George Frideric Handel
Portrait of Handel in 1733 by Balthasar Denner
Born 23 February 1685
Died 14 April 1759
Nationality German

George Frideric Handel (Friday 23 February 1685 – Saturday 14 April 1759) was a German-born British Baroque composer who was a leading composer of concerti grossi, operas and oratorios. Born in Germany as Georg Friederich Händel (Template:IPA2), he dwelt during most of his adult life in England, becoming a subject of the British crown on 22 January 1727. His most famous works are Messiah, an oratorio set to texts from the King James Bible, Water Music and Music for the Royal Fireworks. Drawing on the techniques of the great composers of the Italian Baroque, as well as the music of Henry Purcell, he deeply influenced in his turn many composers who came after him, including Haydn, Mozart, and Beethoven, and his work helped lead the transition from the Baroque to the Classical era.


Handel was born in Halle at Saxony-Anhalt to Georg and Dorothea (née Taust) Händel in 1685, the same year that both Johann Sebastian Bach and Domenico Scarlatti were born. He displayed considerable musical talent at an early age; by the age of seven he was a skillful performer on the harpsichord and pipe organ, and at nine he began to compose music. However, his father, an eminent barber-surgeon who served as valet and barber to the Courts of Saxony and Brandenburg,[1] as well as a distinguished citizen of Halle, was opposed to George Frideric pursuing a musical career, preferring him to study law, whereas his mother, Dorothea, encouraged him in his music.[2]

File:Halle an der Saale Haendelhaus.jpg
File:Handel as a Boy.jpg

Nevertheless, the young Handel was permitted to take lessons in musical composition and keyboard techniques from Friedrich Wilhelm Zachau, the organist of the Liebfrauenkirche, Halle. His aunt, Anna, had given him a spinet for his seventh birthday, which was placed in the attic so that Handel could play it whenever he could away from his father.[3] [4]

In 1702, in obedience to his father's wishes, he began the study of law at the University of Halle, but after his father's death the following year, he abandoned law for music, becoming the organist at the Protestant Cathedral. The following year he moved to Hamburg, accepting a position as violinist and harpsichordist in the orchestra of the opera-house. Here his first two operas, Almira and Nero, were produced early in 1705. Two other early operas, Daphne and Florindo, were produced at Hamburg in 1708.

During the years 17061709 Handel travelled and studied in Italy. When opera was banned by local authorities, Handel found work as a composer of sacred music and wrote some pieces in operatic style. The famous Dixit Dominus (1707) is from this era. His Rodrigo was produced in Florence in 1707, and his Agrippina at Venice in 1709. Agrippina, which ran for an unprecedented 27 performances, exhibited a mature technique in Handel's writing and established his reputation as an opera composer. Two oratorios, La Resurrezione and Il Trionfo del Tempo, were produced at Rome 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 London in 1710 and settled there permanently in 1712, receiving a yearly income of £200 from Queen Anne. During Handel's 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.[5]

In 1723 Handel moved into a newly built house in 25 Brook Street, London, which he rented until his death in 1759, 36 years later. The Handel House Museum is now a restored Georgian house open to the public with an events programme of Baroque music. The house is now commemorated by a blue plaque on the outside of the building. It was here that he composed Messiah, Zadok the Priest, and Fireworks Music. (In 2000, the upper stories of 25 Brook Street were leased to the Handel House Trust, and, after an extensive restoration program, the Handel House Museum opened to the public on 8 November 2001.)

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 also played at every 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. Handel also had a long association with the Royal Opera House at Covent Garden, where many of his Italian operas were premiered. Handel gave up operatic management entirely in 1740, after he had lost a fortune in the business.

In April 1737, aged 52, he suffered a stroke or other injury which left his right arm temporarily paralysed and stopped him from performing. He also complained that he had trouble focusing after the event.

In 1750 Handel arranged a performance of Messiah in aid of the Foundling Hospital. The performance was considered a great success and was followed by annual concerts which continued throughout Handel's life. In recognition of his patronage Handel was made a governor of the Hospital the very 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 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.[6]

In 1751 his eyesight started to fail in one eye. The cause was unknown and progressed into his other eye as well. He died some eight years later, in 1759, in London, his last attended performance being his own Messiah. He had more than 3,000 mourners attending at his funeral—which was given full state honours—and 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 (a rather enormous amount for the day), the bulk of which he left to a niece in Germany, as well as leaving gifts to his other relations, servants, friends and favourite charities.

Handel has generally been accorded a high esteem from 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." 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", and 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".

He is commemorated as a musician in the Calendar of Saints of the Lutheran Church on July 28 with Johann Sebastian Bach and Heinrich Schütz.


Handel's compositions include some fifty operas, twenty three oratorios, a large number of ecumenical pieces, and sixteen organ concerti. Among the most popular of these works are the "The Cuckoo and the Nightingale", in which birds are heard calling during passages played in different keys representing the vocal ranges of two birds; The Opus 3 and 6 Concerti Grossi; the Water Music; and the Music for the Royal Fireworks.

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).

Since the 1960s, with the revival of interest in baroque music, original instrument playing styles, and the prevalence of countertenors who could more accurately replicate castrato roles, interest has revived in Handel's Italian operas, and many have been recorded and performed onstage. Of the fifty he wrote between 1705 and 1738, Agrippina (1709), Rinaldo (1711, 1731), Orlando (1733), Alcina (1735), Ariodante (1735), and Serse (1738, also known as Xerxes) stand out and are now performed regularly in opera houses and concert halls. Arguably the finest, however, are Giulio Cesare (1724) and Rodelinda (1725), which, thanks to their superb orchestral and vocal writing, have entered the mainstream opera repertoire.

Also revived in recent years are a number of secular cantatas and what one might call secular oratorios or concert operas. Of the former, Ode for St. Cecilia's Day (1739) (set to texts of John Dryden) and Ode for the Birthday of Queen Anne (1713) are particularly noteworthy. For his secular oratorios, Handel turned to classical mythology for subjects, producing such works as Acis and Galatea (1719), Hercules (1745), and Semele (1744). In terms of musical style, particularly in the vocal writing for the English-language texts, these works have close kinship with the above-mentioned sacred oratorios, but they also share something of the lyrical and dramatic qualities of Handel's Italian operas. As such, they are sometimes performed onstage by small chamber ensembles. With the rediscovery of his theatrical works, Handel, in addition to his renown as instrumentalist, orchestral writer, and melodist, is now perceived as being one of opera's great musical dramatists.

File:London Handel House.jpg

Handel adopted the spelling "George Frideric Handel" on his naturalization as a British subject, and this spelling is generally used in English speaking countries. The original form of his name (Georg Friedrich Händel) is generally used (naturally enough) in Germany and elsewhere, but he is known as "Haendel" in France, which causes no small grief to cataloguers everywhere. There was another composer with a similar name, Handl, who was a Slovene and is more commonly known as Jacobus Gallus.

Handel's works were edited by Samuel Arnold (40 vols., London, 1787-1797), and by Friedrich Chrysander, for the German Händel-Gesellschaft (100 vols., Leipzig, 18581902).

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.

His work is also used a lot in the anime, Neon Genesis Evangelion



Template:Multi-listen start

  • "Excerpts From Handel's Messiah" - Dan Sindel "Symphonic Guitars Podcast #1"

500 unique guitar tracks comprise 15 minute musical epic (Sinfonia, He Shall Feed His Flock, HALLELUJAH) Template:Multi-listen item Template:Multi-listen item Template:Multi-listen item Template:Multi-listen item Template:Multi-listen item Template:Multi-listen item Template:Multi-listen item Template:Multi-listen item Template:Multi-listen item Template:Multi-listen end

See alsoEdit

Notes Edit



  • Burrows, Donald. Handel. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1994. ISBN 0-19-816470-X
  • Deutsch, Otto Erich, Handel: A Documentary Biography, 1955.
  • Frosch, W.A., The "case" of George Frideric Handel, New England Journal of Medicine, 1989; 321:765-769, Sep 14, 1989. [1]
  • Harris, Ellen T. (general editor) The librettos of Handel's operas: a collection of seventy librettos documenting Handel's operatic career New York: Garland, 1989. ISBN 0-8240-3862-2
  • Hogwood, Christopher. Handel. London: Thames and Hudson, 1984. ISBN 0-500-01355-1
  • Keates, Jonathan. Handel, the man and his music. London: V. Gollancz, 1985. ISBN 0-575-03573-0
  • Dean, Winton and John Merrill Knapp. Handel's Operas, 1704-1726 (Volume 1) Oxford: Clarendon Press. (1987; 2nd Ed. 1994 (softcover) ISBN 0-198-16441-6
  • Meynell, Hugo. The Art of Handel's Operas The Edwin Mellen Press (1986) ISBN 0-889-46425-1

External linksEdit


Scores and recordings Edit


Template:Link FA Template:Link FA

Cite error: <ref> tags exist, but no <references/> tag was found
Community content is available under CC-BY-SA unless otherwise noted.