George Frederick Handel

Selection from "Water Music"

George Frederick Handel was born on February 23, 1685, the same year as Johann Sebastian Bach, in the city of Halle, in the county of Saxony, in what is now Germany.  He died in London on April 20, 1759.  He lived and composed in what is called the Baroque era.  Handel’s father was a surgeon at the court of the Duke of Saxe-Weissenfels, and his mother was the daughter of a Lutheran minister.

Handel became interested in music after attending church services and court functions, and his parents encouraged his musical talent.  Handel’s first teacher was the town’s choirmaster and organist, from whom he learned keyboard techniques and composition.  Handel was an accomplished organist by the age of 8.  Later, he also received instruction in oboe and violin.  His earliest compositions were oboe sonatas.

When Handel was 11, he performed in Berlin, where he was praised by Elector (Prince) Frederick III (later King Frederick I of Prussia) and his wife Sophie Charlotte.  Handel’s father died the same year, but he had left money for Handel’s education, so after he finished lower level classes, Handel enrolled as a law student in 1702 at Halle University.  Handel became organist in the Calvinist Cathedral in Halle to supplement his income while he was at the university, then he moved north to Hamburg, where there were more opportunities for musicians.

Handel was a member of the violin section of the opera orchestra, and in 1705, he conducted the first performance of his opera Almira..  Three more operas followed that year and the next, – Nero in 1705 and Florindo and Daphne in 1706.  However, this music has been lost to posterity.

He was able to accumulate enough money to study music in Italy, where he lived in Florence, Venice, Naples, and Rome.  There he met Alessandro Scarlatti, and he began to compose in earnest.  In Florence, he wrote the opera Rodrigo, which was well received by people in Rome, so he moved there.  He wrote the oratorio Resurrection in Rome, as well as numerous solo cantatas and duets.

In Naples, Handel composed the serenata (serenade) Acis, Galatea, and Polifemus in June 1708.  He began his opera Agrippina, which was performed in Venice in December 1709 to great acclaim.

Handel’s friend Agostino Steffani, who was court composer to Elector Ernest Augustus of Hannover (now spelled Hanover), wanted to leave that position, so he introduced Handel to the Elector, who was traveling in Italy in 1710 and who offered him the job.  Handel accepted, but he was not in Hannover much, and he left for London in autumn 1710.

When he was in England, the people were very enthusiastic about his music.  His opera Rinaldo brought him instant fame and success.  When Elector George Louis of Hannover became King George I of England in 1714, Handel dedicated his Water Music Suite to the king.

The oratorio Messiah was completed in only three weeks in 1742.  Handel also wrote 40 operas, 30 oratorios, organ concertos that were played and performed by him in the intermissions of the sung oratorios, concerti grossi (concertos that featured more than one soloist), and a Te Deum, among other works.  The Water Music  (1717) and the Music for the Royal Fireworks (1749)are called his “outdoor music.”

Handel returned to Hannover and other German cities several times, but he eventually accepted a position in 1718 with the Duke of Chandos, whose palace was a short distance north of London.

In 1726, Handel brought a house of Brook Street in London, which was his home for the remainder of his life.  He also became a British subject, which allowed him to become composer for the Chapel Royal.  He wrote the Funeral Anthem for Queen Caroline in 1736.

By 1740, foreign operas went out of style in England, and oratorios became popular.  Handel wrote many organ concertos as well as other orchestral and instrumental works at this time, also.  He had a knack for being able to understand what the people wanted in their music and to write itf or them

Handel was seriously injured in a coach accident in Holland in 1750.  When he recovered, he began his last oratorio, Jephtha, during which he realized that his eyes were bothering him.  He underwent eye surgery, which was not totally successful, so he spent his last years nearly blind. However, he remained active in music until his death in 1759.  He was buried in Poets’ Corner in Westminister Abbey in London.

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