George Frideric Handel: More about the man who wrote the Messiah

George Frideric Handel (23 February 1685 – 14 April 1759) was a German-born Baroque composer who is famous for his operas, oratorios and concerti grossi. Born as Georg Friedrich Händel in Halle, he spent most of his adult life in England, becoming a subject of the British crown on 22 January 1727. His most famous works include Messiah, Water Music, and Music for the Royal Fireworks. Strongly influenced by the techniques of the great composers of the Italian Baroque era, as well as the English composer Henry Purcell—Handel's music became well-known to many composers, including Haydn, Mozart, and Beethoven. Handel is represented in the earliest bound volume of music that survives from the Austen household, containing some of the music that would have been played by the young Cassandra Leigh before her marriage; there are several pieces including and extract from the Water Music, the March in Judas Maccabeus and an arrangement of the Organ concerto Op. 4 no2. In one of the other volumes there is a rather unusual version for duet (either organ or harpsichord) of the Hallelujah Chorus and extracts from Zadok the Priest, arranged by John Marsh.* Handel was born in Halle in the Duchy of Magdeburg to Georg and Dorothea Händel in 1685, the same year that both Johann Sebastian Bach and Domenico Scarlatti were born. Handel displayed considerable musical talent at an early age; by the age of seven he was a skilful performer on the harpsichord and pipe organ. However, his father, a distinguished citizen of Halle and an eminent barber-surgeon who served as valet and barber to the Courts of Saxony and Brandenburg, was opposed to his son's wish to pursue a musical career, preferring him to study law. By contrast, Handel's mother, Dorothea, encouraged his musical aspirations. Nevertheless, the young Handel was permitted to take lessons in musical composition and keyboard technique from Friedrich Wilhelm Zachau, the organist of the Liebfrauenkirche, Halle. Handel learned about harmony and contemporary styles. He analyzed scores and learned to work fugue subjects and copy music. Sometimes he would take his teacher's place as organist for services. For his seventh birthday his aunt, Anna, gave him a spinet, which was placed in the attic for Handel to play, whenever he could avoid his father. Handel's progress was interrupted in 1697 when his father died. In 1702, following his father's wishes, Handel began the study of law at the University of Halle; however, he abandoned law for music, becoming the organist at the Protestant Cathedral. In 1704, he moved to Hamburg, accepting a position as violinist and harpsichordist in the orchestra of the opera house. There, he met Johann Mattheson, Christoph Graupner and Reinhard Keiser. His first two operas, Almira and Nero, were produced in 1705. Two other early operas, Daphne and Florindo, were produced in 1708. During 1706–09, Handel travelled to Italy at the invitation of Gian Gastone de' Medici. During his visit to Hamburg, Medici had become acquainted with Handel. Handel also met Medici's brother Ferdinando, who was a musician himself. While opera was temporarily banned at this time by the Pope, Handel found work as a composer of sacred music; the famous Dixit Dominus (1707) is from this era. He wrote many cantatas in operatic style for gatherings in the palace of Pietro Ottoboni (cardinal). Rodrigo, his first all-Italian opera,was produced in Florence in 1707. Agrippina was first produced at Venice in 1709. Agrippina, which ran for an unprecedented 27 performances, showed remarkable maturity and established his reputation as an opera composer. Two oratorios, La Resurrezione and Il Trionfo del Tempo, were produced in Rome in a private setting for Ruspoli and Ottoboni in 1709 and 1710, respectively. In 1710, Handel became Kapellmeister to George, Elector of Hanover, who would soon be King George I of Great Britain. He visited Anna Maria Luisa de' Medici on his way to London in 1710, where he settled permanently in 1712, receiving a yearly income of £200 from Queen Anne. During his early years in London, one of his most important patrons was the young and wealthy Richard Boyle, 3rd Earl of Burlington, who showed an early love of his music. Handel spent the most carefree time of his life at Cannons and laid the cornerstone for his future choral compositions in the twelve Chandos Anthems. Romain Rolland states that these anthems were as important for his oratorios as the cantates for his operas. He highly estimates also Acis and Galatea, like Winton Dean, who writes the music catches breath and disturbs the memory. During Handel's life time it was his most performed work. In July of 1717 Handel's Water Music was first performed for a water party on the Themes. The composition was written and performed as a reconciliation between the king and Handel. King George I had requested a concert on the River Thames and the concert was performed by 50 musicians playing on a barge close to the royal barge from which the King listened with some friends. George I was said to have loved it so much that he ordered the exhausted musicians to play the suites three times on the trip. In 1726 Handel's opera Scipio (Scipione) was performed for the first time, the march from which remains the regimental slow march of the British Grenadier Guards. He was naturalised a British subject in the following year. In 1727 Handel was commissioned to write four anthems for the coronation ceremony of King George II. One of these, Zadok the Priest, has been played at every British coronation ceremony since. Handel was director of the Royal Academy of Music 1720–1728, and a partner of J.J. Heidegger in the management of the King's Theatre 1729–1734. During March of 1734 Handel composed a wedding anthem for the Princess of Orange. Handel also had a long association with the Royal Opera House at Covent Garden, where many of his Italian operas were premiered. In April 1737, at age 52, he suffered a stroke or some other malady which left his right arm temporarily paralysed and stopped him from performing. He also complained of difficulties in focusing his sight. Handel went to Aix-la-Chapelle, taking hot baths and playing organ for the audience. Handel gave up operatic management entirely in 1740, after he had lost a fortune in the business. Following his recovery, Handel focused on composing oratorios instead of opera. Handel's Messiah was first performed in New Musick Hall in Fishamble Street, Dublin on 13 April 1742, with 26 boys and five men from the combined choirs of St Patrick's and Christ Church cathedrals participating.   In 1749 he composed Music for the Royal Fireworks; 12,000 people came to listen. Three people died, including one of the trumpeters on the day after. In 1750 Handel arranged a performance of Messiah to benefit the Foundling Hospital. The performance was considered a great success and was followed by annual concerts that continued throughout his life. In recognition of his patronage, Handel was made a governor of the Hospital the day after his initial concert. He bequeathed a fair copy of Messiah to the institution upon his death. His involvement with the Foundling Hospital is today commemorated with a permanent exhibition in London's Foundling Museum, which also holds the Gerald Coke Handel Collection. In addition to the Foundling Hospital, Handel also gave to a charity that helped to assist impoverished musicians and their families. Also, during the summer of 1741, the Duke of Devonshire invited Handel to Dublin to give concerts for the benefit of local hospitals. In August 1750, on a journey back from Germany to London, Handel was seriously injured in a carriage accident between The Hague and Haarlem in the Netherlands. In 1751 his eyesight started to fail in one eye. The cause was unknown and progressed into his other eye as well. Jephtha was first performed on February 26, 1752;even though it was his last oratorio, it was no less a masterpiece than his earlier works. He died some eight years later, in 1759, in London, his last attended performance being his own Messiah. More than three thousand mourners attended his funeral, which was given full state honours, and he was buried in Westminster Abbey. Handel never married, and kept his personal life very private. Unlike many composers, he left a sizable estate at his death—worth £20,000 (an enormous amount for the day), the bulk of which he left to a niece in Germany—as well as gifts to his other relations, servants, friends and to favourite charities. Handel's compositions include 42 operas; 29 oratorios; more than 120 cantatas, trios and duets; numerous arias; chamber music; a large number of ecumenical pieces; odes and serenatas; and sixteen organ concerti. His most famous work, the Messiah oratorio with its Hallelujah chorus, is among the most popular works in choral music and has become a centerpiece of the Christmas season. Also popular are the Opus 3 and 6 Concerti Grossi, as well as The Cuckoo and the Nightingale, in which birds are heard calling during passages played in different keys representing the vocal ranges of two birds. Also notable are his sixteen keyboard suites, especially The Harmonious Blacksmith. Handel introduced various previously uncommon musical instruments in his works: the viola d'amore and violetta marina (Orlando), the lute (Ode for St. Cecilia's Day), three trombones (Saul), clarinets or small high cornets (Tamerlano), theorbo, French horn (Water Music), lyrichord, double bassoon, viola da gamba, bell chimes, positive organ, and harp (Giulio Cesare, Alexander's Feast). After his death, Handel's Italian operas fell into obscurity, save for selections such as the ubiquitous aria from Serse, Ombra mai fu. His reputation throughout the 19th century and first half of the 20th century, particularly in the Anglophone countries, rested primarily on his English oratorios, which were customarily performed by enormous choruses of amateur singers on solemn occasions. These include Esther (1718); Athalia (1733); Saul (1739); Israel in Egypt (1739); Messiah (1742); Samson (1743); Judas Maccabaeus (1747); Solomon (1748); and Jephtha (1752). His best are based on a libretto by Charles Jennens. Handel has generally been accorded high esteem by fellow composers, both in his own time and since. Bach apparently said "[Handel] is the only person I would wish to see before I die, and the only person I would wish to be, were I not Bach." Bach even attempted, unsuccessfully, to meet with Handel while he was visiting Halle. Mozart is reputed to have said of him, "Handel understands effect better than any of us. When he chooses, he strikes like a thunder bolt" and to Beethoven he was "the master of us all...the greatest composer that ever lived. I would uncover my head and kneel before his tomb." The latter emphasized above all the simplicity and popular appeal of Handel's music when he said, "Go to him to learn how to achieve great effects, by such simple means." * Quoted from Jane Austen and Leisure by David Selwyn, 1999

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