George Frederick Handel


German-English composer, George Frederick Handel, is one of the greatest composers of the Baroque period if not of all time. His work, Messiah, is one of the most famous and beloved works of music in the world. During his career in music, Handel composed Italian cantatas, oratorios (like Messiah), Latin Church Music, and several operas. Handel moved around from country to country writing, composing, and producing music for royalty such as Queen Anne and George of Hanover. In his life, Handel mastered several instruments including the violin and the harpsichord.

Georg Friederich Handel (he later anglicized his name) was born at Halle, Saxony, Germany on February 23, 1685. He was the son of a barber-surgeon that opposed a career in music for a great deal of his life. But at age 8, Handel was allowed to study music with the local organist, Zachau. In January 1702, Handel entered Halle University as a law student, but was soon appointed organist of the Domkirche at Halle. In the year following, he abandoned his native town and settled in Hamburg where he studied the violin, then the harpsichord at the only opera house in all of Germany.

At Hamburg, Handel wrote his first opera, Almira in 1705. This was quickly followed by Nero Florindo and Dafne. During the winter in 1706, Handel traveled to Italy, where he stayed until spring of 1710. He spent his time in Florence, Rome, Naples, and Venice composing Latin Church Music, oratorios, Italian Cantatas, and the operas Rodrigo and Agrippina. In June of 1710, Handel replaced Agostino Steffani as the Hofkapellmeister to the Elector George of Hanover, by making a promise that he would take a leave for England. In autumn of that year, Handel made due on his promise and on arriving in London composed the opera Rinaldo in 14 days. It was produced on February 24, 1711.

After 6 months Handel returned to Hanover, but in the spring of 1712, he traveled once again to England, writing more operas in celebration of Queen Anne’s birthday; Peace of Utrecht and Te Deum. But in 1714 the Queen died and the throne was taken over by George of Hanover, who was angered by Handel’s unusually long absence. In 1717 Handel entered service of the Duke of Chandos, directing the music at Duke’s palace at Cannons, near London. There he composed a set of Anglican Anthems, The Pastoral Acis and Galatea and The Masque Haman and Mordeca. In 1720, Handel formed the Royal Academy of Music so that he could collaborate with other great artists on his masterpieces. Handel searched the world for great singers so that he could produce Radamiste. The academy lasted for 9 years, in the course of which, he produced some of his greatest opera: Floridante, Ottone, Giulo Cesare, and Rodelinda.

After the Royal Academy of Music collapsed to the Beggar’s opera, Handel stayed in poverty for many years. In the summer of 1750, Handel visited Germany for the last time, where he was badly injured in a coach accident. Returning to England, Handel began to work on Jephtha, in the course of which his sight began to fail. Handel lost sight in his left eye on February 13, 1751. But Handel finished Jephtha with his nearly diminished right eye. By January 1753 he was completely blind. Yet he continued his work. He produced one last great pasticcio, The Triumph of Time and Truth in 1757. He continued to play the organ and direct concerts. On April 6, 1759 he directed a performance of Messiah at the Covent Garden. April 14, he died and on April 20, he was buried at Westminster Abbey, amid a concourse of three thousand people to the music of combined choirs of the Abbey, St. Paul’s Cathedral, and the Chapel’s Royal.