occasional bouts of serious physical illness (most likely strokes but some had speculated he suffered from lead poisoning of the central nervous system bought about by his indulgence of cheap port.
During the later years of his life, he experienced progressively debilitating cataracts which eventually left him totally blind. Despite this adversity, Handel maintained a keen sense of humour and was well known for his charitable disposition and developed a close association with the Foundling hospital which hosted annual benefit performances of Messiah. Most importantly he created some of the best music ever - not least his final two mature masterpieces Theodora and Jephtha. He died on 14 April 1759 and was buried at Poet`s Corner, Westminster Abbey......(Read more...)
Biographical videos.............(Part 1)............(Part 2).........(Part 3).......(Part 4)........(Part 5)
1685 - Born 23 February, in
Halle, Saxony, the son
of a barber-surgeon.
1694 - Begins musical studies
Friedrich Wilhelm- Zachow
1702 - Appointed organist at
1705 - Writes his first opera,
Almira, for the Hamburg
Opera, Travels to Italy,
were he meets Arcangelo
Corelli and Alessandro
1710 - Visits England for first
time and settles in
London. Welcomed by
Queen Anne and
granted a pension.
1714 - Enjoys patronage of
newly crowned King
1737 - Suffers a serious stroke
but makes an almost
1741 - Visits Dublin, and writes
1751 - Begins to go blind.
1759 - Dies 14 April, London.
HIS PLACE in HISTORY
The Late Baroque period of art and architecture, lasting from about 1680 to 1750, was noted for its opulence and splendour. Handel, who worked during the latter part of this period, echoed much the same spirit in his music.
Working for most of his life in London, Handel first wrote operas for the commercial theatre, in the prevailing grand and spectacular style of Italian opera seria, or serious opera.
When the public fancy for this kind of entertainment began to wane, Handel started writing oratorios - still operatic in style, but religious rather than secular in spirit. In his big choral works and his many instrumental pieces, Handel like his contemporary J. S. Bach, was also master of the polyphonic musical style, weaving themes around each other to create a rich tapestry of sound.
In many ways, Handel is the essence of the late Baroque period, just before it gave way to the new and very different styles of the Classical period.
When Handel wrote his Oratorio "The Messiah" in the Autumn of 1741 in just 24 days, he can hardly have imagined that it would become a national institution. Yet, even in his own lifetime, it took on that stature.
Following the first performance in Dublin (1742), it was cautiously introduced to London in 1743, under the title of "A New Sacred Oratorio", discretion being necessary because of the antagonism in some quarters towards performing music dealing with such an exalted religious theme in a theatre, and with soloists who more usually sang Italian Opera.
Despite a tentative start "The Messiah" became established, and from 1749 until his death ten years later, Handel performed it many times. Handel`s choir and orchestra would have been only modest numbers (about 50 people in total), but when in 1784 a Handel Commemoration Festival was held, the forces assembled were on an enormous scale - a choir of 257 and an orchestra of 250, including 12 trumpets. That occasion established a style which suited the large amateur choral societies. which were a feature of British Musical Life during the 19th Century, and indeed was the usual wat "Messiah" was performed up to the 1950`s.
Many Musicians, including Mozart and Sir Thomas Beecham, but also the less distinguished and talented, have modified Handel`s orchestration to make it more `modern`; better suited to the tastes, orchestras and sizes of choirs available. Recent years have seen a return both to style and orchestration of Handel`s intention.
1709 - First great opera,
1717 - Instrumental Water Music;
1718 - Pastoral Opera, Acis and
1720 - Harpsichord Suite No. 5.
1724 - Opera Giulio Cesare.
1727 - Coronation Anthem,
Zadok the Priest
1737 - Opera Berenice, including
1738 - Opera Serse including
1739 - Oratorios, Israel in Egypt
and Saul, including `Dead
1740 - 12 instrumental
1741 - Oratorio Messiah.
1744 - Opera Semele.
1749 - Oratorio Solomon,
including `Arrival of the
Queen of Sheba`;
instrumental Music for the