George Frideric Handel Born 23rd February 1685
George Frideric Handel was born on this day 1685 and is regarded as one of the greatest composers of the Baroque era, with many of his compositions remaining popular to this day.
Born in Germany, he was taught organ by the local church organist Friedrich Wilhelm Zachow who is thought to have been heavily influential in his later compositions. As well as organ, Zachow instructed Handel on composition, requiring him to copy a large number of selected scores. By the age of 9 Handel was known to have begun composing music for voice and instruments, as would be suitable for church services. It is believed that after 3 or 4 years Handel had outgrown Zachow’s instruction and the family moved the Berlin to find alternative instruction. At the same time as learning organ he also studied harpsichord, violin, organ, and oboe – later composing prolifically for all of the instruments.
In 1702 Handel went to the University of Halle and, shortly after commencing his study, became organist at the Calvinist Cathedral in Halle. Around the same time, he and Telemann became acquainted, frequently visiting each other and writing letters. Although it is uncertain as to what he composed in this time due to the lack of definitive dates, it is assumed that he continued his prolific composition during this time.
Post university-education, Handel travelled to live in Italy for a number of years. As the Papal States had, temporarily, banned opera Handel composed sacred music for the clergy. Dixit Dominus (1707), two oratorios, and several cantatas were composed at this time. Rodrigo, his first all-Italian opera was produced in Florence in 1707 and Agrippina in 1709, which ran for 27 night successively, with huge success.
In 1710 Handel visited London, as Kapellmeister to the German prince, later King George I of Great Britain. At this time he enjoyed great success with Rinaldo, containign the famous Laschi ch’io pianga. In 1712 Handel decided to permanently settle in England, receiving a yearly income from Queen Anne after composing Utrecht Te Deum and Jubilate for her. He then had five years before he composed any further operas, but his Water Music was performed multiple time for the King and his guests in 1717. Around this time Handel returned to choral works, as well as Acis and Galatea, which during his lifetime was Handel’s most-performed work.
In 1719 Handel helped to form the Royal Academy of Music (company), not to be confused with the music conservatoire. It was founded by a group of aristocrats who wanted to maintain a steady supply of baroque opera to listen to. Between 1724 and 1725 he wrote three successful opera, Gulio Cesare, Tamerlano, and Rodelinda. In 1727 Handel was commissioned to write 4 anthems for the coronation of King George II, including Zadok the Priest which has been played at every British coronation since!
After 9 years the Academy of Music company disbanded, but 1729 Handel became joint-manager of the Queen’s Theatre. At this time he was in direct competition with the Opera of the Nobility and, unfortunately his success was somewhat limited. After his time at the Queen’s Theatre, Handel moved to the Covent Garden Theatre, renowned for spectacular productions. In 1735 he introduced organ concertos between the acts, and in Ariodante he introduced balled suites at the end of each act.
In 1737 Handel is supposed to have suffered a stroke, disabling four fingers on his right hand, meaning he could no longer perform. Unexpectedly, however, he recovered surprisingly quickly, suggesting that rather than suffering a stroke it may have been rheumatism or a mental breakdown which caused the disability in his hand. Just one year later he wrote Serse, including the famous aria Ombra mai fu. Around the same time Handel was transitioning from Italian operas to English choral works, including Saul and Israel in Egypt, and later Messiah and Solomon. In 1749 Handel composed Music for the Royal Fireworks, with 12,000 people attending the first performance.
By 1752 Handel was completely blind, and died in his home in 1759 aged 74. He was buried in Westminster Abbey, with over three thousand mourners attending his state funeral.
Handel was a prolific composer – 42 operas, 29 oratorios, over 120 cantatas, trios and duets, many arias, chamber music, 16 organ concerti and more. Handel had a huge impact on music, both to his contemporaries, and after he had died, with much of his music remaining well-known today. 333 years from his birth we remember him and his works – which is your favourite?