George Frideric Handel
Country: Born in Germany, died in England
Most Famous Works:
Messiah (oratorio), Water Music, Music for the Royal Fireworks
“Hallelujah” (from Messiah)
Alla hornpipe (from Water Music)
Ouverture (from Music for the Royal Fireworks)
George Frideric Handel was an English composer and violinist of German birth. He is famous for oratorio his "Messiah," anthem "Zadok the Priest," "Water Music Suite," & "Music for the Royal Fireworks." His life and music may justly be described as "cosmopolitan": he was born in Germany, trained in Italy, and spent most of his life in England. Handel received wide acclaim for his work during his lifetime. To this day he is hailed as one of the greatest masters of the Baroque period.
Handel was born in Halle, Germany on February 23, 1685, the son of a barber-surgeon. His father wanted him to pursue law instead of music, but eventually caved in, allowing his son to study under Zachau, the local organist at St. Michael's Church. When Handel's father died in 1703, George permanently abandoned the study of law and gained employment as a violinist at Keiser's Opera House in Hamburg.
The Italian Connection
When Handel visited Italy (1706 to 1710), he received inspiration via meetings with Archangelo Corelli and Alessandro Scarlatti. Later, Handel was able to synthesize these influences and wrote a number of oratorios and operas using Italian styles of composition. His first opera Almira was performed in Hamburg. In 1710, he was appointed Kapellmeister to the Elector of Hanover Court.
England Forever, Handel's Best Years
Handel settled in England in 1710, and was appointed Kapellmeister to the elector of Hanover (the future George I of England). In London he prepared a staging of his opera Rinaldo. The performance turned out to be such a huge success that Handel decided to move to England permanently. He composed the operas Il pastor fido, Sila and Amadigi soon thereafter.
He established his popularity further with the Water Music Suite (1717), written for for a water party on the Thames River. The following year, he became musical director to the Duke of Chandos, as well as director of the Royal Academy of Music. He wrote operas, solo sonatas, and suites for the harpsichord, all for the Royal Academy of Music. The theatre eventually closed, in 1728.
Handel became a British subject in 1726. The following year, George II was crowned to the sounding of four of Handel's anthems including Zadok the Priest, which has been traditionally played at British coronations ever since.
(*editor's note: an amped-up version of Handel's "Zadok the Priest" is employed as the anthem for the Champion's League, European club soccer's premiere yearly competition. The anthem is played prior to each match, and is incomparably stirring. Witness an example for yourself here)
Handel's choral works include the masterpiece English oratorio Messiah, which was well received on its first performance in Dublin in 1742, and the later oratorios Samson (1743), Belshazzar (1745), Judas Maccabaeus (1747), and Jephtha (1752). His other works include the pastoral Acis and Galatea (1718) and a set of variations for harpsichord that were later nicknamed ‘The Harmonious Blacksmith.’
Handel's last major public success came in 1749 with the suite for wind instruments Music for the Royal Fireworks in Green Park. In 1751 he became totally blind after a gradual failing of his eyesight. He died on April 14, 1759. More than 3,000 mourners attended his funeral, which was given full state honors, and he was buried in Westminster Abbey.
Handel's Most Famous Works:
- Opera Rinaldo, 1711
- Instrumental Water Music, 1717
- Pastoral Opera Acis and Galatea, 1718
- Opera Giulio Cesare (Julius Cesar), 1720
- Coronation Anthem, Zadok the Priest, 1727
- Opera Orlando, 1733
- Opera Berenice including the famous 'Minuet', 1737
- Opera Serse (Xerxes), including 'Largo', 1738
- Oratorio Israel in Egypt, 1739
- Oratorio Saul, 1739
- 12 Instrumental Concerti Grossi, 1740
- Oratorio Messiah, 1741
- Opera Semele, 1744
- Oratorio Solomon including 'Arrival of the Queen of Sheba', 1749
- Instrumental, Music for the Royal Fireworks 1749
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